Every time a president proposes a new budget there are laments for what is getting money and what is getting cut. This president is no exception. This time there are cries over the arts having their budgets cut. I contend that the arts are critical to our humanity and as such should not be funded by the Government. State funding and non-profit funding are completely untouched by the proposal. However people are up in arms about the federal cuts to the arts. How should we respond to this?
Perhaps this is a good thing. Give me one example of a great piece of art that is funded by the federal government and I can give you a dozen examples of great art that were not. One way or the other, it is not the amount of funding of art that is important to this discussion but instead the reaction to the funding or lack of it interesting to note.
Here is an example, on twitter Dennis Prager tweeted this:
“If separation of church & state is good for religion (which it is), why won’t separation of arts & state be good for the arts?”
Take a look at the responses to this tweet. If you agree with the Tweet or not, something to note is the people commenting on that to defend something that may not need defending. Now, this is twitter and Dennis Prager is a public figure so keep that in mind.
If government funding is the only thing to keep the artistic temperament going then it is chasing the wrong goal:
The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, very great artists are able to be ordinary men– men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art. (G.K. Chesterton “On The Wit of Whistler” from Heretics)
Is art the great wall that protects us from another dark age? If so, then it must be such a fragile thing that only government funding will protect it and thus us.
If that is true, looking at todays art it has already fallen:
- Back when I was an undergraduate I had to memorize this following definition of art from one of my textbooks: “The definition of art is anything that challenges the definition of art.” This is a fitting and yet horrible definition of what art has become. The definition contradicts itself as if I don’t challenge the definition of art I just challenged this definition of art. In addition to that this reduces art to mere challenge. Look around however at art that is praised, this is seemingly the definition that is followed.
- Art has moved from the good, true, and beautiful to mere self-expression:
But true art will survive. Why? Because we are created in the Image of God. One of the aspects of God is that he is a creator. By extension we are a dim reflection of that aspect.
We recreate the True by stories that resonate in our souls, we recreate the Good by images that show how things ought to be, we recreate the Beautiful with song that is so pure it awakens our senses. We mean so much more than just brains to be challenged or to evoke. We are hearts that are moved and hands that can be inspired.
We need to be better than the artist who believe in ‘art of arts sake’ in C.S. Lewis ‘The Great Divorce’ (Also note this good commentary where the below text was taken from):
“When you painted on earth—at least in your earlier days—it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. “Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”
“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”
“No. You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved to paint only as a means of telling about light.”
“Oh, that’s ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”
“One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.”
Art has become an idol for the shade. Much like many of those who are dependent on government funds for their art – ‘becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations’. As if their talents would disappear if they stopped getting money or all art would freeze and no more would be made.
Even if somehow all art would stop because of the budget cuts; art itself would awaken like a Phoenix because that is something it has before and will do again. During the so called Dark Ages art flourished. These Middle ages were not dark at all:
Art is itself a human impulse. At the darkest of times art shines the brightest. When we stop consuming art and instead make it ourselves then there is a change in community. At that point the world changes person by person. The world will change for the better not with money but with people sharing their gifts, talents, and perspective.
In the purest sense, art is wonder personified. That is why is the days past Art was seen as connected to science; science was connected to literature, literature was connected to life, and so on. The great thinkers were polymaths or renaissance men (and women). They all had wonder that they explored. This wonder is not just there for government funding but for the sake of ‘thinking God’s thoughts after Him’ (Kepler), dedicating all his works to God (Bach) or even in the secular sense admiring the world around us.
I resolve that Art is a hardy thing, it will never die off. It does not need governmental life support to survive. It is a thing that is continually under a refiners fire and will again and again rise to inspire in the future but only if we truly keep art in the context it should be – a reflection of the divine impulse of worship.