Saturday, October 01, 2005

Why We Need Not Pay For Art

One of the most wasteful uses of tax dollars comes in the form of art subsidies. I'm not talking about the hideous sculptures that stand outside of every government building in your state capital, or the pictures that building puts on its wall. I'm talking about the flat out subsidy to artists whose work is apparently so appalling that they can't sell it in the private market like most people must do in chosen profession.

Scalia recently spoke on the subject and noted the most basic of truisms:

"The First Amendment has not repealed the ancient rule of life, that he who pays the piper calls the tune," Scalia said.

Scalia's point was not to suggest that the government quit funding art. He is a Judge after all -- not a legislator. His point was only that if the government is going to pay for it, the government is entitled to have a say about its content. Just like when the government runs the schools.

Of course, since the art the government pays for isn't worth buying, one must seriously ask why you thought it was OK to send your kid to a government paid for school. But that is a post for a different day.

In the late 1980s, the National Endowment for the Arts sparked a public and political uproar when it helped fund exhibits of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic images and a photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix immersed in urine.

Critics contended the NEA was financing obscenity, and Congress passed an arts-funding law in 1990 requiring public values be considered when handing out grants. The Supreme Court upheld that law in 1998, ruling that the government need not subsidize art it considers indecent. Justice David H. Souter was the only dissenter, saying the law was overbroad and had "a significant power to chill artistic production and display."

Scalia said Thursday he believes the government did not violate the First Amendment in the case of the Serrano photo — it did not pass any law to throw the "modern day DaVinci" into jail nor did it stop him from displaying his art, he said.

"I can truly understand the discomfort with government making artistic choices, but the only remedy is to get government out of funding," he told the audience.

Besides proving that Souter is a lousy justice, this opinion screams for the ending of our government waste for "art." Not only do we waste the money on the art itself, but we have to waste money on a law, and the enforcement beurocracy, to ensure that we aren't funding more pictures of fists and whips in private places and religious symbols in human waste.

I'm not suggesting that all government funded artists are not good artists. I just lack the ability to understand how a government can look its citizens in the eye and say that the artist was more entitled to your money than you were. You didn't get to spend that money on your retirement or health care or child's education. Instead, Maplethorpe, an accomplished artist in the private sector, got that money to photograph what could at best be called pornography?

There is no shortage of good art in this country. There is no shortage of self sufficient groups, theatres, museums and playhouses to provide it.

Is art important? Absolutely. And we know it is important when it is bought and paid for by willing buyers in a free exchange.

We know it isn't -- when it isn't.

18 Comments:

At 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:48 PM, Blogger spd rdr said...

Anonymous said...
Please kill me before I spam again.

 
At 10:12 AM, Anonymous David Earney said...

I have to agree with you on this one. My High School Social Studies teacher taught us of days long past when artists were held aloft by their patrons, and the patronages led to the brilliant history of art that we have in the world today.

Those artists who could benefit from a patronage also created works outside of that funded by their employer, and that work stands the test of time artistically as well.

Today we are surrounded by artists with no talent, requesting a hand-out so that they can make another worthless piece.

That money would be better served right back in my pocket, so that I could decide if I wanted to buy the art for myself.

Government should not be an artist's patron.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger Damian G. said...

AGREED.

If a crucifix in a jar of urine is art, then my toilet ought to be worth a couple million bucks.

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

that if the government is going to pay for it, the government is entitled to have a say about its content. Just like when the government runs the schools.

This would seem to contradict your stance on the Solomon Amendment, KJ, though it is entirely consistent with mine. Especially since the government is not telling them what to teach, but merely that they cannot discriminate in who they allow on campus when it comes time to hold job fairs - i.e. they have to allow equal access to the military. Access is not speech.

 
At 5:10 PM, Blogger a former european said...

Hey, we simply must continue to fund our avant garde artistes! Do you know how expensive it is nowadays to be the ubiquitous "starving artist"?

I mean, Starbucks isn't getting any cheaper you know! Getting the perfect mochacino from your barrista is essential to maintaining one's cool, hipster image.

Likewise, the cost of snappy berets and Che Guevara T-shirts is a major portion of any artist's budget.

Finally, maintaining a studio apartment in the Village or some other uber-trendy "arts" district has gotten real pricey due to capitalist oppressors, no doubt.

Please, won't you give generously to support our artists in the bohemian lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed?

This has been a public service announcement from NPR.

 
At 5:00 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

True, I hadn't thought of that aspect of things...

Do it for the children :)

 
At 7:37 AM, Blogger KJ said...

I'm confused. What is my opinion on the Solomon Amendment?

And I didn't take that position, though I'm not denying it is mine as well. That was Scalia's position you quoted.

 
At 6:15 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Yeah you did :) It was one of our epic battles - I think back on Jet Noise or even ScrappleFace, but you may well have been playing Devil's Advocate (or just devilling me) to get a rise out of me. I seem to recall a certain Southern, Libertarian attorney taking in inordinate amount of pleasure in doing that.

 
At 1:47 AM, Blogger Wilka said...

First of all the constitution demands that the Federal government funds art. The government is not entitled to dictate what constitutes art, as art is covered under the first amendement as free speech. Second, many of the so called masters of modern art were not looked upon as favorable during their time, but now they are hailed as pioneers. Many of these scorned artests brought large design movements with them and you would be surprised just how many items in your home reflect their legacy.
Third, just because you don't like the art being produced does not mean it's unworthy to be desplayed or funded, who are you?
Last, artists exist for more than just painting pretty pictures for people to ooowah over, they are also the voice of social and political and economic ideas. Maybe Piss Christ is an example of how the artist reflects peoples distaste toward Christianity since that religion has caused untold suffering to millions of people, and how it's followers constantly interfere in the lives of others who do not wish to live by their values, and prehaps Piss Christ reflects a growing distrust, and animosity toward the Christan community for their unending attacks on the freedoms of non-christians, i.e., the symbol of Chist on the cross submerged in urine is accruate of how Crist's followers have brought their religion to a place of out right hate withen their own communities. The art work is distastefull because it reflects distaste toward the submerged icon and the people it represents, it's not sacraligious, it is a statement using layers of icons, the icon of the Cristian faith and the icon of urine to symbolize what Christianity means to this person and believe me it this one person feels this way, many many more do. Maybe Christians should stop crying about their beloved symbol being submerged in piss and start wondering why people feel enough bitterness toward them to do it in the firs place, after all you don't see statues of the Buddha submerged in piss do you?
You will more likely than not erase this poste since most Christians cannot stand the heat of debate,as most Christian arguments are as thin as morning mist and which cannot last in the light of the Sun.

 
At 2:30 AM, Anonymous Quincy said...

Wilka -

As a musical composer, let me say that those who lionize self-important garbage like "Piss Christ" make me sick. While I find your post-modern interpretation of a crucifix in urine amusing, the truth is that one could create almost ANY interpretation of it because it is artistically meaningless.

Masterpieces are unique combinations of masterful craft and deep understanding of human emotions. Serious artists understand that and are above creating things like "Piss Christ."

 
At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"First of all the constitution demands that the Federal government funds art."

Yeah? Where's it say that? Does it specifically say I should get money if I take a video of myself pissing on a Koran?

"Maybe Christians should stop crying about their beloved symbol being submerged in piss and start wondering why people feel enough bitterness toward them to do it in the firs place, after all you don't see statues of the Buddha submerged in piss do you?"

Maybe we should submerge a Buddha in piss and try to sell that to you. Would that make you start kissing our ass and begging for our forgiveness? No? Then you're an asshole. We shouldn't pay for shit, and we shouldn't give a shit about how assholes feel about us either. Anti-Christians just like you murdered tens and hundreds of millions of people and continue to be a blight on people anywhere. They owe the whole damn world an apology for their mass slaughters and their continued evil, yet they're always pretending that others owe them anything but a hanging. Take your shit argument and jam it up your ass, hypocrite.

 
At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Art subsidies are flippin' sweet and all ya'll who say they aren't can kiss my boyfriend's ass. He's an artist and I love him. KISS IT!!!!!! KISS IT NOOOOOOOOOW!! AND MY MONKEY. YEAH, MY BIG FAT ARTSY-FARTSY MONKEY.

 
At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who wrote that? They can kiss my governmentlty employed boyfriend's butt!!

Art susidies are a waste of government funding. They suck.

 
At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo mama SUCKS!!

 
At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art subsidies are required by the Constitution. They keep thousands of crazy people who think they're artists from starving. They're a good thing and anyone who says otherwise is unamerican.

 
At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya'll just don't pay attention, do ya?

 

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