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“We shall have a man in the White House who will feel as responsible for American civilization as he does for American power and prosperity.”
November 1, 2011 8:23 AM   Subscribe

"It was no accident that arts funding was once again brought to national attention with the exhibit Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Since the 80s, the enemies of the NEA have not been those with differences of opinion about what art should be supported or how. Instead they oppose any support at all for art of any kind." Hide/Seek, Culture Wars and the History of the NEA (NSFW, art)
posted by The Whelk (115 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
(NSFW, art)
posted by shakespeherian at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2011


I don't have much to add, except for that this was an awesome exhibit while it was up. I think I went to see it 3 separate times.
posted by schmod at 8:30 AM on November 1, 2011


Also whenever I see the plastic crucifix from A Fire In My Belly I think of the failed crucifix salesman in Songs from the Second Floor: 'How can you make money on a crucified loser?'
posted by shakespeherian at 8:30 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since I was alive and kicking when the whole Mapplethorpe thing went down back in the 80s, I'm going to have to disagree with the blanket statement that the enemies of the NEA are monolithic in the sources of their opposition.
posted by spicynuts at 8:35 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...the enemies of the NEA have not been those with differences of opinion about what art should be supported or how. Instead they oppose any support at all for art of any kind."

Yeah, but usually they come to that opinion because there is certain art they don't like that is being supported. I really doubt that they'd make that much fuss over it if the NEA were exclusively confined to Miss Elegantine's Ballet Academy For Proper Young Girls or the like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I know I should be less shocked by the pervasive CIA influence in govt, but man, look at all that pervasive CIA influence!
posted by The Whelk at 8:37 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, but usually they come to that opinion because there is certain art they don't like that is being supported.

But the article makes a good point when it talks about Andrew Jackson (WHOM I LOATHE) that appreciation for art is associated with education and thus with privilege and thus the GWB-type 'common man' folks are super anti-art on principle.

This comment was mostly an excuse to express my hatred for Andrew Jackson.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:40 AM on November 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yeah, but usually they come to that opinion because there is certain art they don't like that is being supported.

Yes, the art they like being supported is "increasing the amount of money in my personal banking account at all costs".
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on November 1, 2011


Bender: "Would you censor the Venus de Venus just because you can see her spewers?"
Ship: "That's filthy! Why not create a national endowment for strip clubs while we're at it?"
Bender: "Why not, indeed?"
posted by Talez at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


But the article makes a good point when it talks about Andrew Jackson (WHOM I LOATHE) that appreciation for art is associated with education and thus with privilege and thus the GWB-type 'common man' folks are super anti-art on principle.

No, I hear that and I'm aware of it; I just have the sense that for the "common man folks," the non-objectionable art sort of gets mentally filed into a weird nebulous "non-art" category, you know? Like: paintings are "room decor," plays and movies and music are "entertainment", and dance is "a hobby for my little girl because what little girl doesn't like pretending she's a ballerina, right?". It's only when it's something that they don't like, or something that doesn't fit into one of those categories, that it becomes "art".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


That is true, and what Art Establishment there is has bought into it pretty well, too. The last true geniuses of an inclusive arts were the French New Wave.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I AM FULL OF ESOTERICALLY CONTROVERSIAL OPINIONS
posted by shakespeherian at 8:47 AM on November 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I just get the sense that if the NEA were funding more people like Thomas Kincaide that we wouldn't even be having a discussion about whether "government should fund art". I'm sure there'd still be a couple of out-edge hardliners -- there always are -- but they'd have a lot less support becuase most people would be all, "...wait, but those paintings are pretty! What's wrong with them? Why not support them?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although for some reason I am reminded of a poster I saw that paid tribute to Ansel Adams by printing a collection of some of his "humorous quotes" (I did not know there was a market for "The wit and wisdom of Ansel Adams", but there you go). And one of his quotes he had was: "just accept it: you will never, ever get an NEA grant."

If Ansel Adams wasn't even getting the NEA Grants, that tells me that the distribution process is so weird and byzantine that no one really knows how it works, and we're all each projecting all sorts of things onto it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on November 1, 2011


Ah Shakespherian...I think that is why arts funding in Calgary is always a tough sale. Great point!
posted by Calzephyr at 8:58 AM on November 1, 2011


Art that reinforces the dominant paradigm is always cheerfully supported by conservatives. It takes a liberal to support art that disagrees or subverts.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:59 AM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm opposed to public funding of artists except when a specific work of a specific type is commissioned by the public. For example: "Here is one thousand bucks, make me a paper mache Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the Womens Museum."

I think the best art comes from artists who are struggling. If Van Gogh got three square meals a day and a nice warm bed, we wouldn't get as much "Starry Night" as much as we would get "Paintings of Light."
posted by Renoroc at 9:04 AM on November 1, 2011


Art that reinforces the dominant paradigm is always cheerfully supported by conservatives. It takes a liberal to support art that disagrees or subverts.

As I am fond of referencing, in a handful of chapters near the end of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera makes a series of arguments that links kitsch with fascism, because kitsch, unlike art, refuses the complexity of life and the questioning that goes with it: Authoritarianism requires a complicit populace, and works that ignore problems inherent to the world are much better suited to sustaining an unquestioned dictatorship than works which depict shit and concerns and realistic problems. Art, therefore (or whatever less-problematic term we'd like to use) is inherently liberally democratic.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:06 AM on November 1, 2011 [19 favorites]


What I thought was bizarre and wonderful was reading that the NEA was funded mainly out of nationalistic Cold War anxiety to promote abstract expressionism. Wasn't expecting that!
posted by en forme de poire at 9:07 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Empress...I applied for a training grant to fund my art school education and I'm eagerly waiting to see if I wrote an A+ grant or not. Granting authorities can be notoriously fickle. Often the application guidelines are very detailed and an incomplete submission can be rejected. Similarly, if it is a juried process, one may never know the wherefore and why.
posted by Calzephyr at 9:09 AM on November 1, 2011


Lemme tell you all a story about art and politics....:)
posted by lobstah at 9:10 AM on November 1, 2011


My perhaps-controversial stance is that the US should prioritize significant public funding for narrative films, or to better allow investment in independent films to qualify as program related investments. America's independent film industry, which used to be one of the best in the world, is now but a shadow of its former self. Creative, original films with humble but workable budgets have a funny way of seeping into the zeitgeist for entire generations.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Renoroc.... the drive to create art doesn't come from physical hunger or neediness, it comes from angst. As I'm sure you are aware, angst is pervasive and endemic to the human condition at all levels of income. So your proposition is not only offensive to people like me who struggle to pay our bills and also create art that is worth perceiving, it's incorrect.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:12 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


renoroc, i... don't think that's how it works.

also oh my god sticherbeast if someone revamped the hollywood system away from churning out pieces of "product" cut off of the "product loaf" that would be awesome.
posted by beefetish at 9:13 AM on November 1, 2011


you want angst, continue arguing with renoroc. You'll be Picasso in no time.
posted by spicynuts at 9:14 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the best art comes from artists who are struggling.

You may be right, but I think you are from that deducing a causal relationship that doesn't exist.
posted by DU at 9:17 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the best art comes from artists who are struggling. If Van Gogh got three square meals a day and a nice warm bed, we wouldn't get as much "Starry Night" as much as we would get "Paintings of Light."

And if only Michelangelo had been supported by wealthy patrons, he might have actually accomplished something. Oh, wait...
posted by Thorzdad at 9:20 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think the best art comes from artists who are struggling.

I loathe this opinion like I loathe the belief that great music only comes from songwriters who are living in a well of pain. It's a bullshit romantic notion that does more harm than good.
posted by mykescipark at 9:23 AM on November 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


also oh my god sticherbeast if someone revamped the hollywood system away from churning out pieces of "product" cut off of the "product loaf" that would be awesome.

Oh, I'm not even proposing any change to Hollywood. Do whatever, Hollywood. What I'm proposing would allow for more movies with, say, $20-40 million dollar budgets from both new and established directors. These films would not only provide for hundreds of jobs and actual working internships/apprenticeships, but some of them would even turn a profit on their own merits, all while also allowing light to be shown on different corners of the US. How cool would it be to get a creative, independent, healthily-budgeted film made with a professional crew in, say, Arkansas, or Alaska, or somewhere else where Hollywood doesn't typically go?

It could be government funding, but an easier sell could even be something more modest, like legitimizing LC3s as business organizations while also getting the IRS to recognize that independent films fulfilling certain fairly broad criteria should qualify as program related investments.

Encourage foundational investment in chancier films. It's a concept free market enough for conservatives to not mind, while also being helpful enough for liberals to get behind.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2011


I'm opposed to public funding of artists except when a specific work of a specific type is commissioned by the public.

Then who gets to be "the public"? What if "the public" wants something that is acceptable to a slim majority but wildly offensive to a large minority? After all, what goes over well in one place, be it a town or state or country, doesn't go well in others.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2011


You may have a point with Michelangelo, BUT he was commissioned to make all those masterpieces. What I am against is the ambiguous open ended funding of a personage by the government without any specific goal. If we are going to give prize money for great works which have been completed, we ought to call it prize money, not an "endowment".

Apology: A lot of people are skilled craftsmen who are struggling and I am sorry if my original comment was demeaning.
posted by Renoroc at 9:30 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apropos of little, I would like to point out that those famous Mapplethorpe photos were commercially successful in their own right. I can't speak to whether or not Piss Christ was commercially successful on its own, but the artist behind it wound up designing the album covers for Metallica's Load and Reload, and I'm sure he didn't do those for free.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:31 AM on November 1, 2011


If Van Gogh got three square meals a day and a nice warm bed, we wouldn't get as much "Starry Night" as much as we would get "Paintings of Light."

Vincent got regular endowments from his brother Theo, which allowed him to focus on things like "Starry Night" instead of "Digging Ditches for Food".
posted by scrowdid at 9:34 AM on November 1, 2011 [13 favorites]




I think the best art comes from artists who are struggling. If Van Gogh got three square meals a day and a nice warm bed, we wouldn't get as much "Starry Night" as much as we would get "Paintings of Light."

Virginia Woolf would disagree with you; she said precisely the opposite in her book A Room Of One's Own. Granted, her focus was exclusively on writers, but she said that she could tell a difference between the writing of the Dickens and the Brontes -- who were poor, and so their work also had an edge of always chafing under that poverty -- and Jane Austen, who was comfortable her whole life. She preferred Austen's work, as it had a sort of ease and freedom that she could sense wasn't in the Bronte's work; you could tell that there were times when they wanted their imaginations to take flight, but they cut it short because worries about money were preoccupying them. I do know that I'm a lot more free as a writer when I'm not fretting about mundane life stuff myself, so there may be something to that.

Mind you, it's also possible for someone to take that hardship and turn it into art themselves, as well. I'm not so much saying that one OR the other is true; more like I'm saying that BOTH can be true, depending on the artist him/herself. Some do better work with more money; some do great work with less. But that is entirely dependant upon the person, and not the amount of money they are or aren't making.

One thing's for sure,though, that if they're working for too many hours TO make art, then they can't do ANYTHING.

Empress...I applied for a training grant to fund my art school education and I'm eagerly waiting to see if I wrote an A+ grant or not. Granting authorities can be notoriously fickle.

Oh, believe me, I know. I'm part of the staff of a theater company and I've been helping proofread grant applications for the past 10 years.

But the thing is, we're not applying directly to the NEA -- we're applying to state and city grants. I THINK something that may be confusing a lot of people about the NEA is: it doesn't just fund artists individually, the NEA also gives a lot of grants to other foundations. Some of the New York City Arts Council money is part of a grant THEY got from the NEA, in other words. So we may be getting money that originally came from the NEA once upon a time, but it passed through a few different foundations, and it's someone completely different who decides which individual group gets it.

That kind of hair-splitting, though, gets overlooked when you get into the politics of it: "The NEA funds this crap" sounds a lot more rabble-rousy than does "The NEA funded the state foundation that funded the city foundation that funded the Modern Dance Trust Fund that funded this crap".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many works of public art are highly controversial and reviled by the local public for whom they were commissioned. We're in the midst of an ugly debate on just that subject in Ann Arbor.

Lots of artists have speculative projects which need funding from someone to be realized. In the past it might have been a wealthy patron. These days more likely to be a foundation but won't be the NEA since they aren't allowed to fund individual artists and haven't been since the right got all worked up over Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.

Seems to my admittedly biased mind that a society that values arts and culture and supports it does better on all sorts of metrics. Am lazy but there are dozens of studies showing better outcomes for all sorts of science and math development when cultural development is supported. Would add that there are relatively few grants out there that are for general support - most are project specific.

Will end here - I've got a big pile of grant applications to review so don't have time to rant more.
posted by leslies at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2011


I'm honestly kind of confused about the framing of the article. NEA funding (giving public money to artists to produce new work) wasn't the issue in the Smithsonian-Hide/Seek scandal (using theoretically public money to host a retrospective of known artworks). In both cases, I think the defunders are full of shit, but they're not about the same thing.

(And if you haven't seen or heard of it, the Museum of Censored Art was a Herculean attempt to bring attention to the story and then present the removed artworks to the public in an area immediately adjacent to the National Portrait Gallery. Disclaimer: I personally know these guys, and they are awesome.)
posted by psoas at 9:44 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the best art comes from artists who are struggling. If Van Gogh got three square meals a day and a nice warm bed, we wouldn't get as much "Starry Night" as much as we would get "Paintings of Light."

Romantic nonsense, Renoroc, akin to the appalling theory that "you can beat this cancer if you only want to enough!", or "blues is 'black music' - whites can't play it!.

Add to the list, after Michaelangelo: Manet, Picasso, Matisse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Martha Graham, Chuck Close, ...
posted by IAmBroom at 10:06 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw the exhibit, and afterwards visited the trailer the Museum of Censored Art had set up outside. The exhibit itself was great (barring the whole censorship thing); the day I went, there were two guys with Smithsonian badges interviewing people on camera about what they thought about the exhibit and the removal of the clip from the Wojnarowicz film. They said it would be on the Smithsonian site at some point, but I never remembered to go look.

Also, previously on mefi.
posted by rtha at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2011


Philip K. Dick just got better and better as he got older and poorer and insaner, right?
posted by Mister_A at 10:15 AM on November 1, 2011


Yeah, I just get the sense that if the NEA were funding more people like Thomas Kincaide that we wouldn't even be having a discussion about whether "government should fund art".

While I don't know whether the NEA funds anything just like Kincaide, it's my impression that most NEA funding goes to completely uncontroversial programs that present completely uncontroversial works. It would not surprise me if at least $10 is spent on "pops" concerts or yet another adaptation of Shakespeare or Christie for every $1 spent on something conservatives claim as offensive.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:20 AM on November 1, 2011


I think there are two separate sides of conservative thought that are being conflated here. One is that art (any art at all) is not a legitimate use of tax dollars - that artists need to make it on their own just like everybody else - the small government, fiscally conservative view. The other side is that much art on the edges is Not Really Art, is often disgusting and offensive and exists just to get attention and shock people - the social conservative view. The two views come together in a lot of people, and stuff like Hide/Seek and Mapplethorpe give both sides conniptions, but neither one is really "anti-art." One is "art-should-pay-for-itself" and the other is "art-should-be-pretty-and-inoffensive."
posted by Dojie at 10:30 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason conservatives want to take funding away is poor people having nice things offends them on an instinctual level. Yeah I know we aren't supposed to talk about conservatives as if they're mustache twirlingly evil, but in reality this is a hill they are willing to die on. Defunding the NEA, repealing the CRA, basically conservatives just hate TLAs so much.
posted by Peztopiary at 10:32 AM on November 1, 2011


"Art-should-be-pretty-and-inoffensive" is distinctly anti-art.
posted by scrowdid at 10:33 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Philip K. Dick just got better and better as he got older and poorer and insaner, right?

I'm willing to accept that, when reading Dick, "better" means "more people turned out to be secretly robots."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:41 AM on November 1, 2011


While I don't know whether the NEA funds anything just like Kincaide, it's my impression that most NEA funding goes to completely uncontroversial programs that present completely uncontroversial works. It would not surprise me if at least $10 is spent on "pops" concerts or yet another adaptation of Shakespeare or Christie for every $1 spent on something conservatives claim as offensive.

My mis-statement; my point was more like "if the NEA were funding ONLY people like Thomas Kincaide." You're absolutely correct that most of the NEA funding is going to uncontroversial things (or, to be scrupulously accurate, it's going to fund OTHER foundations, which in turn fund largely uncontroversial things).

My point was more that if it were ONLY these uncontroversial things being funded, the ire would be far less because there wouldn't be anything to get people upset.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on November 1, 2011


While I don't know whether the NEA funds anything just like Kincaide, it's my impression that most NEA funding goes to completely uncontroversial programs that present completely uncontroversial works. It would not surprise me if at least $10 is spent on "pops" concerts or yet another adaptation of Shakespeare or Christie for every $1 spent on something conservatives claim as offensive.

Isn't that how it should be? People love and want to contribute to "pops" concerts. People like (or think they should like) Shakespeare. If you want people to fund art, you should focus on mostly giving them the art they want, not the art you think they should have. A stated goal of wanting public arts money to go to things most people aren't going like is a terrible plan. If the perception of the NEA was an organization that mostly funded stuff people love and occasionally or rarely funded something that vexed people I'd expect we'd have a larger pot of NEA money to go around. Maybe even a larger pot in absolute terms for transgressive projects.

I'd love to see a matching funds approach to the arts. For every dollar you get from the public in ticket sales, or the sale of artistic work product, you get some amount of money from a federal arts program. Then people who are scraping by, but providing things that are of value to people would be able to do a little better than scrape by. Maybe people would be more inclined to patronize artists or purchase artistic work product too.
posted by pseudonick at 10:45 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want people to fund art, you should focus on mostly giving them the art they want, not the art you think they should have.

The problem with that, though, is that the art "that people want" often doesn't NEED to be funded, because they've got enough commercial support.

And -- what if your tastes don't match what "everyone else wants"? Mine sure as hell don't. And I don't have enough money to make huge donations to singlehandedly ensure that the theater companies and music groups I like stay alive and operational. So if they go under because they don't have enough money, that means -- what, I'm shit out of luck?

And honestly, "doing things that are guaranteed to make money" is the way art stagnates. For Exhibit A, I give you: Broadway. Nearly everything on Broadway now is a "stage adaptation" of a movie or some "jukebox musical"; forty or fifty years ago there was much more original work. Straight drama is also very rare on Broadway now; that's because straight drama doesn't make as much money as musicals do, so that's what people produce.

And Exhibit B of my "why going for what the people want" may not be wise: American Idol. Yeah, they get a popular vote every year, but -- would you call any of those people "artists"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pseudonick- most grant programs require the grantee to come up with matching funds.
posted by leslies at 11:06 AM on November 1, 2011


"I'd love to see a matching funds approach to the arts."

That's exactly the status quo with most off the grants I have heard about.
posted by idiopath at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2011


People love and want to contribute to "pops" concerts.

Apparently they don't, if the funding struggle of my local symphony is any indicator.
posted by scrowdid at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Art-should-be-pretty-and-inoffensive" is distinctly anti-art.

Not really. It's just a different definition. People who believe this might still support music instruction in schools, local ballet companies, art in public spaces, etc. Art that doesn't make people uncomfortable. It's still art. It just doesn't include some things that other people consider to be art.
posted by Dojie at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2011


Yes, that's a good point -- pseudonick, grant programs do require you to show that you're also getting money from other sources, including audience revenue.

And honestly, audience revenue ain't much. Theater's got it especially tough -- the most your average independant theater company can charge per ticket, for an off-off-broadway show, is twenty dollars. Most of these shows take place in only fifty-seat theaters, and they don't sell all fifty seats. And they can only do twenty shows (union rules).

So audience revenue for a show probably is only about 8-10 grand, if you're lucky. Which is about how much it cost to rent the space in the first place; so you still have to find the money to pay the actors, the costumers, the designers....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on November 1, 2011


Isn't that how it should be? People love and want to contribute to "pops" concerts. People like (or think they should like) Shakespeare.

I'm not complaining about pops concerts or Shakespeare performances. I'm objecting to the Republican strategy of manufacturing scandal as a way to attack larger services. I see the same strategy at work behind the attacks on ACORN and Planned Parenthood.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:59 AM on November 1, 2011


And honestly, "doing things that are guaranteed to make money" is the way art stagnates.

Yes a million times. My local symphony quite literally doesn't perform anything written in the last hundred years. They put on a performance of Rite of Spring a couple of years ago - very daring! And I was in the audience and heard the reaction. The people in front of me had apparently gotten tickets because they were in county government. They were delighted when they sat down (I heard the man say to his wife that he was glad they were going to listen to some 'pretty music'), got more and more restless as the performance continued, and then left at intermission.

It wasn't the riot that greeted the piece originally, but the fact that the symphony has to cater to people who think music should be 'pretty' is not a way to actually support art in the community, any more than opening a Kinkade store does.
posted by winna at 12:04 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "Yeah, I just get the sense that if the NEA were funding more people like Thomas Kincaide that we wouldn't even be having a discussion about whether "government should fund art""

Really? Because if the government was providing funding to Thomas Kincaide, I'd be wanting to have some serious discussions about the program that was awarding that funding.
posted by schmod at 12:09 PM on November 1, 2011


Not really. It's just a different definition.

I think it tends to go hand-in-hand with an incredibly narrow usage of the word 'pretty,' and an incredibly broad usage of the word 'offensive.'
posted by shakespeherian at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


schmod, I am afraid you and I are in the minority on that....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reason conservatives want to take funding away is poor people having nice things offends them on an instinctual level.

I'm reminded of this article from the New Yorker:
The reason we don't have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is... for the same reason that seventeenth-century Protestants hated the beautiful Baroque churches of Rome when they saw them: they were luxurious symbols of an earthly power they despised. ...people who don't want high-speed rail are not just indifferent to fast trains. They are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas: these things give too much pleasure to those they hate.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:31 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Art-should-be-pretty-and-inoffensive" is distinctly anti-art.

Indeed, as are safe, staid, time-tested, repetitive pseudo-avant-garde hurr-de-durr-durr-I'm-a-offensive-ee-doo juxtapositions of religious figures and waste/offal/bugs/vermin/etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:25 PM on November 1, 2011


stich and yet people still flip their wigs over that

peed on one crucifix, you've peed on 'em all
posted by beefetish at 1:46 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


hurr-de-durr-durr-I'm-a-offensive-ee-doo

One of Slim Whitman's lesser known, more controversial lyrics.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:15 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


After reading this article, then choking halfway through, I would be prepared to accuse Ed Sanders' "The Hairy Table" of being a brilliant false-flag anti-NEA operation to appall the nation. I've read medical textbooks more romantic than that.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:51 PM on November 1, 2011


also oh my god sticherbeast if someone revamped the hollywood system away from churning out pieces of "product" cut off of the "product loaf" that would be awesome.

I don't think the product is "cut" so much as "pinched."

(I'm attempting to write a grant proposal tonight, so I shall say no more, lest I jinx myself.)
posted by louche mustachio at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2011


Some organization should organize a 1:1 swap of private money for NEA money. So if NEA wants to fund 50% of a ballet performance and 50% of Jesus picking his nose, the organization would arrange for NEA to fund 100% of the ballet performance and redirect the private money from the ballet performance to Jesus picking his nose. They would have to figure out some details, like how to do this without it being money laundering....
posted by miyabo at 7:23 PM on November 1, 2011


without it being money laundering....
but that's the fun part
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:39 PM on November 1, 2011


A lot of modern art leaves me cold, but the funding mentioned in the article is a penny per week from everyone in the US. For a penny I think I can risk that some of the art isn't stuff to my taste.
posted by bystander at 10:43 PM on November 1, 2011


also i am anti-art, information and language are mistakes, down with them
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:57 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea of tax dollars for art sounds like a troubling idea at first. The idea of welfare or a handout for artists who can't get people to voluntarily give money is offputting. This is especially true in today's economy.

However as mentioned in some of the comments the amount is minimal - relatively speaking. The possible benefit either from just shear enjoyment, to inspiration to become an artist, to look at life differently, and more is probably worth the small amounts spent.

I do get irritated by taxpayer money being given to those "artists" who throw trash on the ground and call it art. That sort of art just seems to me to be nothing but an embodiment of the Emperor's New Clothes. I would like to see some skill or even thought. While one may say that Mapplethorpe's pictures lacked any sort of skill or talent, there is the case that they showed creativity.

Art that is nothing but a blank canvas shows none of those. At the very least the art should stand on its own as art. It shouldn't require some sort of bs metaphoric explanation that the wadded up Kleenex represents man's raping of the environment. Of course there have been many such works that became extremely valuable. So there is a market for that but not sure the government should be that market. Of course one could argue who am I or anyone for that matter to decide if the art piece took talent, skill, or creativity to produce or even if that is necessary to art.

Is there any sort of investment aspects to NEA's funding? In other words if NEA funds some unknown artists who then becomes successful is there any sort of required payback to the NEA? Sort of a venture capital type of thing? That would help I'd think.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:21 AM on November 2, 2011


That would help I'd think.

Would help with what?

(Data point: I am of the opinion that not everything has to have some sort of ROI value, and that in fact that is a destructive and delusional way to approach every single financial exchange.)
posted by rtha at 7:51 AM on November 2, 2011


The idea of welfare or a handout for artists who can't get people to voluntarily give money is offputting.

The idea that art should by necessity and definition be commodified is offputting.

Art that is nothing but a blank canvas shows none of those. At the very least the art should stand on its own as art. It shouldn't require some sort of bs metaphoric explanation that the wadded up Kleenex represents man's raping of the environment.

I mean this sincerely-- why? And how is that possible? How much should a work be able to stand on its own? And does any work stand on its own? Does Michelangelo's Birth of Man carry its full impact if you don't know the Hebrew creation myth? Is Turner's Hannibal Crossing the Alps as terrifying if you don't know who Hannibal is? Are you able to look at El Greco's Annunciation without recognizing the winged figures as angels? How is it possible to ignore what context you have when you regard a piece of art? And if you can't-- if a piece of art gets your brain churning and figuring things out and thinking about what decisions the artist made, and guesses as to why, and maybe what they mean, and thinking that it's interesting that meaning has been generated in your brain in this fashion, and you look around you and there is weird beauty in things because you started thinking differently for a second... at what point does that turn into bullshit art?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:56 AM on November 2, 2011


rtha: "That would help I'd think.

Would help with what?

(Data point: I am of the opinion that not everything has to have some sort of ROI value, and that in fact that is a destructive and delusional way to approach every single financial exchange.)
"

It would help the general public be more accepting of tax dollars being given to artists if there was a return. While you may not worry about a roi, many do. There would still be more money handed out than coming in but any sort of return would help the acceptance of NEA.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:58 AM on November 2, 2011


shakespeherian: "The idea of welfare or a handout for artists who can't get people to voluntarily give money is offputting.

The idea that art should by necessity and definition be commodified is offputting.

Art that is nothing but a blank canvas shows none of those. At the very least the art should stand on its own as art. It shouldn't require some sort of bs metaphoric explanation that the wadded up Kleenex represents man's raping of the environment.

I mean this sincerely-- why? And how is that possible? How much should a work be able to stand on its own? And does any work stand on its own? Does Michelangelo's Birth of Man carry its full impact if you don't know the Hebrew creation myth? Is Turner's Hannibal Crossing the Alps as terrifying if you don't know who Hannibal is? Are you able to look at El Greco's Annunciation without recognizing the winged figures as angels? How is it possible to ignore what context you have when you regard a piece of art? And if you can't-- if a piece of art gets your brain churning and figuring things out and thinking about what decisions the artist made, and guesses as to why, and maybe what they mean, and thinking that it's interesting that meaning has been generated in your brain in this fashion, and you look around you and there is weird beauty in things because you started thinking differently for a second... at what point does that turn into bullshit art?
"


Your point is valid and that is why I added the bit about who am I or anyone to define a particular piece of art as being without merit or even having merit is a necessity to art.

I am not talking about works such as you described. Those do stand on their own. I am talking about the modern art where literally anything is labeled art. Where upending the garbage can is art, where sitting around is art, where typing a comment to MeFi is Art, etc. I am talking more about those art works which doesn't get your brain churning.

As I stated some of those types of art do become popular. Canning your shit, painting a canvas black, etc have all made their artists quite successful.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:05 AM on November 2, 2011


It would help the general public be more accepting of tax dollars being given to artists if there was a return. While you may not worry about a roi, many do.

I disagree. My impression is that the people who get upset about NEA funding do so not because they're not getting their money's worth, but because NEA money goes to art they don't like. The argument that "I don't want my tax dollars to pay for anything I don't agree with" is an argument nobody can win (not that it stops people from making it). Telling ideologues that they'll get a 10% ROI (or whatever) on their NEA "investment" is wicked unlikely to change their minds.

Also, what kind of ROI could I expect to give a shit about on my 1 penny/week that goes to the NEA?
posted by rtha at 8:13 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha: "My impression is that the people who get upset about NEA funding do so not because they're not getting their money's worth, but because NEA money goes to art they don't like. The argument that "I don't want my tax dollars to pay for anything I don't agree with" is an argument nobody can win (not that it stops people from making it). Telling ideologues that they'll get a 10% ROI (or whatever) on their NEA "investment" is wicked unlikely to change their minds."

yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think you're right. Also if there was a ROI requirement you may turn the NEA into just a cut-throat business looking to only endow those it thinks (with whoever subjective opinion) may show a return. All in all it was an unwise idea.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:16 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am not talking about works such as you described. Those do stand on their own. I am talking about the modern art where literally anything is labeled art. Where upending the garbage can is art, where sitting around is art, where typing a comment to MeFi is Art, etc. I am talking more about those art works which doesn't get your brain churning.

As I stated some of those types of art do become popular. Canning your shit, painting a canvas black, etc have all made their artists quite successful.


I'm confused, because I thought I was describing how all of those works don't stand on their own, but require additional knowledge or context in order to get what's going on. A painting of a guy with wings talking to a woman?

Regarding the examples you have of artworks you don't like, could you give some real examples? Do you have a link to an artist upending a garbage can or canning my shit?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:19 AM on November 2, 2011


am talking about the modern art where literally anything is labeled art. Where upending the garbage can is art, where sitting around is art, where typing a comment to MeFi is Art, etc. I am talking more about those art works which doesn't get your brain churning.

Just because they don't get YOUR brain churning, doesn't mean they don't get ANYONE'S brain churning. There are people for whom categorizing "upending the garbage can" as "art" does indeed provoke a response in them.

So, again -- how do we quantify what "is" art and what "isn't"? What is the minimum number of people who can claim to have a response before we can call something "art"?

Or going further -- even though you claim to not a response to this "art" -- you claim that it doesn't "get your brain churning" -- I would beg to differ. You DO have a response; your brain DID churn. You just had the reaction that "this is not art". How is that reation not a response? How was the thought process you put into generating that reaction NOT an instance of "your brain churning"?

Look, I actually kind of agree with you on the weird "Emperor's New clothes" aspect of a lot of modern art, but I think that takign the extra step of quantifying it as "Not-Art" when it comes to government grants is a slippery-slope issue.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "Or going further -- even though you claim to not a response to this "art" -- you claim that it doesn't "get your brain churning" -- I would beg to differ. You DO have a response; your brain DID churn. You just had the reaction that "this is not art". How is that reation not a response? How was the thought process you put into generating that reaction NOT an instance of "your brain churning"?"

um...well... you see, um, I... that is...uh.
Hmmph.
:) Excellent point. Very well made. I'll just go back to hiding in a corner now.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:23 AM on November 2, 2011


shakespeherian: "

Regarding the examples you have of artworks you don't like, could you give some real examples? Do you have a link to an artist upending a garbage can or canning my shit?"


An example of what I am talking about:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Malevich.black-square.jpg
Nothing but a black square. The only reason this is "art" is because the artist said it is. The only reason it has value is because of the Emeperor's New Clothes aspect. Why is that black square art and any other isn't?

The Canned Shit was done http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist%27s_Shit. Much of its art value is because of the shock value, of the discussion it ensues. As EmpressCallipygos pointed out, that does give it an artistic value and I was wrong to include it.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:36 AM on November 2, 2011


um...well... you see, um, I... that is...uh.
Hmmph.


:-) Nah, I actually hear you on the furrowed-brow and the ".....really?" reaction to a lot of what's out there. There are people who endow it with Deeper Meaning, though, and...eh, more power to them.

What may help you a bit, though, is something I do with some Modern Art -- stop TRYING to figure out if it means anything or whether it's supposed to "get your brain churning," and just let yourself respond if it's "cool". The last time I was at MoMA, they had one of Yoko Ono's pieces -- Voice Piece For Soprano. All it was was: a microphone set up under a sign that read: "Scream 1. against the wind 2. against the wall 3. against the sky." The mike was live, and the idea was that people could come up and scream their heads off into it.

Now, I can't say as I quite understand what "meaning" Yoko Ono may have meant by that particular piece. But I tell you what, it was really, really interesting people-watching, sitting next to that piece and watching all the people gather the nerve to actually walk up and scream. It was really fun seeing which people gave half-assed meek little "eeee" and which people did the full-on "AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I finally got up and made my own contribution (by doing an imitation of Roger Daltrey from "Won't Get Fooled Again").

Sometimes I think if people take too much of a left-brain response to art -- getting all caught up in what it "means" or the like -- it can cut you off from enjoying things. You may still not quite get some modern art -- there's plenty I don't get either -- but it frees you up to appreciate things on a different "I still don't know what it means, but it's still kinda cool" level. I have no idea why the video artist whose work I saw once made a video of a bunch of kids jumping rope while a garage band played "subterranean homesick blues", but I like the song, the kids all looked like they were having fun, and so hey. (That kind of "don't try to figure out what it means" reaction also lets you walk away from stuff that people are telling you you're supposed to get -- I understand what the "meaning" is for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, but I don't care, it looks like a half-assed exhibit at the Natural History Museum, so to hell with it.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hirst, as near as I can tell, is following Duchamp in purposefully poking at the Emperor-has-no-clothes popular notion of contemporary art, which is fun to me but I also don't particularly care for any of his individual pieces.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:47 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The TL/DR synthesis of what I've been trying to say:

It's okay if you don't get every single piece of art that's out there. Not all art appeals to all people, because everyone's taste is different.

But that's why the NEA should have the freedom to fund everything, because if you start getting into trying to draw lines about what "is" and "isn't" art, then you get all bogged down in a HELL of a quagmire about "by whose definition" and "how many people have to like something for it to qualify as 'art'" and all that, and that just gives everybody a headache. Your individual contribution to a single specific artists's work is minimal, so you can console yourself over "wait, some of my money went to pay for the weird black square painting," by reminding yourself that "but some snooty art critic's money paid for the Pops concert in my neighborhood in return, so it evens out".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]



I'm confused, because I thought I was describing how all of those works don't stand on their own, but require additional knowledge or context in order to get what's going on. A painting of a guy with wings talking to a woman?


All of the works in your examples refer to things that are known outside of the artist's mind. It's not unreasonable to expect that the audience will have heard of the Hebrew creation story, Hannibal, or angels. And even without that, they absolutely do stand on their own as really impressive things to look at and admire technique, use of color, etc.. I have seen plenty of art that I may not understand completely but it still inspires me or moves me. I don't have to have heard of the subject of a portrait to respond to it.

This may provoke a response (mostly - "ewww!"), but without the artist's intention, there is no way it stands as art on its own without explanation. It becomes "art" ONLY with the artist's intent being explained. Without knowing the reason behind it, it looks much more at home in a collection of gag gifts than in a gallery.

I'm not opposed to modern or experimental art myself, but it doesn't take a huge leap to see that a whole lot of people would not consider something like a can of shit or a microphone to be "Art." And when tax dollars are used to support that kind of "Art," it doesn't take a huge leap to understand why a whole lot of people would object.
posted by Dojie at 8:50 AM on November 2, 2011


It becomes "art" ONLY with the artist's intent being explained. Without knowing the reason behind it, it looks much more at home in a collection of gag gifts than in a gallery.

See, but I don't think that's true. If you and I went to the Tate together and we saw that there, and you said exactly what you've said just now, then we are suddenly, because of that piece, having a conversation about what makes something art. You might read the little plaque that may or may not be next to the piece in order to find out if there's an artist's statement, to try to see if there's any justification for the thing, or if you're just expected to look at it and go 'Neat' or whatever, and depending on whether there's a plaque you may or may not have a different reaction and you and I may or may not have a different conversation. But then here we are, talking about art, and trying to come to an agreement, or define our disagreement, and delineate the world and then every time you say 'That piece was just shit!' I will giggle and say 'I know!' because that's our disagreement right there, a disagreement in agreement. In my mind that's interesting, and useful, something that generates and facilitates that conversation, and for lack of a better word I call it art. I don't want to put it over my mantle, but I don't think that's a necessary qualifier for art.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2011


I'm not opposed to modern or experimental art myself, but it doesn't take a huge leap to see that a whole lot of people would not consider something like a can of shit or a microphone to be "Art." And when tax dollars are used to support that kind of "Art," it doesn't take a huge leap to understand why a whole lot of people would object.

Yes, effectively that's what I've said up above. The thing is, though, that they're not saying "don't fund just these specific things," they're saying "these specific things are a reason why we should not fund ANY ART AT ALL," and they're not realizing that a hell of a lot of other things they DO like would be affected. They may be claiming some kind of a "taxpayers shouldn't be funding art in the first place" approach, but secretly it's about "taxpayers shouldn't have to fund this specific stuff that I personally don't like".

I have no great love for the way Giuliani handled this and a lot of other issues when he was mayor, but I will give him credit for at least being honest in his objection to the Sensation exhibition in Brooklyn. He didn't try to dress it up in any kind of across-the-board thing, he flat-out said "I don't like this pne artwork and I object to tax money funding it." He was still wrong to do so, but it was a lot easier to tell him that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't think of many cases where the protest was over a grant to an artist. I can think of multiple examples where the protest was over the fact that a public museum dared to both solicit NEA grants and exhibit contemporary art.

While the art is called filthy and degenerate, it's the non-profit educational institutions attempting to build diverse programming that get punished. There's a fair bit of art I personally don't care for, but those exhibits are part of the cost of having vibrant institutions that curate and bring works I do care for to the public.

Malevich's black square was an early example of geometric abstract art, the point of which is to focus on concepts like color, tone, contrast, form, and foreground/background relationships without issues of representation, history, or biography. It may or may not be your thing, but it seems to be an odd to use that as an example of "emperor's new clothes."

I'd trace the foundation of "modern" art to the impressionists, who rejected ideas of "meaningful" art in favor of exploration of light, color, and composition. Of course, meaning has often been something of an absurd requirement for music and architecture where representation and meaning were exceptional.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:04 AM on November 2, 2011


so you can console yourself over "wait, some of my money went to pay for the weird black square painting," by reminding yourself that "but some snooty art critic's money paid for the Pops concert in my neighborhood in return, so it evens out".

That's not how politics works though. It's like saying, "wait, some of my money went to pay for corporate kickbacks and bribes," by reminding yourself that "but one of those corrupt CEOs bought something from my neighborhood school's fundraiser in return, so it evens out". There's a limited amount of money available. I would prefer it going to schools than to corporate kickbacks and bribes. Other people would prefer it going to defense spending than to funding art. Other people wouldn't mind it funding art, but don't want it funding things that may or may not really be art - particularly when problematic themes like sex, religion, or excrement are involved.
posted by Dojie at 9:11 AM on November 2, 2011


Malevich's black square was an early example of geometric abstract art, the point of which is to focus on concepts like color, tone, contrast, form, and foreground/background relationships without issues of representation, history, or biography. It may or may not be your thing, but it seems to be an odd to use that as an example of "emperor's new clothes."

Of course Melvitch's black square has a place in an artistic movement, as part of art history, etc., just as a Thomas Kinkade painting has its place in art history. I'm sure both Melvitch and Kinkade could go on for quite a bit about how there's a consciously developed technique to what they're doing.

I myself don't have anything against minimalism myself, except that it seems to have been very, very, very well-represented in contemporary art for a few decades now. I like the idea of my tax money going to the arts - I just wish it were more boldly spent.

Of course, meaning has often been something of an absurd requirement for music and architecture where representation and meaning were exceptional.

I see more, not less, of an obsession in contemporary art with finding a stated meaning in a work. Note the cliched little paragraphs often right beside displayed works, in which someone says stern-facedly in easily parodied prose, "this represents the x of y" or "this explores the b of c," or of the common requirement of artistic statements in general.

Maybe this tradition has developed in reaction to hordes of people asking "what's the point" when they don't like a work, and so the "when the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers" moment came when artists began to answer that question before it could even be asked. A classic XY problem.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:27 AM on November 2, 2011


I've had two great modern art experiences in my life. The first came when I had the opportunity to be in a room full of Rothkos, alone and a little drunk. I had, until this point, seen Rothko's work as well-done stripes on canvas - fine, but nothing to write home about. But being in the Phillips Collection after hours (we were picking up a friend who worked there - he let us roam for a while, as long as we swore to not touch anything, while he finished up), with my filters disabled by alcohol, was a revelation. They vibrated; they breathed and moved. I lay down on the floor for a few minutes and looked at them that way. Mind. Blown.

The second was just a couple of years ago. We took a flight from California to London, landing at Heathrow at about 7 am local time. We were trying to avoid having the first couple of days derailed by jetlag, so we dropped our stuff at the hotel and immediately headed out into the sunshine. A few hours of wandering brought us to the Tate Modern, and there again, with the higher parts of my brain rendered nonfunctional (by lack of sleep and the inescapable feeling that it was the wrong day and the wrong time), I was all sensory intake and emotional reaction.

The building I work in is home to a major 20th century private art collection - every building in the complex, most of which house VC firms (we're a nonprofit) has art on the walls that could make almost anyone go WTF is that??!? at least sometimes.* That's okay. But that's not the only way to react to modern art, or to see it or love it or even hate it.

* There's a goddamn Rauschenberg over the water fountain! For real! It's so great to be surrounded by this.
posted by rtha at 9:27 AM on November 2, 2011


I can't think of many cases where the protest was over a grant to an artist. I can think of multiple examples where the protest was over the fact that a public museum dared to both solicit NEA grants and exhibit contemporary art.

Right, but I bet that a particular single artist or artwork is what sparked the controversy.

That's not how politics works though. It's like saying, "wait, some of my money went to pay for corporate kickbacks and bribes," by reminding yourself that "but one of those corrupt CEOs bought something from my neighborhood school's fundraiser in return, so it evens out".

Right, but I was speaking more to how an individual could personally relate to this issue, not about politics.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on November 2, 2011


I'm sure both Melvitch and Kinkade could go on for quite a bit about how there's a consciously developed technique to what they're doing.

Not in Malevich's (pardon for the earlier mispelling) case. He died in 1935 and black square was shown in 1913. But by all means, I'll certainly agree that his influence on Russian and Soviet abstract art makes him a worthy historical subject. But then again, I'm a fan of abstract geometric art including Black Square and Black Circle. I'm not a fan of Kincade or canned shit.

Note the cliched little paragraphs often right beside displayed works, in which someone says stern-facedly in easily parodied prose, "this represents the x of y" or "this explores the b of c," or of the common requirement of artistic statements in general.

I rarely see more than artist and year, possibly country of origin and lifespan. I'm more likely to see a single artist's statement in private galleries.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:45 AM on November 2, 2011


Let me clarify my response up above:

> I can't think of many cases where the protest was over a grant to an artist. I can think of multiple examples where the protest was over the fact that a public museum dared to both solicit NEA grants and exhibit contemporary art.

Right, but I bet that a particular single artist or artwork is what sparked the controversy.


What I mean is: I sense that these kinds of protests get sparked by a specific artwork or artist that gets people uneasy. But often people are uncomfortable singling out a specific work, because that's a MUCH clearer violation of the 1st Amendment. So they fall back on "contemporary art in general" because that's more impartial and more politically justifiable a stance than "the stuff by Jake and Dinos Chapman makes me feel oogy". Which, again, is why I found Giuliani's response refreshing in its honesty ("I think the funding should be removed because I don't like this one specific thing").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2011


I can't think of many cases where the protest was over a grant to an artist. I can think of multiple examples where the protest was over the fact that a public museum dared to both solicit NEA grants and exhibit contemporary art.

Generally speaking, the NEA no longer gives grants to individuals in fine arts. This change occurred after the NEA Four received their money back from the government after it had been taken away from them. Decency clauses have since been introduced into the NEA grant process, and in the case National Endowment of the Arts v. Finley, the Supreme Court found these decency clauses to be Constitutional.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:52 AM on November 2, 2011


One more point, and then I'll stop defending the people who want to cut arts funding before I become one of them:

"taxpayers shouldn't have to fund this specific stuff that I personally don't like".

If there were only one person that personally disliked the specific stuff, this would be unreasonable. But if the majority of taxpayers don't like a video of masturbation and insects crawling on a crucifix (and I'm betting poll numbers would show that to be true), they actually shouldn't have to fund it. That's how our system is supposed to work. And since taxpayers don't get to vote on the specific stuff being funded, their choice is fund all of it or fund none of it. There are plenty of people who don't think even the safest art should be publicly funded. So long as the fringey-controversial stuff keeps receiving some of the funding, even indirectly as in this case, their ranks are going to keep growing.


But often people are uncomfortable singling out a specific work, because that's a MUCH clearer violation of the 1st Amendment.


It isn't a violation of the 1st Amendment to not publicly fund or exhibit specific works. They can still be exhibited in a private gallery or some other forum not supported by government funding. There's no censorship issue here.
posted by Dojie at 9:55 AM on November 2, 2011


Dojie, I think that we may all be talking about a few different things.

1. As Sticherbeast points out, the NEA does not fund individual artists. It funds organizations that THEMSELVES fund other organizations that THEMselves fund artists. So by the time money gets into the hands of an artist, it's actually quite hard to specifically tell how much, if any, of the NEA money got into their hands at all in the first place.

2. The money from taxpayers that goes to the NEA isn't funding specific kinds of art at all, it's contributing to a baseline of support for "the arts" in general. I hear what you're saying about people being uncomfortable funding stuff they personally don't like, but here's the thing -- we are never going to get universal agreement on what is objectionable and what is not.

3. I know that there are people who don't think that even the "safest" art should be funded, but I'm not convinced that it's as large a group as you may think. I have a hunch that a lot of the people who are claiming "no, I don't believe ANY art should be funded!" right now would, if we were to wipe all NEA funding tomorrow, when they then found that their local barbershop quartet had to fold as a result, they'd think, "....wait, that's different. I didn't know that was going to be affected too." Mind you, by the same token I can probably find you people who would hear the local barbershop quartet would fold and would think "thank GOD," but that's because of the "we're never going to come to concensus" note above.

4. Bottom line -- the problem with trying to find black-and-white rules about this is that art is a right-brain kind of thing, and people are trying to approach it in a left-brain way. And that just plain doesn't work. It's kind of like the separation of church and state -- just like the government can't pick one or a couple religions and say "these religions are okay and we don't have to support any others," but instead take a hands-off "look, everyone can make up their own mind about religion and we'll support some basic rules for everyone and otherwise keep our hands off," the government is doing the same thing for art -- "okay, we'll just give all the state arts councils money to distribute as THEY see fit, and keep our hands off".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:07 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hirst, as near as I can tell, is following Duchamp in purposefully poking at the Emperor-has-no-clothes popular notion of contemporary art,Emperor-has-no-clothes popular notion of contemporary art...

*shrug* Could be. Knowing that doesn't make Physical Impossibility LOOK any less dumb to me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:12 AM on November 2, 2011


Yeah, like I said, I don't really care for any of his pieces that I've encountered. The idea of Hirst existing and making the kind of work he does is interesting to me, and in order for that to be a thing he actually has to make his dumb-looking pieces, so there they are: some dumb-looking pieces. Which is neat. Is how I feel about it.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:17 AM on November 2, 2011


If there were only one person that personally disliked the specific stuff, this would be unreasonable.

His name is Bill Donohue.

But if the majority of taxpayers don't like a video of masturbation and insects crawling on a crucifix (and I'm betting poll numbers would show that to be true), they actually shouldn't have to fund it.

Such a poll would tell us nothing about anything except the dismal state of arts education in the U.S.
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on November 2, 2011


But if the majority of taxpayers don't like a video of masturbation and insects crawling on a crucifix (and I'm betting poll numbers would show that to be true), they actually shouldn't have to fund it.

Such a poll would tell us nothing about anything except the dismal state of arts education in the U.S.


But what about the people who don't like it, not because they find it offensive, but because they find it trite?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2011


I agree, shakesperian. My "it looks stupid" thing was more directed at 2manyusernames, and was my way of sort of encouraging a tolerance for modern art ("try NOT figuring out the 'deep meaning' if doing that doesn't do anything for you", or "it's okay to not like things", basically). I do appreciate what Hirst is doing in general, in theory; it just ain't gonna be something I am ever going to prefer to all the sexy Art Deco stuff the next gallery over in the Met, is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on November 2, 2011


Damien Hirst is an interesting example to bring up, as aside from his paintings, he's very successful commercially.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2011


Hang on a second:

Such a poll would tell us nothing about anything except the dismal state of arts education in the U.S.

Are you implying that the people who dislike certain types of art are simply "uneducated"?

Because I do know quite well the art history context in which Hirst and other contemporary artists are working, I just find it aesthetically displeasing at the same time. Are you saying that intellect trumps personal aesthetic taste?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2011


I think rtha means that a lot of people haven't been given the right tools to approach contemporary art on anything more than a 'Does this meet my expectations of Renaissance Art?' level. Of course, the most important tool, as you've said, is to turn off that damn But-What-Does-It-MEAN filter that bad poetry teachers have instilled in us.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:43 AM on November 2, 2011


I'm also not a big fan of judging a work of art by the artist's intent or artist's statement. My defense of abstract geometric art such as that of Malevich is that I find the contrast and geometric composition to be interesting. Malevich may have been making a statement about social or labor relations, I don't know or care.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:45 AM on November 2, 2011


Likewise, many of us would argue that the right tools to approach contemporary art are precisely what lead us to reject tired, trite provocations which look like the teacher's video project from Ghost World.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:47 AM on November 2, 2011


What shakespherian said.

Mostly what I'd like is for most people to have enough of a background in art history and art-making to understand that not liking something doesn't make it not-art, and that art is not solely made up of representational works that are "pretty." Having enough grounding in it to understand the complex relationship between artist and funder (patron, government, or other) would be even better.
posted by rtha at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also reject tired and trite provocations in contemporary art, but I hope you aren't saying that that's what the bulk of contemporary art is.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, a few high profile, high money purchases from a very small set of galleries and artists does make up the whole of the contemporary art world (Pop Surrealism anyone?)

Seen recently Do Ho Shu's gigantic dollhouse "Fallen Star".
posted by The Whelk at 11:08 AM on November 2, 2011


I also reject tired and trite provocations in contemporary art, but I hope you aren't saying that that's what the bulk of contemporary art is.

I obviously did not. On the other hand, we did have people in this thread saying that if the majority of Americans were to not like Fire In My Belly, then that would be an indictment of poor arts education. As if, when properly educated, we start to like easy crap. Too many of these kinds of discussions veer into a silly "you just don't get it" territory which might as well apply to Thomas Kinkade.

It's this kind of silliness which leads to the predictable provocations of, say, elephant dung on the Virgin Mary, which leads to the predictable conservative outrage, which leads to me wanting to lie down and taking a nap. There's all kinds of interesting stuff going on in contemporary art and related fields. It's sad that the "hurr de durr i put the poops on the god" stuff makes the headlines, and that's what people imagine contemporary art to entirely be.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:38 PM on November 2, 2011


"Not liking" something is not the same as "Thinks it should be banned/censored/the artist sued and shunned/etc." You can have 10 PhDs in art history and you are still allowed to not like stuff.

But a decent education in it gives you grounds for critical thinking skills beyond "this artist put shit on a religious icon and therefore he thinks my religion is shit!" I mean seriously. Willful ignorance is never defensible.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


a decent education in it gives you grounds for critical thinking skills beyond "this artist put shit on a religious icon and therefore he thinks my religion is shit!"

yeah, but I'm not sure that it's a lack of art education that was at play there.

And furthermore, it's very possible that some people, even if they did know about the story behind the work, might still have thought "you know, it still bugs me on a religous level. I know he didn't mean to cause offense, but I am still bothered by it." We've actually defended people's rights to speak up and say "I know you didn't mean to cause offense, but this still rubs me the wrong way" in AskMe all the time.

Similarly: I know you didn't mean to come across as "oh, the people who don't like this art are just STUPIDheads," but that's how it DID come across.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was unnecessarily flippant and snarky with that, instead of really explaining what I was trying to get at. My apologies.

yeah, but I'm not sure that it's a lack of art education that was at play there.

You're definitely right about this, but I think that education in specific fields - even if it's just a couple of survey-style classes - helps contextualize things. Piss Christ didn't happen in an art vacuum. As I said, knowing the context of something doesn't mean you're required to like it, but it will (ideally) mean that your response to it is more nuanced.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2011


I obviously did not. On the other hand, we did have people in this thread saying that if the majority of Americans were to not like Fire In My Belly, then that would be an indictment of poor arts education. As if, when properly educated, we start to like easy crap. Too many of these kinds of discussions veer into a silly "you just don't get it" territory which might as well apply to Thomas Kinkade.

Thanks for that, I was having a hard time knowing what you were saying beyond just that you dislike trite provocations.

On the other hand I do think that there are a handful of works that it's easy to dismiss as trite provocation even if that isn't what's going on at all (cf. Serrano's Piss Christ, which I've defended before). That doesn't mean that, as EmpressCallipygos said, that a person is obligated to like something after I condescendingly explain it to them, or that the problem is that they just don't get it why are they stupid, but I think that one of the prevailing characteristics of most contemporary art is that it's easy to dismiss without first assessing it critically.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:29 PM on November 2, 2011


Actually, whether or not people like a given piece of art is somewhat getting away from the question of whether or not the creator of a given piece of art should receive economic support. We do have some skeleton guidelines in place for things that are REALLY beyond the pale and should not be supported by federal funding -- but those are REALLY clear bright lines in the sand that all but a miniscule few could point to and say, "oh, well, yeah, THAT'S obviously an exception" (hardcore porn, blatant treason, etc.).

With those exceptions, though, the question of whether or not a given field of art is "really art" iskind of beside the point -- because even if you personally don't like it, there are people out there somewhere who probably do like it. And those people are paying money into the public coffers too, and thus they deserve to have their tastes catered to as well. So matters of aesthetic taste in art are kind of getting away from the point.

Because at the end of the day, artists of all stripes cannot exist solely on public grants alone anyway. Mainly because the bloody grants awarded are usually way too small anyway goddamnit......
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on November 4, 2011


Ah! Ah, I've just hit on an analogy that may help justify the importance of federal grants vs. audience money, etc.

Okay. You know how there are some networks that have a bad habit of cancelling a perfectly decent show after only a couple of episodes because of "poor ratings" (*cough*FOX*cough*)? Often, a lot of people complain that the network should give a show time for its audience to find it, and two episodes just aren't enough. Giving them a full season, they argue, is giving them that chance; THEN the network can assess whether it's really going to be an audience draw or not.

In "real life," the federal and public funding for a given artist is kind of akin to Network Airtime for a new show. That money keeps the artist or art group just barely afloat, so they have a CHANCE to reach out and draw in an audience. A lot of the grant money is actually going to things like studio space, office spaces, post office boxes, and other mundane shit like that. It's still on the artist to get some of their own money themselves, via audience revenue or sales or whatever; public funding doesn't ever 100% support an artist. And it's not supposed to -- it's just supposed to let them keep their heads above water long enough for their audiences to even just notice them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:41 AM on November 4, 2011


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