Art, Economics, Ethics and Morals, Philosophy

State and Art

I shared a post a friend had made, one that I profoundly agree with, and it promptly got a comment from another friend who completely missed the point of it. The commenter’s assumption was that I object to paying for tax-funded art, or that I don’t want art created that I ‘don’t like.’

And a miss is as good as a mile.

Here’s the original post, by D Jason Fleming: “If you truly think that all culture comes from the government, such that defunding the NEA and NPR will destroy the arts, you really, seriously need to sit down and have a think.

Was there NO art prior to government funding? REALLY? Where the **** did blues and jazz come from? Because I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t the US government, nor any kind of subsidy from ANY kind of government.”

I’d take it a step further and declare that maintaining NPR and the NEA is what will destroy the arts. The point here isn’t about my tastes, or DJ’s, or the commenter when I shared this. It’s about artistic and intellectual freedom. In modern society, we seem to think that art cannot pay for itself; ergo, art must be subsidized in some way to be created. We’ve created this concept that art and commercialism should never be combined, and that to be a commercial artist is somehow lower than to be a ‘pure’ artist.

Elsewhere, DJ shared this article, which is a fantastic example of what I’m talking about. The Blues, the musical style that was born and grew up in the backwoods of America…

The tragic image of the blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta ignores the competitive and entrepreneurial spirit of the bluesman himself. While it is certainly true that the music was forged in part by the legacy of slavery and the insults of Jim Crow, the iconic image of the lone bluesman traveling the road with a guitar strapped to his back is also a story about innovators seizing on expanded opportunities brought about by the commercial and technological advances of the early 1900s. There was no Delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel-string guitars. And those guitars, which transformed American culture, were brought to the boondocks by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

You really ought to read the whole thing, whether or not you’re interested in music. If you’re interested in being inspired, making your own way in the world, and perhaps entrepreneurship, this has it all.

The government didn’t come into that story one bit. These men and women fought hard to make a living, and they did it with their art. No-one subsidized them, no one reached down from the lofty Olympus of D.C and offered them a pitying hand up. That… that is artistic freedom.

On his blog, DJ has discussed the disappearance of business in music at more length. Here’s a pertinent excerpt, but again, read the whole thing when you have time.

This is a contemporary problem. Our culture used to give a damn about how things worked. Process was important, even if it remained in the background. Business was important, not dirty or disreputable. (It could be run in dirty or disreputable ways, of course — any fool can see that — but it wasn’t inherently that way.)

In case you think I’m joking or exaggerating, go back and watch The Glenn Miller Story.3The movie’s main thread is how Miller tried to find his sound, the thing that would make his work unique. But an important secondary thread is the business aspect, and it’s not treated like poison or cooties, the way it would be today. It’s there, it’s got to be dealt with, and it’s a point of honor for the most part.

My readers know that I’m over at DeviantArt quite a bit. I also support them, with a subscription fee. because DA is a platform for the arts, in a way that NPR and the NEA would no doubt sneer at. Commercial artists, beginning artists, and, trust me on this, artists that make me cringe when I come across their work. Sometimes I think Rule 34 originated at DA, and if not they drew it first. DA doesn’t pay the artists. They don’t attempt to control the art that’s posted on their site. There’s no pressure, implicit or overt, to make art that adheres to an agenda. They are simply a platform where anyone can come and look at galleries of art that range from horrendous to sublime. Turn up your nose at digital art as ‘not real art? I challenge you to look at these examples, come back here, and say that again with a straight face. Traditional art is dying? Not so fast. 

On the other hand, NPR is notoriously biased. Look, I’m apolitical. I get called a conservative, but I’m probably not. I once sat in a hallway at a large Science Fiction convention, and overheard a conversation between a well-known Fantasy author and his friend, which boiled down to ‘all conservatives are uneducated and they can’t help lying.’ I sat there and silently seethed. I’ll set the stage a little. At the time I was about halfway through a Bachelor’s of Science. My grades were good, and certainly better than a lot of my peers, making the President’s list, and the Dean’s lists, for a year and a semester (at the time) will confirm that to a girl. I had recently written four fantasy novels, which had been very well received, and at the moment this conversation happened I was working on the finale for my bestselling trilogy on the laptop on my knees. But for years, I had been told that I was stupid, and that’s my hotbutton. I don’t react well to being called stupid, or uneducated.  I knew better than to say anything, though, I would just have been sneered at.

And that’s pretty much how NPR treats conservatives, or those that they label and lump in with conservatives. Sneering. Promote the arts? Sure, the ones that march in lockstep with their belief system. The NEA? same thing. Can you imagine trying to get a grant for, oh, let’s say Space Art. Beautiful work involving Godzilla. Have you ever seen a Bob Eggleton painting? Man’s a genius. But he’s a commercial artist and because of that he’s dismissed (which is a crying shame).

It’s always been my opinion that art and business are hand in hand. You can’t be a successful, independent, artist without also fully grasping business principles and practices. Art sponsored by the government? Well, let me put it this way. Today’s Inaguration Day. About a third of my facebook feed is in mourning (I kid you not, one of my artist friends posted that they were going to wear all black and urged their friends to do likewise), a third is chortling with mad glee, and the other third wishes those two-thirds would just shut up already and get back to work. The man’s a president, not a king or a god. If we’re going to accomplish our goals, and dreams, and remake the world, we have to get our hands dirty, not rely on the Gov’t to stoop down from above with a drachma or two. Because governments change. What one wants, another doesn’t want. The consistent thread is that they want power, and where do the arts fit into that? Another friend put it this way: “The entire Renaissance is the by product of a pissing match between rich people. I think we can manage.”

We can. We do. Patreon is the equivalent of those Renaissance patrons who wanted art in their own images, but in paying for it, they subsidized some of the most beautiful works mankind has ever known. But hey, that’s just my taste. You may prefer Piss Christ in a Jar.

Me? I’ll take independency. 

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