We artists are valuable. All of us.
The current stimulus proposal moving through the Congress contains money for the National Endowment for the Arts. The idea is that this would stimulate the economy by helping keep artists working and hopefully expand existing arts projects. The NEA supports a wide range of arts initiatives like grants and awards to organizations and individuals. They even have a service that helps artists find health insurance. There are many people who find the NEA very controversial, though, and they have reason (Warning: may be offensive to some).
So, there is opposition to this funding from some within our Congress. They and others are arguing that such money would not stimulate the economy at all, and some of this criticism has a particularly dimissive tone to it:
Simply borrowing money out of the economy in order to transfer it to some artists doesn’t increase the economy’s productivity rate.
Brian Riedl, analyst for the Heritage Foundation (quoted from NPR.org’s story on the stimulus and the NEA)
This dismissive tone does not stop with those who are opposed to funding the NEA. Between artists, there can be a sense that their own art is superior or more relevant than other kinds. E.L Doctorow the renowned writer, in the middle of an otherwise elegant appeal for federal support of the arts once said:
I suppose I would have to confess, if asked, that I feel about opera, for instance, that it is not a living art in this country, that we do not naturally write and produce operas from ourselves as a matter of course as, for example, Italy did in the nineteenth century, and that, therefore, as wonderful and exciting as opera production may be, it is essentially the work of conservation of European culture; opera companies are conservators of the past, like museums, and their support by the National Endowment reflects this strong bias or belief in the arts as something from the past rather than the present.-E.L. Doctorow (1981)
(Quoted from Long Pauses)
There are obvious arguments against each of these quotes.
- Artists create and hold real jobs and are thus part of the economy (visual artists, musicians, singers and related workers, dancers and choreographers, actors and directors).
- The NEA is not a special interest group but is a federal agency.
- And new operas are being written, especially in the U.S. (also here and here). And even if they were not, by excluding art from the past you exclude Shakespeare, Milton, Van Gogh and countless others.
But the bigger issue is that…
In their own ways, they have reduced the artist to a one-size-fits-all concept for their own use (not part of the economy, offensive, or subjectively relevant or not), which is easier to dismiss totally or support partially.
We are not a single concept.:
- Some of us design the clothes that you are wearing.
- Some of us design your homes, your furniture, and your computer that you read this on.
- Some of us make puppets to educate and entertain your children.
- Some make puppets out of food to make political points.
- Someone composed that jingle in that commercial you like so much, or the song you sing in the shower or the hymn you sing on Sunday and even the boot up music in Windows.
- Some of us create totally offensive works that tick others off.
- Some make totally offensive works that make you laugh.
- Someone took some wood and turned it into instruments.
- Some play those instruments.
- Some of us try to channel some sort of divine force.
- Some of us sing unamplified over an orchestra in foreign languages.
- Some of us dance ballet, jazz, modern or in Pilobolus.
- and so on.
Art is something we do, and if there is a “should” in art then it is that we should do more of it. The reaction against an offensive work ought not to be campaigning against the arts en masse but creating art that you think is better. The reaction to a stuffy performance should not be to dismiss that art form but to get involved somehow and make it better.
But to dismiss artists and their art is wrong, especially when real people’s lives are affected by it.
I do not intend for this to be a political blog, but it is hard to avoid when politics has such a large impact on our individual lives. Please click on the Times Topics link on the right, and you will see how opera companies are being affected by the recession. Regardless of whether you agree with the stimulus or not, or even the NEA, please understand that artists are not separate entities outside of society but are interconnected within it.