Monday, March 03, 2008

Arts Funding and Obama

Back in the day when I regularly subjected myself to the sneers and jeers of arch-conservatives on a far-right political blog, it became obvious to me that only a practical argument (i.e., one that demonstrated the related potential financial gain) as to the value of arts funding would even begin to make a dent in their outright rejection of the idea that tax dollars should ever be spent to support the arts. Any attempt to suggest our souls were as important as our wallets would inevitably lead to questions of "how could photographs of crucifixes submerged in urine be good for our souls?", and it was all down hill from there. Further, any attempt to suggest we should subsidize the practices of our promising artists produced near-rabid howling and charges of Communism. "Let the bums get a real job."

With this understanding of how many conservatives (and moderates) see arts funding, then, it was no surprise to me that Barack Obama would frame his support of funding the arts in practical terms.'s Allen Strouse sees it differently:

According to information available from the Barack Obama campaign, the Illinois senator believes that the arts should be a “central part of effective teaching and learning.” He proposes increasing funding to expand public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations, and he intends to create an “Artists Corps” of trained artists to work in low-income schools and their communities. Obama also hopes to increase funding to the NEA, whose budget has been slashed by $50 million since 1992. All of these are worthy, unobjectionable (from my vantage point) policy goals, but his stated motives are problematic. To quote from his platform at length:

To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children’s creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. …The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said “The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.

While it is not surprising that Obama considers competitiveness a virtue, it is disconcerting that he seems to think the value of arts education is that it creates better workers or citizens, not better artists.
I'm not sure Strouse read that correctly, though. The NEA Chairman said the purpose of artist education is not to produce more artists. Neither he, nor Obama, is commenting on whether it contributes to better artists. One can assume, I believe, that better education leads to better support of the arts and that predisposition will inevitably lead to support for all artists. Indeed, I'm not at all sure any government system can "create" better artists anyway.

While I might quibble about the stated "real purpose" of arts education, I think this line of reasoning is best suited to attract the widest support among moderates and disenfranchised conservatives likely to cast a vote for the Democratic nominee come November. In fact, I'm not all that comfortable with the idea that "more" or even "better" artists can be brought about by spreading money about. I do believe we should increase support for spreading the word about the art being created by self-motivated artists. Also, I believe in state-funded financial rewards/grants for artists who achieve something significant.

Strouse sounds more than a bit paranoid, IMO, in his next read:
By the same token, as much as one is tempted to grow excited about his promise to attract foreign artistic talent to the U.S. (by loosening visa restrictions), his campaign’s motives for sending American artists abroad seem to border on the propagandistic:
Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America’s cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.
Here Obama makes use of clichéd capitalist and military metaphors: “utilizing” art to win a “war of ideas.” It’s a rhetoric that is likely to offend anyone who believes in the autonomy of the arts, in an art that needs no justification, in the aesthete’s credo of l’art pour l’art. It’s also a rhetoric that Obama might live to regret: Linking political interests with artists, aestheticians, bohemians, and subversives in general could unleash a monstrous arts-industrial complex comparable to Eisenhower’s feared military-industrial complex. Ike had his H-bombs; Barack could arm the U.S. with a brigade of nihilistic installation artists.
Strouse might want to pick up Lindsay Pollock's book on Edith Halpert. It contains an account of how the gallerist worked to organize an exhibition of American artists that was held in Soviet Moscow. It was a point of pride for her (and she let the Soviet press know it) that no government official interfered with her choices, even after a highly public dispute between her and President Eisenhower about what "good" art looked like. The notion that Obama's practical rationale might "unleash a monstrous arts-industrial complex" sounds absurd to be quite blunt about it.

Strouse also gets a bit carried away responding to what he sees as both Obama and Clinton's refusal to cite the value of art for art's sake in their platforms (McCain doesn't even mention the arts in his), concluding:
With his willingness to make the arts subservient to capital, Obama may weaken their potential as a social force in their own right. And while Clinton plays the same game, trying to sell the arts with political arguments, she does so less insistently, less effectively. She rarely justifies her proposals. When she does, she uses arguments that Obama has made more emphatically. And her rhetoric lacks the flourishes that will make Obama’s platform easily digestible to the public. Where Clinton limply “recognize[s] the value of arts and culture as an economic engine,” Obama forcefully asserts that “the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annual for the U.S. economy, supports 5.7 million full-time jobs, and returns $12.6 billion in income tax revenue back to the federal government.”
"Willingness to make the arts subservient to capital?" That's one of the largest leaps I've read in a long time.

I don't think art's potential as a social force in its own right is affected by how much the government supports it financially as much as personally, actually. I think a President should demonstrate this potential by inviting artists to the White House and being seen taking in exhibitions at museums and such, sending the message that art appreciation is a personal experience. Trying to suggest it benefits our national soul will enrage a good portion of the population. You can't make that horse drink.

Arts education, on the other hand, should be justified in terms that every American, across the political spectrum, can appreciate. It doesn't offend me in the slightest that Obama's platform is focused on a practical rationale for his support of the arts. It's a convincing argument for the largest swath of Americans, and it will certainly be a vast improvement over either the current situation or (one must assume) McCain's ambivalence. There is never any guarantee that support for the arts will create "better" artists. It's foolish to even discuss support in those term, in my opinion. The best we, as a society, can do is ensure there is support for the artists we have.

Labels: arts funding, Obama


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most Americans think art is a fun activity for children of all ages. That's one of the reasons it is so frequently dismissed.

I suspect if the issue were framed as "teaching creative thinking" by using art/music/dance/acting as the vehicle, at least some major corporations would endorse it.

3/03/2008 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

I Love the solidarity statement in your blog title. That's funny and fantastic.

3/03/2008 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

In the seventies corporate arts sponsorship was a specific address to an emerging creative class in the suburbs - on the heels of '68,there was an aggressive and stated move in the federally subsidized business community to use art to inspire a corporate-friendly citzenship attracted to sculpture parks and good design.

But today I'm struck by the gap between a suburban faith in the value of art for one's children, and a total lack of interest in seeking it out for oneself. There is a strong future ahead for more money in arts education - the museums know this for sure.

The USIA funded the traveling of some really provocative shows, some with a strong dose of parochial arrogance behind them. But there was serious and excited dialogue among adults about the quality and role of art in troubled times,and at least Obama is showing up for this conversation.

I like the idea of Obama attending an art exhibition, Ed. Almost as radical as having a black man and a white woman running beside each other in the race for President.

3/03/2008 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I Love the solidarity statement in your blog title. That's funny and fantastic.

I read a recommendation that people do that on one of the political blogs...forget which one right now.

The most compelling argument I've read for how asinine it is to be put off by the name "Hussein" is that it's comparable to only being able to think of Stalin if you meet someone named "Joseph."

3/03/2008 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for bringing this up Ed.

It really pisses me off when I hear politicians say that arts funding is a waste of taxpayer money. I am a taxpayer, and I'd rather have my money going to fund arts education, art projects, and artists rather than funding Bush's look-what-I-can-do-daddy war or buying those defective post-Katrina FEMA trailers that the govermnent ended up selling for something like eight cents on the dollar.

But let's give the republicans a concept they can understand: Especially in a city like New York (but true to some degree in every major city), the arts support the city financially: there are 500-plus galleries that draw visitors from around the world; numerous large art fairs that do the same, with visitors needing places to stay and eat; Lincoln Center; Broadway and off; the fashion industry, publishing, advertising, retailing, and all the creative people these entities support: actors, artists, writers, musicians, designers, assistants, photographers, stylists, makeup people, set makers, costume designers, visual merchandisers, art directors, event planners and organizers--and the industries that service those creative efforts, from labs to foundries to dry cleaners and bike messengers and so on.

And all (or most, or many) of those folks are taxpayers as well.

Tax dollars should be spent to support the arts, because the arts help support the economy.

3/03/2008 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

I find this Strouse fellow's comments to be seriously disturbing. Is he of the opinion that art should have nothing to to with fostering creativity, community, international communication, and economic prosperity? That art should be a pure, detached, neutral force that should be supported only for its own sake, and not for any possible benefit it offers to actual human beings?

Obama is not just a politician in the 'fostering American interests' sense. He is an integrator, and perhaps even a healer; he often points out to us where an apparent conflict of interests or values simply doesn't exist. His position on the arts as described in this post bears this out. And I have written myself that art has enormous untapped potential to help heal the global crisis of fundamentalist extremism, if we allow ourselves to try.

Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me that at least one art writer doesn't seem to 'get' this.

3/03/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Hope rings eternal for the naïve, the gullible, and those with short memories.

These kinds of promises are made every four years. During the first Clinton term all the same promises were trotted out. Anybody’s artistic lives improve substantially?

The problem with guberment support for the arts is: the State then defines what is and isn’t art, a not so subtle form of social engineering. Do you want a bureaucrat deciding what art is?

They then fall back on the despicable but predictable ploy of saying “it’s for the chiiiillldrennn,” a pathetic version of wrapping yourself in the flag and saying “God is on our side”.

Art should be taught with all the passion of nasty sex, by degenerates on dark street corners, in locker rooms, and studios, venues far from the control of the State.

“the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annually for the U.S. economy, supports 5.7 million full-time jobs, and returns $12.6 billion in income tax revenue back to the federal government.”

I want my cut damn it, I’m as nonprofit as you can get.

Lastly, regarding artists visiting the White House, Nam June Paik’s performance is the best example of great art I can site. Invited by the Clintons to welcome the Korean president, when he stood from his wheelchair to shake President Clinton’s hand his pants fell to his ankles, no underwear. Priceless. Guberment funding ain’t gona pay for that.

3/03/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Nathan Manuel said...

I find humor in the leftist argument, when on the same morning I read this article "Why are Finnish Kids So Smart?" (compared to Americans) from the Wall Street Journal, which states a typical testing subject might be "Discuss the artistic value of graffiti."

American students are simply unprepared to answer such a question, they are so rarely taught to think critically. No Child Left Behind could care less if your child can inventory tasks or troubleshoot complex problems. All skills that Elliot Eisner, and Howard Gardner have argue for decades art education teaches. Perhaps Strouse did misunderstand his quote about art education making better citizens and workers, but I definitely don't understand why that would be disconcerting. Almost no one that has art education in their schooling become artists, that doesn't mean students shouldn't benefit from the skills a good art education can teach.

Perhaps those crazy leftist Europeans have caught on to something, and good for them, their kids are getting smarter for it. Now let us elect someone that will to put us on back on track.

I am such a romantic! :)

3/03/2008 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I’ve always been amazed by the Finnish space program, and their domination of the internet and computer industries. (Not to mention their great films and music.)

3/03/2008 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Oh yeah, didn’t they (the Finns) invent Graffiti anyway?

Maybe it's their educational program "No Child Not Left."

(These chatchkas are intense)

3/03/2008 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous L.M. said...

And if it's just domination that you really want, screw those arts.

3/03/2008 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creativity and critical thinking should be fostered in every classroom -- that's not happening, and one has to be skeptical whether systematic "art" education by professional educators (who really thinks a bunch of crazy artists off the street would be teaching the kids?) would do any better. What's the no child left behind version of art's education? Johnny colors between the lines, is neat with his paste, recites that yellow and blue makes green?

Arts funding from the government is like any other funding from the government -- it will make more money available but not necessarily get channeled to the compelling uses and it almost certainly comes with increased government intervention.

3/03/2008 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 5:09,

Your thinking is elitist. Not necessarily wrong, but elitist nonethless. If it had not been for art classes in high school, I would not have known about art galleries, art museums or artists.
I'm sure I'm not alone.

So imperfect as it may be, arts funding is imperative.

To be honest, I have a harder time with money from Philip Morris, now Altria. Lung-cancer money funding the arts is infinitely worse. And yet, there's so little money coming our way, what choice do arts institutions and artists have but to take it?

3/03/2008 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really see how what I wrote or arguing that government funding might not be all the great is elitist. Elitists might well argue for the government money provided it was channeled in an elitist direction (through lobbying, connections, appeal to the "greater good" which of course the elitist can divine, etc); elitist might say make sure the curriculum includes this institution or that institution because it's the most important, etc..

Of course artists and arts institutions have a choice -- they can turn down certain funding. Would they knowingly take funds from a thief? Choices while maintaining principles are not easy, particularly when funding is sorely needed. The state takes lots of tax dollars from tobacco companies, etc., so one is really not avoiding that taint by taking the arts funding from the state.

3/03/2008 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Art Educations'history has always been to produce better workers - in 19th c.America school-children were drawing teapots on a grid so that our industrializing nation could keep up with England and France in "visual literacy." And any institution that is imagining its future does so with some model of citzenry in mind. There is nothing new here but for the shrill notice.

In the meantime, there was real social reform going on in places like the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. So the trick is to be articulate about what kind of arts programming counts, and for what very different purposes.

Too often when people talk about art they flatten it out in some homogenous field as though it is all one thing. Art education is not the same thing as a fine arts education, museums are different than schools, a music program is different than a drawing program, and in every case one program is sure to be different, even better, than another. I know from the young people that I have met that there are some amazing programs out there.

I'm glad that public school-based art education has not spent too much of its time in history worrying over whether or not it is "good for art," and sorry that it has had the misfortune of belonging to the social reformers. But it can celebrate inspired moments of incredible range and diversity, where people of all ages and backgrounds can take some "ownership"of their own experience by being thrown completely outside of themselves, whether in making a work of art or looking at one.

Our government has had many different forms of support for the arts in the past - WPA,USIA,NEA - all with different histories and purposes. And it wasn't that the NEA wasn't funding controversial work - the problem was that they were.

Art is a lot of things, and yes, Kalm James, maybe the best of learning it is closer to raunchy sex than "state control." It seems obvious to me, though, that government support of the arts, in a variety of ways, is very possible as a good thing for artists, for arts institutions, and even for social change. Would New York be on the map at all if not for the artist's and their communities that emerged from the WPA? Our government bought those artists their freedom.

Joanne Mattera is right about too much reliance on corporate funding. All of the discussion and money surrounding the Rockefeller's was built on an expanding corporate culture, and now that the revenues are no longer so attached to a certain elitism as revenue (the art world has simply become too unwieldy, it was a lot simpler in the days of Stella and Moore)that money is disappearing (didn't Altria announce a withdrawal from arts funding?). It's all about the revenue, time to boast about where its at, get creative, have a few visions about where all that money should go. But don't get too excited.

3/03/2008 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

salaam aleikum... Hussein

3/03/2008 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Sus said...

Catherine said Art education is not the same thing as a fine arts education, museums are different than schools...

Absolutely right. I think that what is being proposed by Obama definitely supports this concept. His proposal, however, is not in support of the creation of artwork, an entirely different subject, and will probably not contribute even a little bit to studio arts.

It is a worthwhile endeavor and has the potential to do produce the desired results. The Rand Corporation did a study on where the arts have an impact on our culture and found that education is the field in which arts make a significant contribution.
Gifts of the Muse - Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts

Arts in education serves the function of synthesizing information, relating disparate ideas and teaching problem solving skills. At least, it does that when it's done well. Which doesn't always happen.

The big however is that this avenue of support does not address support for art making. Not at all, not even a little bit What the Rand Corporation suggests in their monograph is that arts audiences must be nurtured and that the nurturing of a new generation of arts audiences will not come to fruition for twenty years.

3/03/2008 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

From the sounds of the responses, I’d say there are contributors on or hoping to get on the gubement gravy train, (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Being an artist is first of all about surviving.

Ideally it would be great for the state to increase funding to arts education programs. But the devil is in the definitions. For every kid that’s turned on in high-school art class, you’ve probably got five kids turned off, not because art is bad, but because the academic version is a bore. (One definition of academia is the place where good ideas go to die.)

What I’m saying is that art is too important to let the government get their mitts on it. It’s not a propaganda tool, a device to raise national esteem or something for the betterment of the citizenry. An increased dependence on state funding will lead to subservience to the state (after all they know better). I’d be hard pressed to come up with a great art work, or idea produced through the fed bureaucracy (public orchestras and theater companies not withstanding)

3/03/2008 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Our favorite corrupt mayor - Buddy Cianci of Providence, R.I. just got out of jail on a corruption charge, but Buddy knew that art livens up a dull city and contributes to the economic well being of a community. It's a simple proposition. I still wear my "Free Buddy" T-shirt with pride.

David Hussein Richardson

3/03/2008 10:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Separation of Art and State is good.

3/03/2008 11:35:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

“I think most of us went through our psychosomatic, quasi-self-saboteur stage,” said ?uestlove, the drummer for the Philadelphia group the Roots and a member of what he called the Soulquarian scene, which flourished in the late ’90s and included Ms. Badu and other socially conscious acts like Talib Kweli and Common.
Skip to next paragraph
Karl Walter/Getty Images

Ms. Badu in Los Angeles in 2005.
Music from New AmErykah ( Official Web Site
Enlarge This Image
Valery Hache/Agence France-Presse

At the Nice Jazz Festival in France in 2006.

“Once we got that first taste of success, I think just the pressure of reacting got to all of us. Some of us released some of the craziest records of our career,” and some, like D’Angelo, retreated altogether, he said. As Ms. Badu’s popularity exploded, there was a backlash, he said. Her hair, her love life, her mystical beliefs all came into question. “Is she real or is she fake, is she pretentious?” he said. “She was thrown off.”

Suffering from writer’s block and plagued by self-doubt — “I felt like a failure,” Ms. Badu said — she soured on being the queen of neo-soul. “I hated that because what if I don’t do that anymore?” she said. “What if I change? Then that puts me in a penitentiary.”

3/03/2008 11:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 6:12,

"Of course artists and arts institutions have a choice -- they can turn down certain funding. Would they knowingly take funds from a thief?"

That cracked me up. Is there a bigger thief than the government?

I agree with Joanne that taking money from corporations is ethically problematic, especially when the money they spend on art is really just PR for them, a part of their advertising budget, a way to say, "look how great and community-minded we are" and a diversion from the damage they cause. But, if you take that ethical problem to its extreme, it would be difficult to take money from anyone. Everyone's money is unclean. All the fortunes that built that the great museums in NY were made from corrupt, strike-breaking (not to mention leg-breaking) companies. The Fricks, Rockefellers, et al did horrible things to amass their fortunes. I had to get over feeling slimey taking money from individual Republican collectors, but I decided it was justified because 1) I had to make a living, and 2) better that they give the money to me than to some political campaign that I strongly object to or invest it in some imperialist off-shore slave-labor factory.

Don't even get me started on the taintedness of the money of the US govt. And yet, it is also our money because we pay taxes to it.

So, when you get down to it, all money is tainted, (Property is Theft), but we have to live in this (or some) society, so we're all part of it.


3/04/2008 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It may be time to have that discussion about whether art constitutes a public good. I say it doesn't, and consequently it ought to fund itself without government involvement.

Even to have a position on the arts marks Obama as a relative sophisticate, and I can't adequately express my enthusiasm about having even a relative sophisticate in the presidency. Nevertheless, you can easily find statistics like the ones cited by Joanne, and you sometimes see them put forth in ostensible support of goverment funding. To me those statistics argue against it. If the arts generate that kind of monetary benefit, one could reinvest the money into production like any other industry. In fact, an industry that can't figure out how to do this should languish. We don't live in the era of the WPA, when the economy had become nonfunctional; we live in an arts economy that is expanding with hellacious speed, and government involvement amounts at least to protectionism if not corporatism, which I regard as worse than taking money from Altria.

As for arts education, we do a bad job educating children in this country in general. Arguments one way or another about arts in the curriculum look, well, academic in light of the probability that a student will graduate as a semi-literate.

3/04/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Sus said...

I don't know as Obama's position supports the arts so much as it supports education. The arts in education is entirely different from supporting the creation of the arts.

Arts in education programs does not necessarily translate as traditional k-12 art classes within the school, either. I coordinated a project for several groups that brought together students and seniors in an after school program. The program used second-line marches as its basis incorporated adinkra symbols, the creation of umbrellas that chronicled an elder's life and culminated in marching in a parade.

It was a huge project and only one of several that I have been involved in over the last ten years. But it had little to do with supporting the creation of art and everything to do with exploring culture and history.

I agree with Franklin that art creation ought to fund itself. However, using art as a catalyst for learning does constitute a public good and is something that should receive more funding.

3/04/2008 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The program used second-line marches as its basis incorporated adinkra symbols, the creation of umbrellas that chronicled an elder's life"

I don't know what most of that means. If I read that as part of a grant proposal, I would say WTF? We should give money for this when young people graduate from high school who can't read or do math?

3/04/2008 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We should give money for this when young people graduate from high school who can't read or do math?


Why on earth is reading or math any more important to our sense of what makes for a well-educated child than art?

If our goal was to raise a generation of assembly-line robots, I could understand this. But given the increasing role creativity will play in the global job marketplace, it's criminally negligent to skimp on arts education.

3/04/2008 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Why on earth is reading or math any more important to our sense of what makes for a well-educated child than art?

Because illiteracy is a scourge that causes a host of societal and individual woes, innumeracy cuts off all manner of patient, analytical, rational pursuits, and the inability to make art is normal.

3/04/2008 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Honestly, don't you think it's even a tiny bit more important to know how to read than to make umbrellas and go on a marching parade? I'm an artist, so obviously art is incredibly important to me, but I can't think of much from my elementary school education that contributed to my being an artist and I'm VERY glad that I know how to read and write.

I think arts education is a good thing, but when we're talking about schools that don't have computers, don't have books, where teenagers literally don't know how to read, we're talking about survival level stuff. You know, food, shelter, sustenance. You need to have that basic stuff before you can appreciate (or make) or understand art. Of course our schools should be way beyond this state in one of the richest countries in the world, but have you been in a public school lately? We're not beyond that.


3/04/2008 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

I think it's about cultural literacy: when math is taught, it's understood that almost none of us are going to become mathematicians or even proficient at any aspect of it, but we will at least be sufficiently literate in math to see that there is this entire area of specialization, "Mathematics", and that it has a value and that there are those who are particularly skilled or who need to use it in their industries. Same with English reading and writing: we don't expect to be churning out little William Carlos Williams's or Eliots or Steinbecks, that's not the point. We read Shakespeare in college not so that we can learn to write like Shalespeare, but so that we have an understanding of where our literature came from, what literature can be -- what it means as a whole. The problem is that American education does not include anything that even remotely approaches literacy in the visual arts -- art history or contemporary art, or whateva. There is no expectation of Americans to be culturally literate in the visual arts, and they aren't, unless they take it upon themselves, or unless they decide to specialize in college etc. But no real groundwork is laid, the odd field trip to the Met or where ever aside. From a socio standpoint, it's interesting: does it reveal some deep-seated distrust of the image? is it something to do with our entrenched Puritanism?

3/04/2008 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Honestly, don't you think it's even a tiny bit more important to know how to read than to make umbrellas and go on a marching parade?

It boils down to how I phrased it for me. There's a significant difference to my mind between an educated child and a well-educated child. I understand the importance of literacy and the solid foundations for rational thinking that math provides, but to suggest those overshadow art to the point arts funding should be cut is something I strongly disagree with. If "young people graduate from high school who can't read or do math" I don't think a few art classes will have been the culprit here. Clearly there's a good deal more wrong with the system than a class devoted to making umbrellas. Yet, this tired meme is trotted out to justify slashing arts education again and again.

the inability to make art is normal

In some cultures, yes, as is the inability to read. It comes back to what a society values.

And the notion that arts education serves only those individuals who choose to become a professional artist is another myth that needs dispelling. Consider the case of the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra program. Not only are these underprivileged and at-risk youths seeing their lives changed by the opportunity to channel their energy and conviction through their music, they are widely considered one of the very best orchestra progams in the world:

The world-renowned opera singer confessed that the concert evoked the strongest emotions he had ever felt.

Venezuelan youth orchestra
The young players have won over many big name musicians

Sir Simon Rattle, director of the Berlin Philharmonic, swore that the country's youth orchestras were doing the most important work in classical music anywhere in the world.

And former Berlin Philharmonic director Claudio Abbado only needed to see one performance by the orchestra to invite the Venezuelans to play in Germany.

The talented musicians of the National System of Venezuelan Youth and Children's Orchestras are a source of national pride, like football stars in other Latin American countries.

They have also inspired 23 countries across the hemisphere to launch similar music education programmes.

Could math or reading have done as much for these kids? Or their families? Or their country?

Clearly math and reading can't be ignored at the expense of art, but I strongly feel art can't be ignored either.

3/04/2008 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yet, this tired meme is trotted out to justify slashing arts education again and again."

I didn't mean to trot out a tired meme and I am NOT for slashing arts education. I agree with you about its importance, except to the extent that it is not QUITE as important, in our culture, as literacy.

To say that something is not quite as important as knowing how to read and write is not the same thing as saying it is not important. I think not having a huge uneducated underclass of unskilled people who have no means of supporting themselves other than selling their bodies, selling drugs, stealing (maybe even from your gallery), etc., is hugely important.

I don't mean to trot out another tired old meme (let those memes sleep already!), but I went to public school and I can tell you that after you've been held up at gunpoint a few times, carjacked, assaulted, etc., what comes to mind first (after making sure that you're still alive) is I wish those individuals had been better educated so that they could have jobs instead of robbing me to survive, and NOT I wish they had an appreciation of how modernism fits into the history of the 20th century.


3/04/2008 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill Santelli said...

As a former art teacher - I've seen the positive impact of Art Education on students - and I think it should be funded by the government (state and/or federal), NOW more than ever.

A few statistics that reflect this point of view :
According to the organization Americans for the Arts, young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week through at least one full year are:

4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools.
4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair.
3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance.
4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.

To learn more.visit the website

3/04/2008 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm sorry Oriane (that you've been held up at gun point, mostly but...), but as shown by the example I noted above (the Venezuelan Youth and Children's Orchestras), art will do more to change someone who is inclined to rob you (at gun point if they're desperate, or via some corporation if they get that good education and job you mistakenly, in my opinion, assert will make them less likely to) than anything else I can think of. Yes, those with solid jobs are generally less desperate, but the highly educated assholes at Enron and the monsters of the banking industry targeting poor families for the now exploding "ninja" loans are just as dangerous and destructive in my opinion. Math and reading did little to humanize those jerks. Perhaps art wouldn't have either, but it's not as simple an equation as more "math = less crime."

Also, what Bill wrote!

3/04/2008 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exposing young people to the arts should offer them the opportunity and ability to imagine and believe in possibilities; however, my grade school and high school arts classes were more stifling and boring than creative.

If we took a different perspective on teaching the basics, art could be incorporated in a regular way into teaching reading and math, as visualization is key to both. The best classes I had as a kid integrated reading, social studies, math (graphing, etc) and creative expression.

To me, music/orchestra is different and needs a specialized outlet/class, maybe because I think of it more in terms of the rigors of learning the instrument, which is technique and discipline, than most of the art I had growing up.

3/04/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

I went to public school and I can tell you that after you've been held up at gunpoint a few times, carjacked, assaulted, etc., what comes to mind first (after making sure that you're still alive) is I wish those individuals had been better educated so that they could have jobs instead of robbing me to survive, and NOT I wish they had an appreciation of how modernism fits into the history of the 20th century.

Fair enuf; but I went to a public school in a working class/middle class suburb of NYC (read: lots of drugs, no guns), and the arts education there was dismal to non-existent. The English department was also pathetic. Not so with math and science, which were pretty good. If a fraction of what they spent on the goddamn football team was spent on english and art it would have made a difference. But no. (Anyone want to make a case for football being more important than reading and writing?) in any case, it's interesting that even on a pre-eminent NYC-centric art blog such as this one, arguments have to be made for the importance of funding art education. We are truly children of America, are we not?

3/04/2008 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you got me there. Like Woody Guthrie said, some will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen.

But I'm also willing to bet that those Enron and subprime mortgage assholes had some art history classes and piano lessons somewhere along the way, and what good did that do?

This could go around in circles endlessly, so I'm not going to keep piping up. I mostly agree with you, that arts education is important, so maybe we should leave it at that.


3/04/2008 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill Santelli said...

The Less Art Kids Get, The More It Shows.
Ask For More.
(courtesy, Americans for the Arts).

I apologize for including another quote from Americans for the Arts. In all honesty, I'm not affiliated with them in any way - it's just that I recently got a direct mail piece from them, and I found their perspective of interest.

3/04/2008 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Here's another perspective of interest: we should stop funding public education, which is a state-run monopoly that operates with increasing inefficiency and oppressiveness as you put more money into it. It uses a system lifted wholesale from Victorian-era Prussia to produce future factory workers and nothing more. More here.

3/04/2008 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger the reader said...

Thanks Ed and anonymous 12:31 for your sanity. Those who can't imagine how literacy and numeracy can be taught through the arts are totally devoid of the very creativity that such a teaching might foster.

I don't really agree with an either or logic and oppositional thinking when it comes to arts funding but if I was to go down that path I would look at the proportional increases and decreases in military and arts funding respectively. A tiny fraction of the money that is pured into the industrial military machine would represent a significant increase in arts funding.

On the subject of pragmatic reasons for funding the arts recent developments in neuroscience offer us plenty, particularly from the perspective of our evolution as a species and the evolution of perception within individuals. although arguments that mention evolution may not help to convince the christian right, particularly when it comes to educational questions.

3/04/2008 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Why don't we simply institute an additional sales tax on art being sold that would go back to the schools. Maybe a sliding scale so that inexpensive local/young artists' work is taxed at a lower percentage while someone dropping millions on a work would pay a higher percentage.

We do it for tobacco and fuel; why not art???

3/05/2008 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

No skin off my art dealer teeth, per se, but as a collector, crionna, wouldn't you be less inclined to buy art if its taxes went up?

Also, that shifts the responsibility to a rather small portion of the public, who already do their part often by supporting the arts via other means, IMHO.

3/05/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to seems questionable precedent to tax particular items to fund those particular items (arts to fund arts education), and in any case, much like the so called promises to using the state lotteries to increase education funding, the net result will be a reduction in other funds which get shifted to activities not benefiting from the special taxes/funding mechanism, rather than an overall higher amount of funding dedicated to the activity that is earmarked to benefit from the special tax.

We charge extra or special sales tax and get away with it for tobacco (alcohol, junk food) and fuel for different reasons -- tobacco tax on a high volume product that is considered a vice (public policy trying to discourage consumption) and has proven inelastic to the price difference added by the extra sales tax (people still buy it) and fuel which is a ubiquitous high volume need/use also rather inelastic to the price difference at least in the short term (demand is finally starting to slow a little at the current prices, but for how long).

Can the same be said of art? Art would have to be seen as sustaining the extra tax like other luxury items (e.g. giant yachts) do (or are thought to do). Maybe it would a little on the very, very high end, but what about for the rest and most of art for which demand probably is very elastic?

3/05/2008 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Edward, actually, pieces are usually in my price range or not. Rarely would, say, 10%-15% mean a big difference to me, because I can't really afford works where that type percentage would make a big difference if you catch my drift. I expect it's the same with many collectors. I'd be ok paying $5500 for a $5000 piece in the same way I'd doubt that someone able to afford a $500,000 piece is going to decide not to buy a piece they love if it's $550K, and so on...

And your second point is well made too, of course, I also benefit most from better art being produced because I like it more, if that makes sense.

Anonymous, I have to disagree with you. The govt. does not tax to discourage purchasing, else the tax would be MUCH higher. Just like speeding tickets or parking fines, they're revenue generators. If we were serious about ending smoking the tax would be $15 per pack. Governments tax things people want, sales tax, and will/can tax more if they can get away with it. I'm waiting for a junk food tax myself.

Likewise, there are ways (at least in CA) to ensure that taxes raised for X, actually go towards X. We have a number of laws requiring that X tax goes only towards X service.

Finally, I guess we'll have to disagree about art purchases being elastic. Perhaps to some folks art is like buying a yacht, but to many others it is as required as cigarettes. My wife Melicious has been putting her foot down about attending openings and shows lately because its hard for me not to purchase. I assume its much the same for other collectors.

PS. E_ maybe we should charge you (dealers) a special license over and above your business license. Hunting and fishing licenses pay for lots of wildlife programs, maybe art dealers should pay a license fee that would go to schools. Christie's et al could spare the loot I'm sure.

3/05/2008 11:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

maybe art dealers should pay a license fee that would go to schools

Oh, yes...because there are way too many opportunities for artists to exhibit their work now.

Most dealers I kow do pay a fee, at least for the first 3-5 years of business. It's called constant stress and anxiety. ;-)

3/06/2008 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Sharon Butler's current post on Two Coats of Paint is a good example of what happens when students have no access to art and art education:

3/06/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Oh, yes...because there are way too many opportunities for artists to exhibit their work now.

Well, you mean respected opportunities, right? Because the internet and the streets seem to be teeming with art.

3/06/2008 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger John Hovig said...

Crionna, let me say with respect that you're barking up the wrong tree. Even if fine art is price-inelastic because high-end collectors are obsessive, and even if art taxes wouldn't punish art collectors, the problem is that "art taxes" are not levied on fine arts like what Ed sells, but on all "arts" as defined by the government. Theater sales, movie tickets, orchestra tickets, strips clubs, god knows what a politician would decide to call art if it could generate revenue.

(And BTW, again with respect, you begin to contradict yourself when you admit there are fewer "respected opportunities" for artists than those on "the internet and the streets." When you start taxing the art associated with "respected opportunities," all you're doing is pushing people toward the art of the "internet and the streets." Tax theory is simple. English makes it even moreso by making the word "tax" a synonym for "hardship." Try replacing the word "tax" with "hardship" every time you write a sentence about taxes and see what you get).

But this is all moot. Raising extra money is unecessary and unproductive. Kids are still going to attend school the same number of hours per week. You can't add hours to the day. Teachers are still going to teach the same number of hours, prepare the same number of lessons, and give the same amount of homework. So we're still going to pay exactly the same amount on education. You don't need to add dollars to the system, any more than you need to add hours to the school day. You need instead to replace time and money that would otherwise be spent on something else.

So finally here's my question: How would you reallocate educational time and money toward art? What subject would get cut?

3/06/2008 10:07:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

the problem is that "art taxes" are not levied on fine arts like what Ed sells, but on all "arts" as defined by the government.

Respectfully, who says? ;-)

Seriously though, I think that your statement needs a change in wording (since we're talking a hypothetical) from "are not levied" to "would not be levied". The government may indeed tax all types of art in this scenario, but nothing says they have to do so. Quite frankly, I think your idea is better. A small tax on movie tickets and iTunes downloads would more than likely both be more palatable (to me) and raise more money.

On your second, it's mucbh easier for me if I replace "government" with "tax" ;-)

Your final point is interesting. I don't really know how schools work now, but I recall learning trumpet at 3rd grade and by the time I was in high school, there were electives yo had to take to make up your total credits needed to graduate. My electives were taken up with Band. Are there no electives anymore?

3/07/2008 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

Thanks for posting this, Ed. I wasn't able to weigh in on Monday as I was traveling around Texas trying to win votes for Obama in the primacaucus :)

I recommend that people read his entire arts proposal. It's quite good, and I think he's the only candidate to have produced one.

3/08/2008 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger John Hovig said...

Crionna - Government calls it an "amusement tax" when it's levied on ticket sales. Chicago's is between 4 and 8 percent, depending on the type of event, from rock concerts to art fairs to bowling alleys. Other cities have their own as well.

If you're limiting the tax to fine art objects, then I'm sure you'll easily remember the recent stories about wealthy bigshots buying art in NYC, shipping it to other states, then bringing it back secretly to Manahttan to avoid taxation. When people start creating a black market, there's not much room for more taxation. And if you're a fan of droite de suite, you may as well just hang up the apron.

My experience with music at school is the same as yours, tho I put down the trumpet after 8th grade and stuck with piano outside school. I don't know what's taught now either, but I'd agree if you said art history should be increased in the social studies curriculum. I don't know what I'd get rid of but I can imagine there would be an opportunity to increase art history at some point in the curriculum. I wonder whether I would have taken art history as an elective in high school if it were available, rather than something horrid and useless like political science, which unfortunately I did. (I only became interested in art many years after college, and did my learning from wall texts, exhibition catalogs and the internet).

3/08/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I only became interested in art many years after college, and did my learning from wall texts, exhibition catalogs and the internet).


I repeat...


Not from your local art dealer????

3/08/2008 03:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"did my learning from wall texts"

Oh, how awful for you! But maybe that means you can decipher them for the rest of us.


3/08/2008 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger John Hovig said...

Maybe this thread is about to take a sharp turn, but I never associated art dealers with general art education.

First of all, let me back up and contextualize what I said above. I've been involved in art production for a few years now, and obviously learned a lot during my time hands-on. I wasn't talking above about how I learned about art once I decided to produce it myself. I’ve had plenty of great training from some wonderful artists, and I have plenty of great colleagues today.

I was talking above about how I learned about art when I was still an outsider. The original topic of this log entry was government support of the arts. The question I was trying to examine was, “How does a student in the US learn about art when they're not an art major?” In my case, the answer was, “not.” So you can read my comment above in that light.

I mean, we all read the famous literature, and we played in band or orchestra if we were inclined, but we never studied the famous paintings. And I grew up near Albany, for Pete’s sake, where you’ve got some of the greatest 20th century art sitting right there for public consumption in the capital plaza. I absolutely loved that Oldenberg piece growing up. Was it a telephone or a fan? I can’t remember any more.

But back to art dealers, local or otherwise. Again with respect, I never learned about cars or computers from their sales representatives, so how is art different? The guy at the Apple store might have an MS in computer science, and the guy at the VW dealership might have been reading Car and Driver since he was 12, but I don’t know if I’m going to “learn about computers” or “learn about cars” from him. I might learn about the specific segments they represent, but not about cars or computers in general.

BTW, I own about a half-dozen works of contemporary art (all of which had four digits next to their red dots), from artists both local and international, so I kind of know what the inside of an art gallery looks like, and what the handshake of a gallerist feels like. I also once lost four pounds on a vacation to Manhattan a few years back, so you could say my feet have pounded the floors of more than one gallery in more than one city too.

I’ve met all kinds of dealers. Some were chatty, some were silent. Some were obviously guiding me toward certain works, and some were just showing me around. But the environment and conditions never once suggested to me that this was a person I should discuss general art topics with.

So, at the risk of taking the wrong turn to Albuquerque, what am I missing?

3/11/2008 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to Kalm:
Whats so good about the (US) Space program? You really dont see a whole lot of economic development based on the discovery of an unreachable galaxy, or based on finding trace amounts of who knows what on Neptune.
That said there are those, myself included, an artist I might add, that fully support the space program (fundamentally anyway) based not on what its going to do for job growth over time but on the intrinsic worth of gaining knowledge.

The sciences are full of arguments appealing to the intrinsic value of doing science and for the most part the public accepts these arguments. After all where would we be, metaphysically speaking, if not for the sciences. It has always befuddled me that this argument of irreducibility does not also have such widespread support when it is applied to the arts.

Perhaps it would be telling if all artists could agree to going on hiatus for awhile, if we all got restaurant jobs and stopped making beautiful things. What effect might his have? No more pretty Ipods, no more pretty buildings, no more flashy web-sites, empty galleries, more museums full of dead artists, how many more Picasso and Ceszanne retrospectives could the world really stomach? No more broadway, uninspired television.

So what happens when the government provides art funding. Does this foster state sponsored artists? Government issued taste? Yes! Hey wakeup! The dwindling sources of government funding for the arts has led to the arts reliance on funding from private sources. Such sources include wealthy benefactors and giant corporations looking to improve their public image. Am I to believe that Phillip Morris, Wal-Mart and an army or wealthy conservative trust fund managers are better taste makers than a hopefully somewhat diverse body of public servants? Hey maybe well get lucky and a few knowledgeable inspired individuals will be appointed and maybe just maybe well have an uptick in art for arts sake; truly. Because i for one am fucking sick of doing paintings in a "similar style but on a smaller canvas and in more muted tones because the architect thinks this painting is too bold for the 50 foot foyer"

11/23/2008 03:35:00 PM  

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