Arts Issues for Artists & Presenters: January 2009 Archives
What's important is not that a president actually like the arts, especially the high arts, which cannot maintain themselves commercially, but that they have a place at the White House. The reason, says Jed Perl, in this tight little essay in The New Republic, is that symbolism matters. A clip:
Nobody need wonder why, in Washington, the arts have become something of an embarrassment. The city--and the country--have never really recovered from the controversies that exploded around the NEA beginning in the late 1980s, when some Republicans decided to save the world from Robert Mapplethorpe's sexually explicit photographs and Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, works which many liberals, while determined to defend the NEA, did not particularly care for, either. If there is any lesson to be learned from those hideous debates, it is that the danger when we talk about the relationship between the arts and the nation is that everybody all too rapidly descends into parochialism. There are the utilitarians, who are convinced that art education is important because it improves children's more general cognitive skills; there are the populists, who think that government is best off supporting bluegrass music and quilting; there are the cultural leftists, who believe that the government should embrace individual artists because they are society's renegades and outcasts; and there are the traditionalists, who want to give money to museums and symphony orchestras and thereby uphold canonical values. The main trouble with all these viewpoints is that they deny the inner integrity of the arts, which in truth are neither populist nor elitist, neither progressive nor conservative, but are in some mysterious way a part of the fabric of the nation.