So Long, NEA — It’s a Matter of Principle

This is not about my hometown newspaper but about America.

The Los Angeles Times is a metaphor for the hysterical reaction to the proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Friday’s front page included a photo of a young girl playing the violin, as the newspaper offered this subhead: “The NEA works; why does president want to destroy it?” What appeared to be front-page news was in fact an opinion column by Christopher Knight, the newspaper’s art critic, surely a disinterested observer.

The same day’s business section headlined “Budget plan could slow economic growth” over a photograph of NEA-funded art. The Calendar section’s headline was “A harsh note — Arts programs big and small across California would suffer” below photos of dance, opera, theater, classical musicians, and, yes, youthful violinists.

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  • Tom Forsythe

    NEA grants go to the artists whose talent is applying for NEA grants.

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      I suck at job interviews.

    • Art Deco

      Bingo.

  • Hard Little Machine

    Let’s be clear. Whatever the NEA pays for it’s almost entirely not ‘art’, it’s other institutions that mass produce and distribute or broadcast ‘content’.

    • All arts funding devolves to toxic lesbians giving grants to other toxic lesbians.

  • felis gracilis

    Nobody is stopping the arts critic for the LA Times from personally supporting the arts all he wants.

  • BillyHW

    Is it Christmas again today? I’m going to need a new calendar to keep track of all of Christmases.

  • Alain

    I know why this hysteria reminds me of something; it was when Harper made the long form census not mandatory.

  • Uncommunist

    NEA grants should go to the artists whose talent is having conservative views – for 50 friggin years ! The would of course have to become self-righteous, pompous, omnipotent asses; just for the duration of the grant selection process. Grants would be available to anyone – except a progturd or lefturd – for 50 friggin years !

  • Norman_In_New_York

    It is none of the government’s business to determine what is or isn’t art.

  • Gary

    Nobody is stopping the filthy rich liberals for donating money to fund the NEA groups when the money get cuts off.
    It’s like the leftists in Toronto that wan t more refugees , it hey want to pay the bills….bring them in and let the 5 Syrian males live with them and their 3 daughters.

    Olivia Chow has 2 MP pensions and a House that’s paid for , she can take in the illegals .

  • xavier

    Hey artsy fartsy types there’s always crowdsourcing and Kickstarter
    If people like they’ll fund it or pay for it. It’s really simple.

  • Art Deco

    The actor Tony Randall complained in 1998 that he had to spend too much time hustling for donations to the theatre philanthropy he founded, and ergo ‘the arts’ should receive public subsidies. That sort of sentiment is the motor of this.

    The arts are not a ‘public good’ in the sense that economists use the term. You can exclude people from the body of consumers (and charge them admission), although consumption by one party does not severely inhibit another party from consuming (so you do have some distinction between an artistic performance and a restaurant meal). Nevertheless, you do not need public subsidies for artistic performances and works to be produced. That will happen on the open market.

    The question is whether we are concerned to establish a baseline of consumption throughout the populace via common provision through some conduit, as we do for (say) elementary schooling or (in a more haphazard way) medical care. Well, turn on your television. Television, which has been nearly universal for nearly five decades in North America, provides dramatic and comedic performances to anyone who will buy a set (and, nowadays, pay the cable fees). Tony Randall made a satisfactory living for about 30 years as a performer in popular entertainment. The thing is, there are species of entertainment that Tony Randall fancied that are not profitable because the audience is insufficient. Ergo, they’re part of the philanthropic sector.

    Even if you posited that you should have coereced philanthropy for the public good, you’d have a hard time arguing that arts patronage incorporates economies of scale or benefits from central co-ordination and control. Other than maintaining some big honking crown jewels like the Smithsonian (which gets a third of its funding from private donations, btw), there isn’t much justification for federal funding, nor is there for state funding bar in the least populous jurisdictions (say, Wyoming or Vermont or Newfoundland). Legislators with a clear sense of the function of the agencies in their purview would have handed Randall the address of the New York City Council and told him he could seek public funds there.

    If you’ve been in an art museum in the last 50 years, you get the distinct impression that we simply do not have any longer a body of visual artists (other than photographers) who produce anything you’d care to own or contemplate, and that no amount of attempting to push that string with public funds will change that. In fact, the self-aggrandizing con jobs of the art critics fraternity are such that more public money means more junk about which they’ll engage in ludicrous intellectualizing. The situation is not nearly so dire in the performing arts, to be sure.

    So, no federal money bar for components of the Smithsonian. No state money, either.