The left has killed public art – slashed her with a thousand cuts and bled her of meaning and dignity. Our generation allowed art to be chained to leftist dogma, and her identity is changed beyond recognition. Public art is only allowed to spout meaningless leftist drivel at this point. She is a conscript in a forced American cultural revolution. Should President Trump be allowed to bury her – or can she be revived?
Listening to major media, the nation is in grave peril. Or at least our art is. Threats to slash funding to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) are causing alarm. Anti-Trump protestors were just as infuriated before this announcement, and had some other reasons Trump was a threat to all interplanetary life. It’s difficult to separate hysteria from fact at this point, but let’s try.
The NEA and NEH were begun in 1965, in commemoration of the Kennedys, and part of the “National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities Act.” They do some excellent things and aren’t always divisive. The NEA brings musicians to rural schools, and commission public monuments. In 2012, the NEH paid for 13 one-hour dramas weaving together lives of the (presidential) Adams family between 1750 to 1900, based on 300,000 historical documents. I doubt many Americans will mind that, but they did have issues with Robert Mapplethorpe.
Although Mapplethorpe described his motifs as bondage, S&M and “gay porn,” the NEA still made a $30,000 grant in 1989 for a retrospective of his work. This was at the end of the Reagan era – and signaled the onset of poor relations between many conservatives and the NEA. Previously it was generally good, with President Reagan particularly interested in the arts.
Reagan was part of the art world, and claimed the arts were “one of the most important forms of human expression.” Yet at the end of his term he said this: “When it comes to the arts and humanities, the nation is best when government intrudes the least.” Proving his sincerity for both statements, Reagan proposed cutting NEH funds, but also sought to change tax law so lower-income individuals could make tax-deductible contributions to the arts.
Spanning the time between Reagan and now, the NEA, NEH and CPB have become politicized and drifted far left. Almost no traditional print media or talking heads even touch on this. Since it is the only reason a host of conservatives are willing to see art funding disappear, they are missing the entire story. As usual.
The LA times doubled down on this, with a flurry of articles. Dana Gioia solemnly warns: “They [Trump administration] are mounting a partisan battle that will do the nation no good.” Yet Gioia either doesn’t comprehend or care that leftist partisans have been running the NEA for at least twenty years.
Through the Bush presidencies, the NEA waged random war against conservatives, and attacked GOP politicians. G.W. Bush was their favorite whipping boy until Trump came along. Proving that conservatives are the only tolerant ones, Bush made no move to block the geysers of hate aimed at him by artists with NEA grants, even though it was something he could have easily done.
But more troubling than the NEA attacking its patrons, is the reverse: They functioned as a de facto fan club base for Obama. Several people, including myself, noted the creepy Dear Leader-type campaign when Obama drafted the NEA into his personal propaganda department. This was exposed in a group call-out in 2009 by Patrick Courrielche.
Conservatives tend to feel the need for public art less strongly than others, but it’s not a fast rule. Shouldn’t the NEA and art community hold a little olive branch for the ones they blame over art funding’s loss? So far, it’s just war as usual. Beyond being unjust, NEH partisan nastiness is something they have pledged to not do. Their mission statement reads: “The Endowment [NEH] accomplishes this mission by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers.”
Artists and actors have furiously attacked Trump in every medium possible from the time he announced his candidacy. This includes his wife, son, friends and taste. Miles of art will be produced mocking and denouncing Trump and his policies, whatever they are. This hostility will not end even, if the administration reneges of funding cuts.
Pettiness is pervasive. A New York Post piece assumes a small Renoir in Melania’s office is probably “a fake.” Yet the same article quotes Mark Bowden’s horror when Trump points out a small painting on his plane and claims it is “worth $10 million.” But they contradict themselves even more, as they chide Trump for risking damage to the paintings they have previously labeled as “fakes.”
Only one article in the LA Times even comes close to comprehending the issue. Christopher Knight writes, “They’ve been trying to kill it [NEA] for half a century – not because they hate art, but because they hate government.” Leftwing artists don’t understand that, and take any cuts to art funding as a personal affront.
More pettiness: Last month protestors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) demanded the museum drop board member Larry Fink because he joined Donald Trumps’ business council. Previously Fink was considered for a spot of Clinton’s team, and was therefore an acceptable liberal. The 180o pivot against Fink reveals the volatile hatred in these groups, ready to ignite over the slightest political unorthodoxy.
Federal funding for the NEA is comparably very small, about $150 million. But the power these sister organizations yield as policy makers and trailblazers is huge. The power of the state is a real thing, as proved by Obama’s attempt to yoke it into service for his personal interests. If the NEA, NEH and CPB survive, they must at least make an appearance of impartiality in the future.