Support the arts, America's identity

If you think that the arts shouldn't be federally funded, you're not alone although I wouldn't say you're in good company.

Listening to the Republicans, you'd think that the person who hatched the idea for federally-supported art programs (such as subsidies for the NEA and public broadcasting) was the same genius who put Dan Quayle in a think tank. Although the phrase "Vive les defense contractors" never appeared in print in the Contract With America (since speaking any language other than standard English is expressly prohibited in the Republican party), conservatives are gutting art and educational budgets, leaving defense virtually untouched. And so, with typical Republican logic that would astound Aristotle, the arts are sacrificed to save the conservatives' sacred cow or shall we say pork? from the slaughterhouse.

In light of the impending budget cuts and dwindling public support for federally supported art programs, I offer my Reader's Guide to the American Arts: three reasons for preserving arts funding.

Reason No. 1: Just as a knowledge of 16th century art can tell you something about the culture which produced it, art in America is a measure of our achievements and a part of our national identity.

The government funds programs which protect and promote our nation this is the rationale behind the overwhelming amounts of money devoted to defense, a program which sucks billions and in turn protects our nation from the threat of countries like Iraq, a mere speck in the dust devil of international affairs.

The government can even afford to fund campaigns which promote American products abroad, such as the ad blitzes promoting California raisins in Japan. Chances are that these multinational corporations could survive without corporate welfare.

Since the government can afford to subsidize "private" industries, you would assume that they could shell out a couple million for arts funding. Not so, according to Republicans. They would rather watch educational art programs vanish and memberships in community orchestras wane than admit that they were wrong that art, like California raisins and other "private" business ventures, is worth funding. They would rather witness the atrophy and commercialization of the fine arts and offer future historians Madonna and Clint Black as evidence of our artistic culture.

By refusing to support the arts, we lose a unique and significant thread from our cultural fabric, and our artistic achievements will be limited to popular art and music entertaining, but usually simple, shallow, and mediocre.

Reason No. 2: Art is, has been, and always will be, controversial. Many conservatives argue that the American public has no desire to finance modern art, since most of it is either pornographic, explicitly violent, or both. (Keep in mind the irony of their view it is promoted by politicians, renowned for their illicit affairs and unethical dealings).

Modern art critics should keep in mind that the unveiling of Michelangelo's nude "David" caused quite a stir in Italy, and the sculpture was eventually removed from the town square. Why? People threw rocks at it.

Even Michelangelo's works were deemed controversial in his day and he was a mainstream artist.

Because art is often controversial and ahead of its time, today's artists experience difficulties in receiving funding for their projects from private sources. To ensure artists the freedom to create without constraints, the government should continue to support the outstanding tradition of American art.

And for the critics who label most modern art as glorified garbage, be careful that piece of garbage may be the next "David."

Reason No. 3: Art is about expression and discovery. The space program is publicly funded, not because the knowledge is practical or necessary, but because knowing something about our surroundings in the universe helps us to know ourselves. The same standard applies to art. Like literature, art and music explore the most complex and inexplicable emotions joy, love, grief, jealousy, despair. Like science, art helps us to discover who we are; it doesn't answer questions about our existence, but it makes us feel that our existence is actually worth it. And like politics, anything is fair game in the art world, certainly a threatening prospect for many conservative Republicans.

If we turn art into a commodity, then we will be viewed as a nation which sold its identity to balance its budget; we must remember that commercial mediocrity should never be a substitute for greatness.

Jessie Fillerup is a music education junior. Her column appears every Monday.

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