Art in Public: a moral responsibility

I'm working on a blog post tentatively titled, "A Top 20 from the First Week." While I catch up on my mental wherewithal, however, I'll mention here a book review I wrote for Comment magazine. This is the opening paragraph of the review. And I've included an interview with the author below.

"When power corrupts, poetry cleanses."
John F. Kennedy, "Remarks at Amherst College upon Receiving an Honorary Degree, October 26, 1963"

"I say . . . he is not an artist. He is a jerk. And he is taunting the American people, just as others are . . . And I resent it."
Senator Jesse Helms, speaking about contemporary visual artist Andres Serrano and his work, "Piss Christ"

Is government funding beneficial to artists and their publics, or would it be better for artists to compete in the economic marketplace without government support? Should government funding come "with no strings attached" or should it uphold standards of decency and social order? Are contemporary artists progressive agents of social change or are they a decadent menace to society? These are the questions that motivate the argument of Zuidervaart's latest contribution to philosophy, Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture.

GRIID TV Interview with Lambert Zuidervaart from Girbe Eefsting on Vimeo.


kerri said…
I am inclined to not want the government involved in the arts. I just think they are too inclined toward propaganda and whatever social agenda they want pushed. Also, I don't think it's right to forcibly take money from a citizenry for something they may not ever benefit from or even morally oppose. If artists want to be free to say what they want to say, fine. But they should not take the taxpayers money to do it.

If art is privately funded I think there would be more variety and opportunity in the arts world. But we are so used to the government doing we have become passively dependent and it it would take some creative thinking and new approaches to get people to see that. I would love to hear the continuation of the conversation.
Cole Matson said…
Thanks for this review. I've added the book to my reading list and pulled up the interview on Vimeo.
Mila Petersburg said…
When the government takes involvement in the arts, it will become a different story. Perhaps a story that is unlikely.

Mila Petersburg
Christian Books
Luann said…
I have to disagree with you, Kerri. My tax money is used for many things I’m morally opposed to, and things that have less widespread and proven benefit for the American public than the arts do. Our system doesn’t allow us to choose where our tax dollars go – that would be “designated giving,” not taxation – except of course through our votes.

A statistically tiny portion of the total tax revenue goes toward the arts. A much, much larger source of U.S. government support for the arts comes through their willingness to relinquish some tax revenue by allowing deductions for those dollars given by the public to the arts organizations of their choice. And this IS designated giving. If you give to even one arts organization, you are almost definitely exceeding the amount your taxes are contributing toward works of art you may not support.

But the fact is, not all art that needs to be encouraged is “commercial” or likely to be funded to the extent needed by individual contributions. Theatre tickets are subsidized so that school groups can attend. Experimental art that would only appeal to a small core of knowledgeable patrons/supporters eventually has a much broader influence. Cultural and historical legacies and artifacts that aren’t in the “marketplace” must be preserved. This is where we need some kind of entity that is funneling funds “for the good of the American people” to art that is not necessarily going to sell enough tickets on its own to survive.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but they are trying, and are responding to the public’s concerns. The NEA, state arts councils, and other government entities spend a lot of time and effort identifying the worthiest recipients. Other funders use that information to guide their own giving. Countries around the world are now looking to our system as a model of both good commerce and good philanthropy.

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