A while back, Aristotle introduced some discussion here about the relationship of the arts to the government–or you might say the relationship of the arts to the government’s money, which is another way of saying the relationship between the arts and the money that the government steals from your back pocket.
I am a musician and have been for my entire life. I also happen to be opposed to any ties between the artistic world and the government. Most of my colleagues would disagree with me, and in strong fashion, but there seems to be a number of considerations to which most have not given due reflection.
The foremost aspect of government sponsorship of anything at all is that money equals ownership, and ownership equals decision-making power. This is not to say that the government, if it were to give money to the local opera house, would own either the building or the operation. However, in deciding to give or not to give money to a particular endeavor, the State is determining which art is worthy of support and which is not. They are being the artistic critic.
On what bases are such decisions made? Art is fundamentally a folk phenomenon (folk in the real sense of that word…..not the hippie sense); it grows organically in the culture. How can a bureaucracy be the arbiter of such a process?
It is frightening to me that some clown on the public payroll should get to decide which exhibit shows up at the art gallery and which does not. In this way, the very real potential exists that society’s tastes can be shaped and molded by the art kommisars. It all smacks of being so……Soviet.
“Ah, but surely as a musician you know that the tastes of the hoi polloi cannot be trusted, for modern man is artistically illiterate.”
Very true, particularly in the realm of music.
Let us consider one aspect of this artistic illiteracy. (For now, we shall leave aside illiteracy in language which is no less a problem….) I have friends who are music teachers in various states in the Northeast section of the United States. Many of them have related to me the drastic cuts which arts education has suffered from W’s No Child Left Behind Act. Schools, in a mad dash to make sure their students pass unconstitutional federally-mandated standardized tests, are leaving aside everything except reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. One is tempted to say that even these last three are studied only nominally.
As music education is cut, musical illiteracy will increase, and this will create an ever-growing inability amongst the hoi polloi to be artistically discriminating. This will leave great art to languish, unnoticed, while the dunderheads who immerse crucifixes in jars of piss will be lauded as heroes. (I am not as concerned about the “offensiveness” of such projects as you might think. For me the stupidity is quite enough.)
Now this viscious circle seems quite convenient doesn’t it? The State pulls the plug on arts education….but wait! Lo! It comes in as our Savior and rescues the artistic projects it deems to be worthy. Oh thank you, arts kommisar, for saving me from a world devoid of beauty! What would I do if it weren’t for you? (end sarcasm here)
All of this seems to me to be a perfect argument to get the State out of all of this—funding for the arts, and even for arts education and education in general. Let the smart people and the self-motivated in society create a milieu in which things of beauty can be studied with the deliberation they deserve.
Think I’m dreaming up the impossible? Read up on monasteries.