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« The New New York | Main | A Week with Gregory Cochran: Day One »

January 25, 2009

Government Supported Arts

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I noticed this piece ("An Old, Bad Idea for the Arts" by David A. Smith) in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Its subject is the matter of creating a cabinet-level "arts czar." Towards the top of the article, Smith notes:

But despite the severity of the troubles facing arts institutions, they're nothing new. Nor is the call for a cabinet-level office for the arts. In 1952 the head of the American Federation of Musicians said that "the sad and declining estate" of the arts required nothing less than the establishment of a Federal Department of the Arts. Shortly after, screen legend Lillian Gish appeared before a star-struck Senate committee and all but demanded a Department of Fine Arts. The calls continued periodically, even after the National Endowment for the Arts was created in 1965.

Even absent an economic crisis, the "arts" (ranging from opera houses to art museums to local children's theater groups) seem to be figuratively and sometimes even literally at our doorsteps, tin cup in hand, begging for cash. Aside from the annoyance, I'm okay with that. It's when the tin cup routine involves governments I get queasy.

Yes, there are many, many examples of government-supported arts and culture that benefit even capitalist-tool me; those museums all over the Paris tourist zone quickly come to mind. Still, I'd be happier if they weren't government-funded. That's because government involvement or ownership means bureaucracy and control, something I find antithetical the arts and culture.

Consider all that lousy "public art" demanded by regulations and selected by committees comprised of an in-group of back-scratching arts mavens of the Culture Establishment. Under a crisis-generated spasm of government spending designed to emulate Roosevelt's public works arts projects, things likely will get worse.

Actually, I wonder how much good the Post Office mural-painting and other artist employment activities of the 1930s did for the arts. If he hadn't done WPA murals or whatever and instead painted Post Office walls government pale green, Jackson Pollock might have gotten the idea of drip-painting a lot sooner than he did.

So far as this graying arts buff is concerned, arts are not a necessity, and the government would be wise to focus on something besides a new WPA Federal Art Project, or arts czar concept mentioned in the article cited above.



posted by Donald at January 25, 2009


Wow! We are becoming more like the Soviets and communist Chinese by the day!

Posted by: BTM on January 26, 2009 3:18 PM

An "arts czar". How charmingly newspeak.

Isn't freedom supposed to be the essence of art? Seriously though it disturbs me how in a supposedly free country the term "czar" is so easily accepted.

Posted by: jay on January 26, 2009 9:39 PM

Hasn't almost all worthwhile art from state support occurred in monarchies? Republics (genuine or pseudo-) and democracies have little to show.

Of course, a monarchy is by definition two things at once: a) the state; and b) a very rich family (with well-remunerated advisors). It could be that the latter drives any success in the arts.

No one engages in a serious discussion monarchy and democracy anymore. (Except Hermann Hoppe.) But think: Prince Charles has shown more taste in architecture than just about anyone working in that profession today...

Posted by: Reg C├Žsar on February 2, 2009 2:31 AM

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