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August 23, 2004

Comments

Jon Silpayamanant

urgh. I almost wish I didn't have to revisit Bagge's piece, but you just had to bring it up... ;)

matt rossi

What I think Bagge should have focused on is the tendency for people to, in effect, want to be told what art is and what it isn't so they don't have to think about it themselves. I think the quotes he uses on page one of the comic were very effective in establishing a sense of absurdity (specifically, the woman who says "Why is this here? The brochure doesn't explain why this is important") and detachment from the process of engaging with art and artistic media: it's a shame he then dropped the ball into his weird rant about how grants are bad, Madonna's an artist too, and PT Cruisers and Candy Wrappers deserve more attention. I think there could have been an interesting debate in the idea that art has more or less been stolen from the people due to their own ignorance as to what art is, or what it should be or do... the idea that art is meant as much to challenge your assumptions as it is to 'look pretty' or 'be important' seems to be lost. I don't think slashing the NEA to the bone or putting PT Cruisers (which, I must say, just look like nostalgic messes to me, a hearkening back to a fake vision of American purity and innocence deliberately and cynically leapt upon to sell cars to aging baby boomers who want to go back to the nice safe blanket of their delusional 1950's memories) in our musems will solve a real problem, which is that we as a culture have become unable to recognize that art can be both entertaining *and* challenging, that 'popular' art and 'fine' art do not have to be distinct from each other but that to engage profitably with art you need to be able to determine what it is saying and how it is saying it, that there's a basic lack of facility in 'artistic vocabulary' as it were. Sure, Spielberg's an artist, but how many works of art has he made that do more than pass the time while you're eating popcorn? Not all that many, and of the films he made that *intended* to be capital-A Art, some come off as treacle and pretension. Great art demands attention and calls you on your beliefs, but often the attempt to make great art ends in a soggy mess, while it can be accomplished almost accidentally by an artist who is simply trying to do their best instead of worrying about the 'importance' of the work.

I may be rambling as much as he did. I do think there's a connection between the artificial definition of art that is liked, that entertains and art that is 'important' and 'groundbreaking' and the inability of some people to make criticial judgments about either effectively. Bagge almost touches upon this with his bit about PBS and Fleetwood Mac, but then he veers away from it: much of PBS's offerings (like, as an example, Are You Being Served) aren't intended to be art at all. They're entertainment, pure and simple, part of the by now entrenched division between the two that only a few works are allowed to surpass any longer. Fleetwood Mac on PBS is essentially comfort food again, just like the PT Cruiser: it's being offered to assure an aging core constituancy that yes, their music is so much better than that of the Brittany Spears' and Linkin Parks of today (and Bagge seems to understand this in the panel itself, if not in its caption) when in fact there is little qualitative difference between them. All three could be examined as art without making an artificial distinction between them based not even on what kind of music they are or what effect they are intended to elicit but entirely on when they were recorded: this is good because you liked it then. Between the false nostalgia that's crept into everything from the design of those cars Bagge loves so much to the music PBS plays that so irritates him and the inability or unwillingness to consider art on its own terms you mention (and, for that matter, to consider the relative merits of art as both an entertainment and a challenge to the assumed maxims of its audience) you end up with the commercial art that is successful being successful because in part it is not even considered to be art at all and the fine art that we are presented being touted as important and yet being marginalized because no one understands how it is important in the first place, since so few people are exposed to the language that it is using to challenge their sacred cows. In essence, by so dramatically cutting back on our arts education, artists have become so specialized that they speak in a language the average viewer of art isn't going to comprehend, which allows for the disconnect between art and its audience. Sure, there are conceptual artists who are frauds putting up dull beige slabs, and they get away with it exactly because to people who have no idea of the rich artistic legacy we've inherited, there's little difference between that and a Pollack or Duchamp's toilet. And cutting the NEA's funding won't address that disconnect as much as expanding people's artistic vocabulary, which would of course cost more money, ultimately.

Peli Grietzer

Is it just me, or does this comics kind of feel liek a Chick tract?
I kept expecting Satan to show up telling someone he is in hell for not acceting Jesus as his lord.

Noiseman433

"since so few people are exposed to the language that it is using to challenge their sacred cows."

I like that...calls to mind Audhumla, or India, whichever you prefer...

Good points Matt.

And yeah, it almost felt like a Chick mini. I really have to find the copies I've collected and review them.

Nathan

This just in: Matt Rossi thinks WAAAAAY too much.

matt rossi

Yeah, he really does.

Johnny Bacardi

For me, with Bagge, it's not always been, necessarily, what he says, but how he says it that I find amusing. I thought this page was pretty funny, but he didn't do much, if anything, to change my admittedly incomplete and nebulous opinions on fine art. Opinions are like...well, you know what they're like.

sifl2

Umm, I like Fleetwood Mac better than Britney Spears and Linkin Park. And I'm 25. Does that mean I'm an idiot?

Marc

Matt: I wholeheartedly agree that there's room for a serious examination/critique of contemporary art's complete inscrutability to the public - even to that segment of the public that tries, like Bagge's befuddled brochure woman, to understand it with painful supplication. I don't think that disconnect is something we can blame solely on public ignorance or the high/low divide. Too often, even people who want desperately to understand contemporary art have to approach it first as theory, because otherwise what is there to interpret, let alone appreciate? Something in the art itself courts this.

I also have to object that the "frauds" of contemporary art aren't succeeding because they've hoodwinked a public unschooled in Pollock and Duchamp. The art-literate are their bread and butter. How else could critics and patrons appreciate a Robert Morris slab unless they were able to place it in the context of a late-modernist minimalism that thought every other possibility in the plastic arts had been exhausted? Perhaps this is a somewhat rosy view of the art world - I'm sure there are museums, galleries, and especially schools filled with people who have absolutely no idea about the traditions their art is echoing - but it's certainly true that the critical/theoretical establishment upon which conceptual art absolutely depends is familiar with that tradition. Ignorance isn't to blame for their reception, although perhaps the cloistered and hermetic transmission of that artistic vocabulary does bear some responsibility for art's detachment from the public at large.

However, because Bagge wants to turn this problematic inscrutability into an anti-government, pro-market diatribe, we don't get that conversation (or the entertaining rant version thereof).

matt rossi

Umm, I like Fleetwood Mac better than Britney Spears and Linkin Park. And I'm 25. Does that mean I'm an idiot?

No, not unless you only like them better because you use them to reassure yourself that the music that was playing when you were a five year old is just better for no other reason than you were five then, and things were better then. It's one thing to actually prefer one artist to another, another to let nostalgia for its own sake be the arbiter of the arts.

Marc: I think you have a good point about the art-literate lapping up stuff like Robert Morris because there's a grounding in what came before... but I have to wonder how many of them really understand what they're inheriting. Of course, this may be because I have a rather jaundiced view of it, myself. Contemporary art of the conceptual variety often tries too hard to be 'important' or 'provocative' and forgets to be art, I'd be willing to say. Then again, there is the idea that art doesn't have to be nice. To quote from an article on Chris Ofili:

Several weeks ago, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced that the city would cut its funding to the Brooklyn Art Museum unless the museum canceled an upcoming exhibition. Titled Sensation, the show included installations containing animals in formaldehyde and sculptures of people with genitalia replacing their faces. The mayor was particularly offended by The Holy Virgin Mary, a 1996 collage by Chris Ofili, an award-winning British artist, which incorporates elephant feces.

Now, I find it interesting that Rudy was more offended by a collage of the Virgin Mary with crap on it than formaldehyde corpses. You could argue that Ofili's art therefore succeeded: it challenged the expectations of its audience, it struck at the very heart of its viewers to the point where it became more offensive than corpses floating in formaldehyde, which is usually a relatively hard act to follow on the shock scale for an art museum. (They're lucky they didn't have to see the corpses the way I did duing my summer job as a kid, but I digress). Ofili, howeverm, argues that the elephant dung that so offends Rudy isn't even there to shock at all, it's just there to bring a piece of his African descent into the work. From the BBC:

During his stay in Africa, Ofili began to incorporate lumps of elephant dung into his canvases - both as compositional elements and as supports on which to display his paintings. He says this is a way of - quite literally - incorporating Africa into his work.

Now, if there's no disrespect intended, and yet it is taken, is this a measure of the success of the art? Is it just that Rudy Guliani doesn't know what art is? Is it that 'cloistered and hermetic transmission of that artistic vocabulary' (great phrase, by the way, I'm stealing that) to blame here? I'm not sure. I think it may be a combination of these factors, perhaps even more that I'm missing. But it does interest me to consider that you may have a situation where both the artistic establishment and its opponents are viewing a work of art completely divorced from the artist's intentions and reading into it what they bring along. Whether or not Bagge was doing likewise with his rant, or I am with these comments, I guess it's worth considering.

Captain Spaulding

although perhaps the cloistered and hermetic transmission of that artistic vocabulary does bear some responsibility for art's detachment from the public at large.

However, because Bagge wants to turn this problematic inscrutability into an anti-government, pro-market diatribe, we don't get that conversation

Except that perhaps art's divorcing itself from the market through government funding means that art can stay detached from the public at large. By making art funding independent of private donations and admission from paying customers, there's no incentive to educate the public in artistic vocabulary.

What you have is the worst of both worlds where a genre the public doesn't enjoy is funded but it's not even a pure expression of that genre due to fear of providing fodder for demagoguing politicians.

Marc

Spaulding sez: "By making art funding independent of private donations and admission from paying customers, there's no incentive to educate the public in artistic vocabulary."

Again, a lack of general education in artistic vocabulary is not what's hurting the arts - it is, I believe, the artists' propensity for operating at a conceptual, theoretical register most accessible to those already in the know. Government funding, what little there is, has not made the plastic arts more insular; that's a direction they've been taking since at least the 1950s (in America), if not the 1920s, the 1910s, the whole of the twentieth century.

It's also worth noting that, with the rise of modernism, private patronage also began supporting this hermetic trend, so it's not like throwing the arts to the winds of private financing will magically produce a Renaissance of populist art. Nor would it automatically lead to art education; right now public art funding promotes far more. If you're looking to do something as unprofitable as teach people about the arts, the free market isn't the way to go.

I think the aesthetic problems that contemporary artists have created for themselves and the political debates over funding the arts are two almost completely separate issues - except when one party or another likes to seize on the former to justify its position on the latter. I think the arts do face a serious challenge in rethinking their relationship with the public, but, to be absolutely clear on this point, I also think ending all public financing and making them even more dependent on private donations and the art market would do fuck all to solve their problems. It would, I'm sure, result in lots more Impressionist exhibitions and angry, body-smearing performance artists - that is to say, more pandering from all sides.

Finally, I would agree with your "worst of both worlds" comment, with the caveat that our government funds all sorts of things that some taxpayers do like and some don't. (Personally, I'm more concerned that my dollars have supported the real-life sadomasochistic photocollages of Abu Ghraib - and yes, John Stewart beat me to that joke weeks ago.) But your phrasing seems to suggest that a) the NEA does nothing but fund offensive or unpopular art, and b) the public uniformly disapproves, neither of which are true.

Captain Spaulding

Again, a lack of general education in artistic vocabulary is not what's hurting the arts - it is, I believe, the artists' propensity for operating at a conceptual, theoretical register most accessible to those already in the know.

My point is that if the artist's income were dependent on reaching the public, they would potentially have to either make their art accessible to those outside the know or educate to make more people in the know. Or alternately those in the know would have to pay more for their insular art. Putting government money in the mix arguably distorts that from happening.

Why does the insular genre of contemporary art deserve government backing and not the insular genre of superhero comic books (It's for the children!)?

But your phrasing seems to suggest that a) the NEA does nothing but fund offensive or unpopular art

This is where Bagge's citing of Mapplethorpe comes in. Art is either a)popular in which case it doesn't need government funding or b)unpopular in which case perhaps it's not fair to ask people to essentially prop it up by gunpoint. Now obviously there's a wide spectrum of popularity but then we come back to the question of why that guy's sort-of-popular-but-perhaps-not-enough-to-fully-support-it-without-compromise-or-a-dayjob genre gets government support and someone else's doesn't.

Marc

Your speculations about what would happen if the arts could no longer draw upon public funding - and I think you vastly overestimate just how many artists currently do - all presume that a total free-market dependency would Darwinistically force art to become more comprehensible to the general public.

Yet your own example of a completely non-supported niche genre, superhero comics, suggests that's the last thing that would happen. Instead you'd likely produce a more self-referential, inscrutable genre balanced precariously upon the backs of its dwindling patronage. And that would be no mean feat, because that's exactly what we've got now in an art world that's already far more dependent on private support than on government grants. Maybe Bagge should be blaming those private patrons, the Saatchis et al, who have foisted more pig-cutting formaldehyde artists on us than the NEA could ever dream of.

But no, that would be impossible - Charles Saatchi made his money advertising all those consumer products that so enrich our aesthetic landscape. The government must be to blame, somehow.

Captain Spaulding

Your speculations about what would happen if the arts could no longer draw upon public funding [...] all presume that a total free-market dependency would Darwinistically force art to become more comprehensible to the general public.

That's only true if you ignore the part where I say "Or alternately those in the know would have to pay more for their insular art." If the art world stays insular but those in the clique have to pay more to support it, I don't see that as a bad thing (or no more a bad thing than comic book companies having to charge $3 for less popular comic books). If there's enough people that enjoy the status quo of art to support it, great. If it collapses due to an ever-shrinking audience, I again don't see why government needs to intervene (or why it gets precedence over stuff I like that's not terribly popular). If Charles Saatchi wants to buy pig-cutting formaldehyde art, well, he worked for his dough and he's entitled. Plus there's the added advantage that the art community can tell Mayor Tommy Shanks or Senator Claghorn to go screw themselves when they hold press conferences about "offensive" works of art.

Lets consider the less controversial works of the NEA so it's not just a referndum on the art community. If the audience for a city's symnphony, ballet company, opera house or Shakespeare troupe isn't big enough to keep it afloat, why should tax dollars be given to it? Again, why not government support for Broadway or Laurel and Hardy screenings?

Marc

If the audience for a city's symnphony, ballet company, opera house or Shakespeare troupe isn't big enough to keep it afloat, why should tax dollars be given to it?

To insure that all citizens have equal access to something that improves the city's quality of life and its educational climate? (And, incidentally, makes the city more attractive to the types of highly-skilled workers and businesses that cities like.) Some institutions - schools, libraries, and museums among them - require more support than we can reasonably expect most individual citizens to afford. Total privatization means denial of access.

As for Broadway or Laurel and Hardy screenings, why not support them? Indeed, plenty of cities already do, with summer movie screenings and the like. The local governments aren't doing it to subsidize the movie industry, they're doing it to serve their citizens.

I'm glad you shifted to considering other, uncontroversial grants, though, as any mention of Mapplethorpe or Andres Serrano tends to cloud the issue. In fact, you've reminded me that I wanted to point out that Mapplethorpe, for all that he gets metonymized as Mr. NEA Funding For Obscene Art, wasn't being funded by the NEA. Museums that used NEA grants to fund a traveling exhibition of his work sparked the controversy. Those grants were never about funding the art (sadly, Mapplethorpe was already dead when the controversy peaked), they were about making the art available to people outside Manhattan and the art market, people who otherwise would never see it.

As for Mr. Saatchi, remember, I only brought him up as an example of how private patronage actually produces much of inaccessible art you've suggested it might eliminate through the magic of the free market. And, again, if Bagge is really worked up about artistic standards rather than government funding, why doesn't he take the private art market's tastes to task? The fact that his strip appears in Reason probably answers that question. Public support for the arts - which can come through tax deductions, higher education subsidies or artist employment as well as direct funding - might actually lead to more accessibility rather than less.

But I've said all this before, and have little desire to repeat it a third or fourth time. Rather than continue this duet, does anyone else care to join in?

Captain Spaulding

To insure that all citizens have equal access to something that improves the city's quality of life and its educational climate?

Except if NEA-funded ballets and symphonies are charging around fifty bucks a ticket like Bagge claims (I haven't priced either so I'm taking his word) then the charge that the NEA is subsidized entertainment for the rich is perhaps not an illegitimate one? One could argue that a purchase of CDs, videotapes, and DVDs of operas, symphonies, Shakespeare performances, etc. to the city's library system would provide more access at a fraction of the cost.

if Bagge is really worked up about artistic standards rather than government funding, why doesn't he take the private art market's tastes to task?

Because the private art market is, by defintion, customers who want the stuff and consists of voluntary transactions. Like I said, if there's enough support in the private market to keep things as is, then they should enjoy.

Public support for the arts - which can come through tax deductions, higher education subsidies or artist employment as well as direct funding - might actually lead to more accessibility rather than less.

Do you want government in the business of determining what is and isn't good art or accessible art?

matt rossi

A few points: should we also get rid of the National Endowment for the Humanities? Many of the writers I know dream of an NEH grant. It would make it possible to quit that job at the liquor store/meat packing plant/supermarket and actually sit down and write something. One thing public patronage of the art does is rescue artists: unless we're willing to admit that artists need time to create art, and it may be in the public interest to make the creation of art possible, we're just going to keep circling the issue here. Both the NEA and NEH are miniscule in their tax drain. You'd save more money if Halliburton wasn't allowed to overcharge us for gas in Iraq.

It's also worth noting that, with the rise of modernism, private patronage also began supporting this hermetic trend, so it's not like throwing the arts to the winds of private financing will magically produce a Renaissance of populist art. Nor would it automatically lead to art education; right now public art funding promotes far more. If you're looking to do something as unprofitable as teach people about the arts, the free market isn't the way to go.

When i first mentioned the trend of people not being conversant in artistic 'language' and so being easily confused or led (think of it as 'the artist has no clothes') I wasn't thinking about the NEA at all, because I was remembering my Grad School experience. My teachers all basically told me that the only reason to get an MFA was, basically, to teach writing. How many of these students were going to go on to get publicaion? How many of them were going to be able to pay for their chosen career by participation in it? The visual arts have a similar issue. Unless you're one of the lucky few who can get a wealthy patron to exert pressure on galleries (and this usually leads to the aforementioned 'hermetic transmission' issue, where the rich and of course 'enlightened' class of upper-class patrons look down their nose at most of art and select only those works that appeal to their own particular artistic ethos, which has been the ever broader and shallower class of 'conceptual' art over the past 30 years, the very trend Bagge was originally discussing) you're more or less shit out of luck. Now, I think I understand Captain Spaulding's point that being divorced from having to make a profit allows the arts to drift along this path to irrelevancy, but as Marc points out letting upper-class elites (and hell, they're probably snooty liberals, too :) pay for everything is creating The Land Of The Lost in the arts, where lumbering dinosaurs and hideous sleestaks stalk unfettered by the idea that any of this stuff should ever branch out of those valley walls. Based on how hard it is to GET an NEA grant and how few are actually given out, I doubt cutting off that trickle would make much of a difference, but cutting down the NEA at this point might well mean the death of the museum in America. (Okay, that might be hyperbole, but I don't think it's by much.) Personally, I think we need to keep them up and running.

This is where Bagge's citing of Mapplethorpe comes in. Art is either a)popular in which case it doesn't need government funding or b)unpopular in which case perhaps it's not fair to ask people to essentially prop it up by gunpoint. Now obviously there's a wide spectrum of popularity but then we come back to the question of why that guy's sort-of-popular-but-perhaps-not-enough-to-fully-support-it-without-compromise-or-a-dayjob genre gets government support and someone else's doesn't.

And as another commentator pointed out, it's interesting to hear this argument from Bagge of all people, whose recent attempt at mainstream success tanked. But let's consider the idea: what effect on art would there be if you removed public funding for art? I think Marc is dead on that the darlings of the patrons would continue on as they are, producing insular works that they can all sit around and jabber excitedly about while the rest of us would be staring into catalogues looking for a breadcrumb of understanding. "It doesn't say why this is important" comes ringing into my ears. Furthermore, we'd basically be turning our museums and galleries entirely over to the mercy of these self-same rich patrons.

In short, it's deregulation writ large. It didn't work for power in California and it wouldn't work here, unless you want to see a few wealthy folks with total control over not only what fine art is produced but even the few places it can be publicly displayed. Taken to its logical extreme, the end result of Bagge's argument is that we proles can be contented with our candy wrappers, PT Cruisers (which we might not be able to afford, but hey, we can look at them) and Fleetwood Mac, while the elect few can sample the good stuff in their privately run museums, made even more incomprehensible by a total divorce from the concerns and issues of the comman man or woman. Art that is entirely about art and the artistic process.

Except if NEA-funded ballets and symphonies are charging around fifty bucks a ticket like Bagge claims (I haven't priced either so I'm taking his word) then the charge that the NEA is subsidized entertainment for the rich is perhaps not an illegitimate one? One could argue that a purchase of CDs, videotapes, and DVDs of operas, symphonies, Shakespeare performances, etc. to the city's library system would provide more access at a fraction of the cost.

Which it would, unless it has the consequence of preventing any future performances of operas, symphonies and Shakespeare performances. The NEA doesn't give these agencies very much money at all: across the country, they're barely hanging on. Now, I understand the argument that if they're not making a lot of money, then that's fine and they should fail. But I can't really go along with it. If nothing else, it will lead to the cultural impoverishment of those popular artists who do make money (many of whom would freely admit that they gained the facility to do so via exposure to all kinds of art forms, including experimental ones and ones such as symphonies that help keep older traditions alive for the future) and could well leave us without sources for creativity. I'm very leery of applying Darwinian natural selection to the arts in the same manner that I'm leery of applying it to our schools: it seems to have led to shittier and shittier schools for the public and more and more vouchers for a wealthy few. I don't want that to be the case, and I don't want it to be the case for art, either.

Do you want government in the business of determining what is and isn't good art or accessible art?

Is there a reason the Government couldn't simply give a tax break to someone who works as a creative artist in order to encourage the production of art without making a qualitative determination? Tax breaks and education subsidies do not have to make any sort of determination as to what is and what isn't good or accessible art. Giving a tax break to a museum or a college for its arts programs is as simple or complex a process as we make it: if the government chooses to make it about how good or accesible the art is, that doesn't immediately invalidate the idea of support.

That's it for me for now. I'll try and come back later.

Captain Spaulding

And as another commentator pointed out, it's interesting to hear this argument from Bagge of all people, whose recent attempt at mainstream success tanked.

Like I said on my blog, referring to Bagge's failed projects is an irrelevant cheap shot because Bagge is not asking for government support for his comic books. Bagge to support his less popular stuff does work that's perhaps not his first choice (like his Spider-Man comic or his Batboy comic strip in Weekly World News). Similarly artists can either, on occassion, "sell out" and do something that they don't love but will sell or they can take day jobs.

Me:Do you want government in the business of determining what is and isn't good art or accessible art?
Matt:Is there a reason the Government couldn't simply give a tax break to someone who works as a creative artist in order to encourage the production of art without making a qualitative determination?

Marc was using tax breaks, etc. as a method to make art accessible. I have no problem necessarily of non-qualitive determination but then it doesn't solve the acessible problem. Again, I'm not sure "accessible" is a problem government needs to solve or that we want them to solve for the "do you want government making that decision" reason I gave.

Perhaps more later (or perhaps not).

matt rossi

Like I said on my blog, referring to Bagge's failed projects is an irrelevant cheap shot because Bagge is not asking for government support for his comic books.

While it's certainly a cheap shot (and barely much of the substance of what I said) it's not irrelevant. Bagge's entire comic was nothing more than a series of cheap shots: from his summoning of the shade of Duchamp to mock his original conceptual art to his accusations of cheap hackery at Shakespeare, Bagge delights in taking cheap shots: it seems disingenuous to leap to his defense over one. If Bagge's attack on the art establishment is in fact entirely rooted in the fact that it takes government money, he should make that point seperate from whether or not it's any good: he was too busy to use anything but invective to make that point.

But yeah, it's a cheap shot. After reading that thing, I felt like meat on a hook in a Stallone movie, so I gave one back. And a borrowed one, at that. I should have been more direct about it.

Marc was using tax breaks, etc. as a method to make art accessible. I have no problem necessarily of non-qualitive determination but then it doesn't solve the acessible problem. Again, I'm not sure "accessible" is a problem government needs to solve or that we want them to solve for the "do you want government making that decision" reason I gave.

Well, as I pointed out, I don't see any reason we therefore have to go the deregulation approach. Why can't we have both private and public support for the arts? Is art that irrelevant than we can't see the two means of funding co-exist, or is it just a case that we should ideologically not let the government do anything? Right now they have bombs they could kill us all with, and we trust them with those... while I certainly wouldn't want them to have anything like total control of the artistic world or the ability to approve or deny the creation of art (the way Rudy Giuliana threatened to pull public support for a museum that put up a painting he didn't like... one that was pre-existent and had no means to shock, no less) I don't see why we can't have the NEA out there making some grants to people while other people make money in other ways, thus establishing multiple channels of accessibility. What I'd like to see is more money for education on multiple levels, allowing more people to gain mental accessibility to the techniques and intentions of art. RIght now, we let government make the decisions on what we teach our kids (local and state, not federal) and maybe we need to go look at how good a job they're doing.

Noiseman433

I'm surprised no one has mentioned corporate support for the arts. Corporate sponsorship rarely happens unless the donation can be writen off, and that is usually not the case unless the arts organization has 501c non-profit status. Hell, a number of grants work this way as well. And usually, how non-profit status is gained for an organization depends on how much the organization actually interacts with the community (usually local). I think too much is being made of having dichotomized the types of sponsorship of artistic organizations or the arts. I know that in Indiana, most of the state grants for the arts require some sort of community "outreach" program from the artists/arts organization to the local community. It doesn't seem to me that grants are given "for nothing" (or merely on "artistic" merit)--or at least they shouldn't be given for purely these reasons--that the artist or organization must give back something in return--something other than mere artistic production.

Sure, private patronage doesn't require this at all, but I think cutting funding at the governmental level (whether local or federal) will just exacerbate things even further.

Marc

A few not-so-quick points:

1. Spaulding, in response to my question of why Bagge doesn't criticize private art patrons for the effect their funding decisions have on art the way he does the NEA, says, "Because the private art market is, by defintion, customers who want the stuff and consists of voluntary transactions."

Remember, Bagge spends the first two pages of his four-page strip (and much of the last two) criticizing the contemporary arts themselves, not just public funding. His strip leaves the impression that the arts' predominantly conceptual bent is the result of government support through grants and universities, that "the common people" don't like it and wouldn't support it. He doesn't consider that private support for the arts outpaces federal funding by an order of magnitude. So, if Bagge doesn't like current directions in the arts, why doesn't he criticize the private donors and buyers who support those directions far more than the government does - criticize them not on fiscal grounds, but simply on matters of taste?

There is no logical reason for assuming that contemporary aesthetics are a product of government funding, but Bagge insinuates just that. Presumably to do otherwise would run against libertarian orthodoxy.

2. Spaulding: "Do you want government in the business of determining what is and isn't good art or accessible art?"

This is, of course, not at all what the NEA does - at least, not any moreso than I'm "determining what is and isn't good literature" when I decide which books I'm going to teach. Yes, I'm making a value judgment on the various books I consider, as does the NEA on the grants it considers; that doesn't mean we're defining all art or literature or demanding that others follow our judgments. The attempts by Helms and others to gut the NEA in the late 80s and early 90s were far more censorious in this respect than the NEA itself is.

3. Spaulding and Matt (see, I can share the love!): Johanna's reference to Bagge's own failure to crack the mainstream is neither a cheap shot nor irrelevant. It would be irrelevant if he were talking about popularity only in terms of arts funding, but Bagge also links it to the quality of the art itself. On nearly every page Bagge opposes the good, commercially successful art of the Common Folk to the bad, unpopular art of those Cultural Elites, from his apposite linkage of Mapplethorpe's financial success to his photos' quality, to his final paean to consumer products. Bagge claims popular = good, again in lockstep with libertarian orthodoxy; Johanna and I simply note the implications that absurd formula would have for his own career.

(Come to think of it, I might just as easily have noted the hypocrisy of Bagge's criticizing conservative and liberal orthodoxies when he's echoing an equally inflexible dogma.)

4. Noiseman (Jon?), thanks for grounding this discussion in some actual experience with arts funding. One of the serious problems with Bagge's piece - and one the reasons I feel you shouldn't be getting all your information about the arts from it, Spaulding - is that he seriously misrepresents both the extent and the nature of public arts funding.

To hear Bagge tell it, you'd think every piece of performance art or furniture art is sponsored by the NEA or some other governmental agency, when private support is in the billions, state and local support of the kind Noiseman describes climbs over a billion, and the NEA's budget is around $100 million. Now Noiseman is also suggesting that these grants are not the elite subsidies Bagge paints them as - they require community involvement as well. As I said yesterday, public arts funding serves the public as much as it does the arts.

Whatever your feelings about government and the arts, Bagge's piece is deeply confused, disingenuous rant (and it doesn't even have the decency to be funny - haw haw that art is actually a giant TURD!). It makes for a poor authority.

matt rossi

Marc:

Having read Joanna's piece, I'd say it wasn't a cheap shot when she used it, but I do believe it probably was when I did: it didn't have anything to do with my argument and was just a jab at the man, when I did better later in the post.

Jon Silpayamanant

Yeah, sorry Marc--that was me. I think the first time I posted a comment at your blog I did so as Noiseman433 and I just forgot to unclick the remember personal info box or something.

Having done some work on different sides of the funding issue I think has helped me to see it as something more than just being "free money"--and since I'm currently on the look-out for some grant monies myself I've had to consider what type of "outreach" I would be capable or even willing to do to secure particular grant monies.

I had just skimmed the NEA page and there are definately requirements, albeit-rather vague ones, concerning the outcome of a grant proposal that has nothing to do with the actual product itself. This is also where the issue of being a good grant-writer is a more important skill than actually having, say, a project with a high degree of local or national (whatever those mean) social relevance. but anyway...

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