November 28, 2005

U.S. Out of the Arts! Or something.

Of late, I have stopped reading the NY Times in the morning. That may have something to do with my reduced output here, no doubt. But, as a result, I have begun to wonder if I am somewhat less informed than I used to be. I read the Times with catholic interest, reading just about everything, or at least the beginnings of everything, and, thus, was probably broadly well informed. I stopped reading it when I stopped my weekday subscription. They just couldn't get it to my house early enough for me to read on my usual 5:27 a.m. train into the city.

I read it this morning, though. Happily, I see I have not changed and they have not changed. My little epiphany came during the reading of an article concerning a $100 million gift to the Yale School of Music which will result in free tuition for all graduate students. Evidently, the scale of the gift bothered those with more delicate social conscious who felt, inter alia, that $20 million would have done the trick just fine and the rest could have gone to a greater social good somewhere else, to alleviate pain or suffering, or just to provide someone in the less developed world with soft serve ice cream. Ok, I made that last bit up. Sue me.

In any event, as I settled back to read the music critic's chipper and spirited (sort of) defense of this gift, both as a music critic and as a self-identified proud Yalie, I read the following little passage:

Those raising ethical questions about the gift to the Yale School of Music should first put the dollar amount in perspective. Private and corporate donors in America have to compensate for the government's negligible support of the fine arts.

And I thought, gee, no, not really. You see, Yale-boy, the government is under no real obligation so far as I can tell to provide any support for the fine arts. It, uh, ain't in the Constitution, as best as I can recall. The government isn't supposed to be in the business of supporting art, of picking some art that it likes better than other art, of allowing some art to thrive while other art withers on the vine for lack of a governmental purse. I know that the government does provide subsidies to the arts, but my view is totally opposed to our friend from Yale, the critic.

I don't think that the government should provide any support to the arts, other than allowing taxable deductions to be written off against income tax. I don't accept the premise that the arts require support.

I certainly don't think that any private corporation has the obligation to support the arts. The corporation has, primarily, an obligation to its shareholders, not to the starving artist, unless the business of the corporation is art.

I think that to permit strong funding of the arts leads to bad art, if not corrupt art or lazy art. I think that artists, if they wish to be artists, either need to be possessed of independent means or be good enough to be self-supporting. If the artist receives support no matter how jejune the art, well, you see where I'm going with this.

Once again, I disagree with the NY Times. Quelle surprise.

I await your dissent with great interest. Assuming you have some.

Posted by Random Penseur at November 28, 2005 04:16 PM | TrackBack

All artists would love to make a living at it. That's how we get great art. If you pay an artist up front, their art is likely to be crap. That's not to say that artistic inspiration is driven by financial incentive, but only that the lack of incentive can mute the urgency that drive inspiration.

That aside: An artist should get my money only when I decide to give it to him -- same as any other chosen vocation.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at November 28, 2005 09:26 PM

SO you're saying that a good portion (if not most) of classical music that was produced via patronage is not "strong"? So Handel and Haydn, and... those guys were producing pretty weak music then?

I think decent funding provides food and rent for artists who deserve it, too much funding is NEVER a good thing in my opinion. Good art isn't created in posh surroundings, ask Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Posted by: Oorgo at November 29, 2005 11:16 AM

I guess I should have said "look" at Madonna and Michael Jackson, oh and Metallica at that. Not one of those people have produced anything good in over a decade, but all are rich.

Posted by: Oorgo at November 29, 2005 11:28 AM

Dissent. Excellent! And from one of my favorite people, too, that makes it just better.

So, I guess I would look back at Handel type patronage as a very different thing. And by the way, I wasn't really thinking about music as much as painting and sculpture, but I think my point still obtains. Back to Handel. The patronage under which Handel conceived his master works was of a very different character -- it was personal. There was a patron who loved music, who cared about the creation and the process. Or, it was a patron who needed to have good music produced because it reflected on his reputation. Either way, the patron was personally invested.

And I have no problem with that kind of patronage at all. Indeed. The finest art of Renaissance Italy (not that there really was an Italy at that point, but still) was produced under patronage, either Church or private individual or guild. But the patrons were all involved. Deeply.

Here, we're talking about bureaucratic patronage with my tax dollars. And that's where I'm not in favor.

Not that I'm in favor of Michael Jackson, mind you.

Posted by: rp at November 29, 2005 11:52 AM

Didn't Performance Art come directly from trying to win these subsidies?

"What can we do that will be odd enough to get government support?"

"I know! I'll pretend I'm a giant CARROT while you throw popcorn at me and a dirge plays in the background! We'll say it's a think-piece bemoaning the loss of the individual in today's conservative right mentality. We'll call it...*dramatic pause*...Performance Art!"



Posted by: amber at November 29, 2005 01:44 PM

Of late, I have stopped reading the NY Times in the morning. That may have something to do with my reduced output here, no doubt.

Reduced output AND reduced blood pressure. ;-)

Another factor to consider regarding patronage - the classical patronage came with a demand for quality. Government stipends are paid regardless of the quality of the work.

Posted by: Jim at November 30, 2005 01:32 PM

Chopin, Liszt, & others were only paid after their new work was approved and accepted by their patrons. Michaelangelo, Rodin, etc. would only receive a small payment, to cover basic materials and would not get paid until there work was completed.

so even these patrons knew how to ensure artistic integrity & excellence.

Posted by: michele at November 30, 2005 08:54 PM
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