The Culture Wars are back: bill to ban art funding

Peter over at Create Digital Music has an extremely important post on the ban on art funding tacked onto the stimulus bill. Basically, the proposed bill not only removes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, it also explicitly bans any money for the arts, even from institutions that will still get stimulus funding.

This means that you can build a bridge, but you can’t put sculptures on it. You can put up new government buildings, but no murals in the lobby (Very different from the 1930’s and the Works Progress Administration).

This ridiculous bill, by singling out art for a funding ban, suggests that art-related jobs are not jobs. According to ArtsUSA, that means that 2.98 million people working for 612,095 arts-centric businesses are not really jobs, and hence not worthy of support. (Employment numbers are souced from Dun & Bradstreet)

Not only that, it bespeaks a fundamental misconception about art, and the role it plays in our society. A lot of people (and clearly some politicians) seem to think that art is primarily decorative, making pretty things, and hence something of an accessory.

However, art is actually a process of exploration and experimentation, more akin to science and philosophy than to decorative crafts. (This is what a lot of people don’t “get” about contemporary art). Here is what Marshall McLuhan had to say:

To reward and to make celebrities of artists can, also, be a way of ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for survival. The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness.

And Brent Cameron:

Writers on social evolution have observed that innovations tend to occur first in art. Artistic and creative process influences the field of science in adopting these ideas approximately a decade later. In another ten years, businesses begin to incorporate the innovations, and still a decade later, these ideas may filter into the educational system. Each field influences the next in an observable flow of social change, with education at the end of the chain.

Good examples of this process include the influence of Greek and Roman art on anatomy, Renaissance painting on pigments and chemistry, and later on architecture and optics.

The bill before Congress not only seems vindictive and mean about a tiny amount of money, it seems enormously self-destructive. The artists didn’t get us into this mess: the bankers and politicians did. The artists sounded the alarm and protested: the bankers and politicians didn’t. The artists can start us on the path to innovative solutions out of this mess, and make the process more interesting: I don’t really see the bankers and politicos doing this…

Americans for the Arts is organizing a response.

Update: Looks like the NEA funding has been restored, and the ban removed. More on CreateDigitalMusic.

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