Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Art and the Left Wing

Near the end of the nineteenth century, when the rest of the western world’s academics first began seeking ways to trade in the responsibility of individual freedom for bigger governments and existential despair, art was desperately struggling to resist the bureaucratic reach. Painter Edouard Manet and the poet Baudelaire resented the arbitrary and oppressive standards of official Paris Salon and started the Salon Des Refusal in protest. The uncensored Salon Des Refusal left the production of art up to the artists, and therefore open to greater innovations and competition. Napoleon III admitted that he could see “little difference between those pieces rejected, and those accepted” for the official Salon.
Artists have always fought for their right to be the artists they choose to be, to support ideas they choose to support, and to form the types of expression that they’re inclined to express, even if they aren’t mainstream or even socially accepted. These are noble individualist tenets to which nobody can form a credible argument against, based on humanity’s natural right to exist as freethinking and self-generating.
However, the artistic community no longer views the oppressive Salon as bad for art. In fact, like everyone else involved in a mixed economy they coo for its affection, believing it to be the only viable path in achieving their aims. And in following this tragic logic, the artistic community mistakenly links the lack of taxpayer support to the “inevitable demise of art”, and to their inability to freely create, even going so far as to claim the lack of funding as an implied censorship. They’ve clearly deluded themselves into believing that the right to freely express, or more specifically the right to freedom of speech, entitles the means of that expression to be provided for. The artists right to public funding negate other citizens’ right to freedom of choice. Isn’t the negation of one group’s rights for the privilege of another group is immoral? The right to freedom of speech entails one only to the right of that expression without the threat of coercion. It doesn’t guarantee the means of developing that expression or providing the soap box on which to stand. The type of guarantee, and this is important, which provides the means to produce can only come at the expense of someone else’s natural right to exist as a free individual.
The irony is that artists throughout history have always defended individualism. They were the first to know that only individuals could create, and the Salon’s approval or disapproval was inconsequential to the process. Instead the Salon was a repressive regime that only stifled art’s advancement. Artists had to be allowed to create unconditionally, but unconditional freedom can only come at the expense of unconditional responsibility. But now artists, once again, have rejected the responsibility of being individuals, in favor of collectivist propaganda, believing that creation and production can only be achieved at the expense of someone else. It’s a creed that further erodes individual freedoms in all spheres of society, for their individual gains, a mixed economy creed that stagnates artistic development and alienates the art from the people that are forced to support it.
Locally, the new Salon is the Alberta Arts Foundation. On its website it brags that “Albertans enjoy an enhanced quality of life through their opportunities to participate in the arts”, largely due to the 19 million dollars of support it receives annually from the provincial government. It is a claim typical of all bureaucratic institutions, implying that art would not exist without their altruistic support. Whose quality of life is enhanced by the Alberta Arts Foundation? Has the life of the rejected artist that must sell more shoes, fix more engines, or wait more tables to support the government-supported artist been enhanced? Does his having to work longer hours for the purpose of supporting some arbitrarily chosen artist allow him to create unconditionally, or even enhance his chances of becoming a successful artist? Or does his coerced support rob him of the valuable time, energy and financial stability required to develop his own purposeful art? The enhancement of certain artists’ careers comes at the expense of other struggling artists, other working citizens, and art itself. The government forcing citizens to allot some per cent of their earned income towards artists that they haven’t chosen to support is intellectual tyranny. Intellectual tyranny, or forced artistic support fosters the lethargy, ambivalence, and distrust that dominate the contemporary artistic scene and the general public’s approach to art as a whole. When support for a movie, book or painting is forced, resentment and distrust are far more likely to be the response than appreciation and excitement. Just ask any Soviet playwright.
And I know right now there are many still clinging to their collectivist doctrines crying that it’s society’s duty to expand the intellectual capacities of its citizens. In response to the immorality of altruism I’ll argue with a specific instance. Historically, the arts have mostly been the pursuits of the affluent upper classes. So why should the lower classes who have more immediate concerns, such as food, shelter, and education be required to designate any portion of their income to supporting productions enjoyed primarily by the wealthy? Is the lower income family’s consciousness expanded by their forced support of books they don’t read or by art they don’t appreciate, at the expense of their more basic needs? What type of morality is?
The Alberta Arts Foundation is comprised of a four member executive branch and an eight member board that is essentially in charge of determining which artists, art institutions, and film productions are worthy of the province’s support, and which are not. Armed with 19 million dollars, this 12 person committee is responsible for determining the cultural path of over 3.5 million people. Is this type of prediction possible? What criteria is used to determine the worthiness of each artist? Is this subjective criteria dependable enough to forgo the rights of the rejected artists, and the province’s other citizens? Is it possible that art, culture, or maybe even all types of social planning are beyond the abilities of a 12 person board? And that the board’s domination of artistic standards, combined with coerced support for these standards only destroy the artist’s credibility?
Ultimately it’s art that suffers. Designating portions of our incomes for the state-chosen purchase and production of art doesn’t culturally unite Canadians; rather, it alienates art and its community from everyday citizens who just might prefer the principle of choice.


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