Separation of Art and State

22 09 2009

“A great nation deserves great art.”

That’s the slogan of the National Endowment for the Arts.  And it’s pretty hard to disagree with.  This nation has had great art since the very beginning; from the Hudson River School, to John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt,  to innumerable jazz musicians and composers, to Dickinson, Hemingway, Faulkner and countless other writers and poets, the artistic output of the United States is impossible to ignore.

Miraculously, all those artists managed to create their works before 1965, when Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts.  Yet every year, the NEA gives out thousands of grants worth millions of dollars ($155 million in 2009) to, presumably, allow artists to crank out that “great art” that we’re so deserving of.

But is there any issue with using government money to fund artists?  Besides the fact that history would seem to indicate that such funding is utterly unnecessary?

Yeah, actually.  Some pretty obvious ones.  Namely, if the government is paying artists, artists have an incentive to mirror establishment ideals and, in effect, work to defend that establishment.  It’s not so easy to fight the man if the man is the guy cutting you a nice check every once in a while.  Fighting the man is hard to do on an empty stomach, after all, and the type of person that applies for a grant to the NEA probably has some trouble putting bread on the table due to utter lack of marketable talent anyway.

The result is art that often glorifies the state, or at least works to advance the state’s ideas or agenda while deconstructing opposing views (Crucifixes in bottles of urine, Madonnas painted with dung, etc.)  Here’s a sweet, touching, nauseating example of the former:

Those children were later liquidated and used to fertilize Stalin's rose garden.

These children were later liquidated and used to fertilize Stalin's rose garden

Believe your eyes; an exceptionally heroic-looking Stalin is here depicted graciously accepting flowers from innocent children dressed like Japanese schoolgirls.  Not pictured are the piles of Stalin’s bullet-ridden political opponents or people who just looked at him wrong earlier that morning, or the millions of Russians starved to death or exiled to Siberia.  But I’m sure the artist was more than happy to accept his compensation from the state.  And the state was more than happy to cut him that check for so skillfully painting a squeaky-clean, idyllic representation of one of history’s greatest murderers because after all, a worker’s paradise deserves great art.

Good thing we don’t have to worry about such blatant collusion of artists and government interests here in the good ol’ US of A these days, though.

I don’t think I really need to go through the details of this late breaking NEA scandal, brought to you by the same Andrew Breitbart that helped publicize the recent ACORN videos (he’s been doing some great stuff lately…the kind of stuff conservatives usually seem to lack the balls to do).  It’s all over the internet, talk radio, and certain heretical network news channels.  Maybe a newspaper will pick it up and bury it near the classifieds or something.  In any case, you’ll probably hear about it, but if not, the above link gives a pretty concise explanation of all the delicious, delicious drama.

I’m not about to go into a lengthy explanation here, but basically, a certain taped NEA conference call reveals blatant attempts to coordinate the efforts of passionate Obama-supporting artists to advance the four rather political causes of health care reform, energy and environment, education, and “community renewal.”  While it’s disappointing enough to hear lefty artists pledging to be shills for a political agenda in their own words on tape, several individuals who participated in the conference call have direct ties to the White House.  Which means this is almost certainly a top-down coordinated effort, or at least one with the approval of people in very high positions in this administration.  Like the President.  Or the First Lady.

So potentially tens of millions of tax dollars will be spent to establish the fine arts division of the eternal Obama campaign.  Would-be Shepard Faireys will be painting new, more obnoxious HOPE posters, but with your money.  Pretty disturbing.

We need to establish a well-defined separation of art and state, and cutting off public funding of the arts is an essential first step in this direction.  Some of history’s most compelling art is political, but this attempted politicization of art is downright dangerous and must be stopped.

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