Tim Mikulski grabbed my attention the other day with his ARTSBLOG post, asking, "[A]s our public debt deepens and we start to see the proverbial writing on the wall, what is that new argument for funding arts organizations and programs?" Amidst cautious optimism (!?) about economic upturn, We In The Arts are still reading horror stories about everyone from universities to public elementary schools cutting arts funding. Newly-appointed NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman's opinions are already sparking debate, and there have been some thoughtful reactions from opponents, as well as others that send shivers down my spine.
So Mikulski's question is more important than ever. We In The Arts like to say that "the Arts are always the first to go!" and "the Arts are considered fluff!" and "imagine a world without us!" Jan Selman, of Arts Leadership League of Georgia, responds to Mikulski: "I do not debate from a victim mode. I believe that our industry is as viable and important as any other industry." What a brilliant point! In other words, we doth protest too much. And in so doing, lend credibility to those who DO approach the Arts from the very stance we are so convinced "always" result in the Arts getting the axe.
We cannot allow ourselves to play the victim, as much as we may perceive ourselves at the whim of Others Who Don't Understand.
I suggest, as difficult as this may be for many, to remember, for a moment, that Art is not just a tool of the Left. When arguing on behalf of the Arts, I argue for the right for all Artists to be taken seriously. (No, I'm not saying that I think all "Art" is "Good," but We In The Arts are not only those Bohemian Lefties that Landesman and Laura Collins-Hughes on ARTSJOURNAL's blog, agree are perceived as "a little gay.")
Yes, there is Art that is "obscene" or "offensive" to conservatives, and there is at least some art that is offensive to "the typically outraged" liberals. (And as for the Obama in Joker Whiteface poster, I take this argument to the conclusion that any artist who wants to make a provocative statement should at least take responsibility--or credit?--for it, and engender dialogue.)
Historically, Art has caused outrage as it evolves with (and sometimes spurs the evolution of) its society. I say, more power to Artists who question our world, even if they argue against what I believe, as long as they stand behind their work. There is something refreshing about my getting enraged because a well-done piece argues so passionately for something that I think is wrong.
And so, when I argue to preserve funding for arts organizations and programs, I have something new to say. I will no longer play the victim. I will say, because Art gives people another way to communicate, and can spread messages across the boundaries of beliefs. Art is a different way to dialogue and discuss--it is subjective, it is not RIGHT or WRONG.
Art isn't only the product of the crazy gay liberals. It can be the product of insane heterosexual conservatives as well. And everyone in between.