The arts under attack in Texas. Again and again.

Artist/actor: Martin Burke

I am duplicitous to my own intellect.  I want to believe that art inspires,  that arts shows us what it is to be human, and that art is a critical function of a civilized society.  I want to think that we (the masses) should support the artists (the chosen few) in their ongoing endeavor to bring catharsis to culture.  That tax investments in the arts return enormous but not always obvious rewards to us in general.....but I falter.

Our governor, Rick Perry is pushing to gut all funding to artists and arts organizations across Texas.  And I have no doubt that, if we're collectively insane enough to elect him president, he'll get out his budgetary Bowie knife and try to rip the tax guts out of every arts organization across the U.S.  Goodbye museums.  Goodbye orchestras.  Goodbye art class in school.  Goodbye any art that survives or is nourished by taxes.  And my knee jerk liberal self wants to rise up and protest because I've been well trained to accept that any and all funding for the arts is good.  But is it?

And will America revert to the Dark Ages if we sever the financial ties that bind art to taxpayers like an unwanted backpack on a long journey through the desert?  The mantra on the right is to cut everything and the arts seem like a target rich environment for cutting.  It's target rich because the average American has no idea whether or not art really does affect his own life.  Art seems to be the province of the wealthy and the elite.  It's very inscrutability is it's barrier to the unwashed.  Just try explaining abstract expressionism to a room full of business students.  The blank stares are intimidating.....

So here's my conundrum.  I would never have had the opportunity to see Martin Burke perform in The Santaland Diaries if the city of Austin didn't provide some financial assistance to Zachary Scott Theater.  Martin has talent, not just training.  And it's the talent that makes me laugh and cry each time I see him perform.  In a sense, some projects, like big theater pieces and symphonies and large scale installations are like NASA.  They can't be cobbled together in home laboratories and they can't be funded with a bake sale.  And they do provide real economic value......down the road.  I submit that clubs with live music and theaters like Zach Scott and the Long Center and the Doughtery Cultural arts center are what led to the development of a rich and growing downtown which in turn aids developers of soaring residence towers, the owners of giant buildings for business in the downtown corridor and the creation of wealth largely due to the proximity and continued promise of art.  All within a mile of the state capitol.  All within a mile of the man who would cut and slice away crayons from school children along with funding for the opera (which I will gladly give up).  But not funding for businesses which fail with alarming regularity and often reneg on tax abatement agreements....

What floats the wealth of Sante Fe?  Could it be about 17,000 galleries that create the entire business  magnet for the town?  What's our one image of Sydney Australia if it's not the opera house?  Can you imagine people wanting to deposit tourist dollars in New York City without the Met and the Moma and the Guggenheim and countless galleries and shows?  Believe me, no one comes to NYC for the quaint and affordable hotel stays.....

Paris without the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and all the breathtaking (and tax paid) public architecture?  So I do understand the role of government funding of the arts as a boost to local economies here and around the world (Believe me, no one would ever go to St. Petersburg Russia in the dead of winter without the Hermitage.....) but is it fair to have tax payers foot the bill?  That's where my brain bogs down....

Then I read about the four billion dollar per year oil and gas subsidy for Exxon-Mobile and the countless hundreds of millions that municipalities throw at building stadiums so private businesses can have gladitorial shows for profit.  The idea in the first case that the world's second largest business would stop doing it's business if we didn't pay them to do it is ludicrous while the second example is just plain pitiful.

To some extent it is selecting who will get money and who won't that brings up the controversy.  Exxon can reward favors from Congress while artists generally cannot.  People in general are motivated to think that rewarding Exxon might buy them cheaper gas (fat chance....) but people don't have a selfish motivator in regards to the arts.  They don't see, tangibly, what art will do for them.  So doling out the taxpayer's largely unwilling largess becomes a popularity contest with the group promising the most understandable or doctrine rewards reaping the lion's share of the money.

They had an answer for this in Sweden.  I don't know if they still do it like this but in the 1970's I read that they would have a lottery for arts funding.  You applied, just as you would for a grant here but all were welcome to apply, there was no litmus test for the funding.  If you had an idea and a way to complete your idea you were in the game.  In the lottery, when and if you're name came up you were given living expenses, gallery space and  the opportunity to show your work at a gallery.  Didn't matter if it was liked or disliked, controversial or plain.  You got your shot.  Everyone had a chance at getting their shot.  No one arts organization was able to burrow in and suck at the teat long after their relevance fled to another school of thought.  I'd like to see something like that here.

But back to my bifurcated nature.  I pay taxes.  I have my own sense of priorities and ethics.  I think we should shut down every inch of corporate tax welfare in the entire system.  Tomorrow.  And we should put term limits on any arts funding.  Everyone goes free market.  Everyone.  Business, art, music, thought, food, experience.  It all goes free market. 

Can you make the case that opera is great for your town?  Bravo, put together a business plan, sell the seats and gather unto you your own donors.  People won't pay for it out of their own pockets?  Tough.  Rosetti and Verdi and Mozart had private sponsors for their art.  Get your own.  Want an oil and gas subsidy? Tough.  Find some private investors.  Sell your plan to a church group.  Market.

Look at it this way.  If we get a hold of the gutting knife and apply it equally,  eviscerating both the arts and ALL agricultural, oil and gas, construction, home interest credit, defense spending, government grants to pharmacy and all the rest we'll put so much money back into the pockets of Americans that.....they'll sandbag the windows of their MacMansions, buy more and bigger flat screen TV's and burrow in for the dark ages.  But at least they'll have their "own" money in their pockets.

Hmm.  This train of thought is too hard.  How did we get here in the first place?  When did art and business begin to need the taxpayers cash to survive?  What was all that talk about free enterprise?

Bottom line:  There may or may not be money available in the arts.  Artists will pursue their art no matter what.  And if they are starving they will, like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, get real jobs and do their art because it's straining to come out.  Because we use art as our own catharsis.
I've been doing photography now for thirty years.  I've had many shows.  Paid for all of them.  Paid for the frames and the wine and the cheese and the invitations, and the months and years of looking for the images and the time in the dark room slamming all the stuff out.  No grants.  No stipends.  No public money.  If people like the work they like the  work.  Sometimes we sell one.  Usually not.  But I do it because I like it and I do it to show my friends and family and interested strangers what I do.

And I support my art by selling my craft and technical skills, won from art, to companies that understand that their marketing efforts can be translated into a single, gestalt visual that adds value to their communication with their customers.  And I sell books that find their value on an open market.  And, as liberal in the bluest of Texas towns, I am still conflicted about footing the bill for the art of others when so many times the end users, for whom we've subsidized engagement, are the wealthiest in our communities.   But we don't know how much value art brings to the table down the road.  How much trickles down.  And I'm not willing to cut there unless we're equally willing to wean the businesses.  At least there we know where the profit goes.  And it's no better dispersed.  All or nothing.  That's a good motto for any artist.

"Art show us what it is to be Human."


Steven Alexander said...

Conflicting personal opinions on a topic are the basis of true liberal thought. If you know your right and there are no alternative worthwhile ideas, you are not a liberal.

I enjoyed your voicing of your dilemma on the issue of tax funding of the arts as I too find it difficult to justify subsidies going to an institution that servers mostly a population that should and could fully fund it without the use of tax dollars.

London portrait photographer said...

Wow Kirk. I have a whole new level of respect for you as a human being. There have been many times in the past when you've said something downright irritating to me and I suspect this will be such a post for others. On this occassion I am entirely in agreement with you.

But what impresses me isn't that I agree with you but that you do your thinking online. Naked so to speak.

Bernie (imageconjurer on Twitter)

Dave Jenkins said...

As one who could use a nice subsidy to get a current project off the ground, I still say let the free market work. No subsidies for anyone.

Isn't it strange how so many of the things ostensibly undertaken in behalf of the have-nots wind up benefiting the haves?

Anonymous said...

Hot topic. Big balls. Keep em coming. Even if ultimately you are wrong.

Anonymous said...

I notice all the good musicians coming out of Canada, and I can't help but connect that to the universal health system. It seems indirect, but the security of health insurance let's you afford the starving artist lifestyle: 20 hour job as a barrista, and 20 hours to rehearse or develop your craft.

Glenn Harris said...

Great stuff Kirk.People want small government as long as it doesn't hurt them, people want loop holes closed except theirs, people want a free market as long as it works in their favor. I don't think Arts is that important to many people now, unless they can make some money off of it. Photographers have to make money the old fashion way, by earning it.

Photo_13_02 said...

As a Socialist, I am all for the funding of things that enhance and enrich the population at large. Art is important as part of our history and the people of tomorrows history. It is worth considering that the art world has raised questions frequently far in advance of other media; Hearthfield warning about Fascism. But it is not just art that is of benefit to people an NHS would benefit you as well.
Looking from afar I find the though of the possibility of Rick Perry being in charge of the biggest military on the planet. He is just like our PM Camoron keen on getting the job but no great vision for the nation, were having arts cut too.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Cool post Kirk.

Just took a personal counter strike, and ordered your "Commercial" handbook from Amazon. Thinking of it, if we all do this, and support just one artist each month with buying one item, maybe art will survive.

Tomorrow is my dad's birthday, and I'm already thinking what I could get him. Hmmm...


Jim said...

I share your conflict on this. I've had grants, shows, etc. and I have mixed feelings about how the whole art market system works. I agree we should get rid of subsidies to business especially the mega-profitable ones like oil companies. That makes no sense whatsoever.

A thought though about getting patrons: When Leonardo, Michelangelo and company were getting rich sponsors to pay them to work... Those guys were the government or it was the church and they paid for work that enhanced their status in society. Depictions of Biblical scenes in which they and/or their families were part of the narrative image. There was no 'self-expression' by the artist. It was a form of propaganda designed to reinforce the power of those who paid for it. The likes of Rick Perry might be more comfortable with public funding of art if the art was designed to convince the voters that they were God's chosen rulers.

Bill Millios said...

I've seen many "artistic endeavors" funded through kickstarter.com - and it works - if the idea has enough merit to enough people.

Back in the day when artists needed wealthy sponsors, they had to personally beg. The internet levels the field, and reduces the burden from one wealthy sponsor to many sponsors, each giving a small slice of the needed amount, for the benefit of all.

kirk tuck said...

Bill, I agree that programs like kickstarter are good for the first go around but where do you find funding for continuing programs? And if you can't fund them should there be continuing programs? Every law and every grant and every budget should have an expiration date on it. Just because something was worth funding in the past doesn't mean it gets a lifetime stipend.

Victor Bloomfield said...

My University of Minnesota colleague Ann Markusen did a serious study in 2003-4 of the impact of the arts on regional economies. She found it's strongly positive. Here are links to two pdfs of her initial report and a follow-up.



Mel said...

Right on. Great balance in your thinking about this. Sort of like separation of church and state; until it's absolute there'll always be problems with one trying to tell the order what to do.

I do like the lottery idea, though. Wonder if some large photographic organization would support such an idea? Let a thousand compositions bloom!

Anonymous said...

Racing is an art, whether you think so or not. It's also a sport with the best in-shape athletes winning. Don't think so?- try it. It also bring tons of money to the area. Re-look F1 racing in Austin.

kirk tuck said...

Dear insanely brainwashed racing fan. Please be aware that most studies consider F1 Racing at best revenue neutral for the municipalities and in some instances far to costly to continue. In shape? If you're dumb enough to drive any car in Texas in the Summer without air conditioning you're pretty much guaranteed to lose weight. Car driving a sport? What's next, video games as sport? TV watching as sport? We'll have this discussion again, no doubt, in December of 2012 when we've calculated the tremendous opportunity losses for the money we threw at F1 without demanding more rigorous proof of profit for us. I'm sure it's profitable......for Bernie.

But if you aren't getting a cut of the action why are you so adamant about your position. Have you been an F1 driver? Should Curves (fitness studio for women) start offering F1 driving as an exercise option? Can you show me a bunch of real, actual statistics (not from f1) that show actual profits for any city outside of Monte Carlo that's danced with the devil of driving?

If you read the above you got my message: Let the market vote. You like F1? Get 25,000 of your best friends to kick in $100 bucks each and start a track. Just don't hold the rest of us at knife point because you think loud ass motors are cool.

That's the last I'll say about F1 on the blog. You had your say and I had mine and anything else about F1 I'll consider to be spam.

larry s said...

Lots of good points. I could debate both sides but when the state backs the arts someone in government still has to make that subjective decision. Do you want Joe Blow spending your money on art. If they would leave it up to me I could spend the money properly as I am sure Kirk would. If people would support the arts this would be a moot point but unfortunately most people just buy their art at Walmart.

kirk tuck said...

Victor, thanks for providing some studies for the discussion. While I agree that art probably brings in lots of sustainable income I think we should pull government out of welfare for businesses. Even non-profit ones. We can't have it both ways. No more tax money for Exxon or the hundreds of banks and bankers and no more tax money for modern dance, grants to photographers or subsidies for public installations. Pay as you go. Go with the good grace of private benefactors.

And while we're at it we instantly, and without any delay, end the income tax exemption and property tax exemptions for any churches. Everyone. Everyone pays their fair share. Either that or we all start churches.....lots of them. I have dibs on the Church of Visual Science. Working on our theology right about........now.

John Kleb said...

Considering the government is spending money 150% faster then it brings it in, something has got to give. To beat the math everyone is going to have to give up a steak from their sacred cows. Do we cut the amount of funding to the arts, or cut the inspections on pipelines? Research money for the mating habits of yaks, or fuel for the airforce to train pilots? The simple fact is that living on a smaller budget sucks. This time around it's going to really suck if we're going to solve the problem and not put another two generations in the future in debt. Everything is going to have to loose funding. Everyone is going to have to get back to the concept of providing for themselves and their own families instead of expecting a bailout. It's going to suck. Unless some windfall of profit making for the country as a whole comes about (and isn't regulated and taxed into oblivion) we have an awfully big hole to fill with a very small shovel.

I look at it this way; the less I have to rely on the government, the less it's mistakes will affect me. I'm starting the recovery in my house before I wait for a bunch of windbags in Austin and DC to provide me with an answer.

Bold Photography said...

What we need is photography as a sport...

kirk tuck said...

EXTREME. FULL CONTACT street photography. In a stadium with death the penalty for faulty technique... Bernard, I think that might sell. I want the franchise rights....

Your images is out of focus. Off with your head!

Silvertooth said...

Thanks for yet another great blog. Too many fly-by-night preachers have started their own churches for the tax breaks on whatever they buy "for the church." As a person who tries follow the teachings of Christ, I find this disturbing, especially when Jesus made a statement about rendering unto Caeser what is Caeser's.

As for "...the countless hundreds of millions that municipalities throw at building stadiums so private businesses can have gladitorial shows for profit" I find this very distrubing as well. How many kids are injured and die of heat related ailments every year for these sports so they can be "superstars." My Advanced Placement U. S. History books are held together with packing tape while the football team got a whole new weight room. The swim team has to buy their own suits and goggles. Equity?

Dave Jenkins said...

Kirk, it appears that you are working your way from “the world should be the way I want it to be (liberalism)” toward “I will accept and deal with the world as it is” (the free-market approach). In fact, I think much of the country is moving in that direction, not so much by choice as by necessity. As Margaret Thatcher said in a TV interview for Thames TV on Feb. 5, 1976, "...Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money. It's quite a characteristic of them."

She also said, in The Path to Power, "There are significant differences between the American and European version of capitalism. The American traditionally emphasizes the need for limited government, light regulations, low taxes and maximum labour-market flexibility. Its success has been shown above all in the ability to create new jobs, in which it is consistently more successful than Europe."

We see this in (relative) microcosm in the difference between Texas and California. You are getting more work than most of us these days, and that is the result of three things: you are a really good photographer; you are a really, really good businessperson; and you live in Texas, where the maligned Governor Perry has backed policies that help create a business environment that most resembles the American model in Mrs. Thatcher’s example – not perfectly, but substantially.

California, on the other hand, is the American state that most resembles Mrs. Thatcher’s example of the European model. Just as the European model has brought many European countries to the verge of bankruptcy, so California is also de facto bankrupt. And it cannot get better, because the businesses that provide the jobs that would pay the taxes to keep the state solvent are leaving at the rate of 30 per day. And many of them are coming to Texas.

The free market has provided more prosperity for more people than any other economic model. And when people prosper to the point they can quit worrying about daily necessities, their interest will turn to, among other things, voluntary support for the arts. Remember, the Renaissance coincided with the rise of the middle class.

Anonymous said...

You should see the art on the walls at Exxon Mobil HQ.
You can't but you should.

kirk tuck said...

But Dave, Only a totally free market in which the biggest players don't get special privileges and special compensation. And, call me a liberal, but there needs to be a real safety net for those who NEED it. Finally, we need to pay taxes. That's the price we pay for being able to enjoy all our freedoms. I don't think the US really wants Texas's style.

We also have a 27 billion dollar deficit because we have no income tax, don't tax corporations and we're going to fix it by absolutely ruining the education system. Our future will be shattered because we won't have an educated workforce and all those companies that moved here for the short term tax incentives and cheap costs will go elsewhere to find workers who are trained, bright, innovative and motivated. We'll have the largest prison system in the world and move our educational standing from 48th to 50th. Is that the vision we want for a proud country like ours? That and no compassion for the old, the sick and the infirm? Sounds like a warmed up version of hell to me and certainly not anything I can find in the bible.....

Companies need to shed their loopholes and subsidies and grant grabs before one child's education suffers. That would be the mark of a truly enlightened society.

John Krumm said...

You want all of our cities to burn, try actually living in a "free" market. England briefly did in the 1800's and it was horrible. One of the reasons we had such a cultural shift in the sixties was due to the fact that labor was strong, the middle class was feeling its oats, and poverty was actually considered something the government should care about.
Ok, go take some photos everyone :).

Frank Grygier said...

I am in the Dave Jenkins camp. I speak with business people from all over the country and they envy our business climate and the fact that we do not have the high taxation that exists in their state. In hard economic times hard decisions have to be made and cuts have to be made. Corporations do not pay taxes no matter how much you tax them. Their customers pay the taxes. If you want to have churches pay taxes fine. The members of the church will pay the taxes. If you want an income tax everyone who is paying all the other income taxes will be paying for theirs. Then we will all want to move to the next state that comes to their senses.

Dave Jenkins said...

Kirk's article had more to do with economics that straight politics, however, economics are so bound up with politics that they are ultimately inseparable.

I write political articles for various blogs, but when I visit photography blogs I would really rather talk photography. I do realize, however, that economics, and therefore, politics, are an inescapable part of life.

This is Kirk's blog, and he is free to bring up whatever subjects are on his mind. I am grateful that the discussion here has remained at a high level of civility. I am going to bow out, but I would highly recommend that everyone who reads this would obtain and read a small, 64-page book titled "The Law," by Fredric Bastiat. It is an eye-opener and a life-changer.

Archer Sully said...

First of all, at least the gladiatorial games were free, paid for by the wealthiest of Romans to increase their status.

The requested budget for the NEA in FY 2010 was ~$163 million, or about 1/28th of oil and gas subsidies. There's simply no comparison between arts and culture funding and business subsidies. Of course, both are dwarfed by funding for war.

Funding agencies, like it or not, have taken the place of the Borgias and Medicis. At least they place fewer restrictions on the work produced. Usually.

Sweden's system sounds great. If we put even 1/10th the money that goes to oil and gas companies into an arts lottery this country would be a much more interesting place.

@Dave Jenkins: California's problems aren't caused by having any resemblance to a European welfare state, but rather by being ahead of the curve on Thatcherism. She (states are "she," aren't they?) has a balanced budget amendment and another amendment (Prop. 13) that makes it nearly impossible to raise taxes, all passed in the late 1970's, right around the time Thatcher was elected. As a result, the deterioration of the physical and social infrastructure started earlier and has been on display for quite a while. And business really cannot prosper without a healthy society to operate in.

kirk tuck said...

Good stuff, Archer.

Taxes are the price we pay for a free, open and safe society. Taxes are the small price businesses should pay for unfettered access to the world's largest economy. If doing the right things for our kids moves companies out of Texas then something is sincerely out of whack because the only place left to go is Louisiana and Mississippi. You're sure not moving that company to Vermont or Minnesota or Washington state anytime soon, even though the average household incomes are much higher and the quality of life better.

Mark n Manna said...

Wow,Kirk. I'm quite surprised at your insight. You being a card-carrying Liberal and all. :-)
This blog post of yours could easily be mistaken for being authored by Ron Paul.....And I agree. The government needs to stop picking the winners and losers,and let the free market be a level playing field. Citizens and corporations must be allowed to fail.....and thrive.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,
To me this is a sad post. You seem to have forgotten the US had almost totally free markets back in the early 1900s.

We had no child labor laws, no antitrust laws, no workplace safety laws and no safety nets of any kind. Children of 10 and 12 worked 6 or 7 days a week in often unsafe conditions to bring food home.

Your statement that "artists, if they are starving, will, like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, get real jobs" is also sad.

First, it means you think your own work is not a real job.

Second, if copyright laws didn't protect your work, you would not make money from books.

And, if your corporate clients had the free rein of the free markets of the early 1900s, they would not need you to communicate to customers. They'd put their competitors out of business using all the dirty tricks that were "legal" for the Robber Barons then, and the customers would have no choice but to buy from them.

I am not sure that artists who cannot find food or shelter will pursue their art no matter what.If they can't find "real jobs" I suspect they will get ill and die, more likely.

But then, since art is not a real job it is also not really worth much anyway.


kirk tuck said...

M. You make many, many valid points and we are in agreement for most of them. I don't think the concept of free markets that I'm espousing has anything to do with limiting consumer safety laws, child labor laws or the copyright laws. I'm saying "no subsidies for businesses or individual artists. I am only concerned with the market place, not the greater subject of protection of the herd from sociopathic predators.

I don't consider the commercial photography that I do to be high art that should be subsidized by tax dollars. I have thrown it onto the free market of commerce for nearly thirty years. When I do it right I get well paid, when I do it poorly the market spanks me.

As a freelancer I am not eligible for either local, state or federal unemployment benefits. If I don't produce sellable products I will go out of business and I will immediately have to find some other way to sustain myself. That gives me a different perspective, I think, than people who work for corporations and the government.

I see millions of people who are laid off getting 55 weeks of unemployment, plus extensions. Not so for working freelancers.

By the same token I see banks getting bailed out for stupid or dishonest business practices to the tune of billions or trillions but no one will step in and bail out a failing wedding photographer or a commercial photographer heading for bankruptcy.

Art is only a real job if you have clients. That's what a job is. Otherwise it's a hobby and it's something you do in addition to what you do to survive. That doesn't make it less important it also doesn't make it someone else's responsibility to fund.

To recap: No subsidies in the economy for anything but safety net issues. And safety net is food, shelter, education and necessary healthcare. No art subsidies no business subsidies, no home owner or property own subsidies. No agricultural subsidies.

You make art? Good. You want to make money from your art? Sell it. License it. Find a patron. Marry well. But don't expect a shop clerk with a high school education to subsidize you explorations into aesthetics.

And, both William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens and Richard Avedon all had jobs. Avedon's just happened to look exactly like what he did for art. The comparison is apt.

Anonymous said...


I know we agree on many points.
We do seem to have different definitions of art. Not all art is great art or fine art, to me. But art takes just as much work as anything else.

I too am a freelancer but in a non-art field and have been since I got laid off 15 years ago.I don't expect anyone to finance my photography, but I do hope to goodness there will be support for libraries, public television and radio, theater groups and music, for example.

I don't think Exxon Mobil or the greedy, dishonest banks and hedge funds are likely to help starving artists anymore than the Robber Barons of old helped anyone until they had amassed all their wealth over the ruined lives of many and made small PR efforts to atone.

With all the breaks going to the big corporations and the wealthiest, you are probably more prophetic than you know about the clerks with the high school educations being the last "patrons" of the arts. They, and we, are all subsidizing the Oil companies, the banks, the hedge funds, and the wealthiest.

The term free market is laden with lots of meanings that don't bode well for most of us, in my opinion. You may not want to repeal child labor laws, for example, but I have heard some people propose it as part of a "free market" / small government ideology. Why should the government prevent children from working in the family business? It is not a far-fetched idea at all for the small government viewpoint.

It worries me that we can forget or ignore so much history so easily. It also worries me that as Americans, we can dismiss art and science and things of the mind as high-falutin' wastes of time and money. I hear a lot of that in the talk about eliminating any funding for the arts. Arts and artists are not valued, which I think is a shame. We also don't seem to care much about education or the mind.

Low Budget Dave said...

Excellent comments, and a good discussion. For a non-political blog, your thoughts are very well spoken. I am an accountant, an economist, and a consultant for a living. (For a hobby, I shoot poorly framed photos on a Nikon D70).

These days in America, people tend to call themselves "fiscal conservatives" when all they are really doing is refusing to pay for long-term investments. Businesses can save a ton of money by refusing to invest in employee training, healthcare, or Research and Development. In the long run, though, those businesses usually fail.

Most government subsidies usually start out with good intentions. Maybe they originally wanted to “invest”, but ended up tilting the playing field. This increases the popularity of people like Rick Perry, because they offer a solution that is simple to understand. Simple solutions appeal to people who are angry, but simple solutions rarely work. The government has plenty of ways to support art that are even-handed, it just happens that these solutions are complex and hard to explain. Your example is a good one, and there are others that are just as workable.

The government started off to be like referees at a football game. There was no intent to pick winners or losers, only to keep people from cheating. These days, the government is so beholden to the players and owners that they are no longer very good referees. We might be better off if we limited their power for a while, and asked them to get back to calling the penalties instead of constantly rearranging the playing field.

Take education as an example. Even the most narrow-minded fiscal "conservative" would have a hard time arguing that art should not be taught in schools. Just the act of teaching art requires a certain support of the ideals and the artists themselves.

Businesses are also allowed tax deductions for expenses they voluntarily direct toward arts. This is free-enterprise written directly into the tax policy in support of arts. It is a very small step from there to the realization that people prefer to move into communities that have good education, good roads AND good support of the arts.

Before you know it, governments that support the arts will out-compete governments that just rob from the poor and give to the rich. People vote with their feet. Right now, people are voting to move to Texas, but that is a temporary move. Eventually, people will realize that they would like to visit a park, or drink some clean water, or go see a play.

Texas will eventually figure that out, as will the GOP. It is a shame that we have to hear all those speeches though. "Simple" economic solutions give me the same headache that you might get from looking at all my "sunset" pictures.

kirk tuck said...

Low Budget Dave, Right on the money! You said it better than I did. I go back to the idea that Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Texas' model is to go back to tribal warfare and winner take all. Sad days ahead I"m afraid.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're an advocate for small government...

Subsidies distort the market...any market. People(artists) or businesses should succeed and thrive based on ability and merit.

If you read the writings of Hamilton, Jefferson, etc. you'll see they intended for a small national government providing basic services such as common defense and protecting commerce.

I feel art should be funded at a local level it keeps other people (at a national level) out of your business.

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Nice "dream" Kirk; but the cynic in me is quite convinced the arts will be defunded long before any corporate welfare is touched. The arts don't have the army of lobbyists the corporate "peoples" do.

Nice commentary, as well.




David K. said...

I'm late to commenting on this (I have a bunch of your posts in my RSS reader, just waiting to be read), but some parts of what you said made me a bit uncomfortable.

I come from a biology research background. Research basically comes in two forms: academic (government-funded, open and free for all, generally always short of money) and industry (think pharmaceutical companies: very well-funded, but work performed there may be distorted or never be released outside of the company, and it is always product-driven). Research has led to some major advancements and products, but many people are quick to put it down. The work I performed may be useful as a form of cancer therapy some day, but it was the proof of something biological: it is probably four or five steps removed from creating something that can be used in a clinical setting. The average American would probably tell me that my work was a waste of money, simply because it likely won't produce a viable product within a year or two. But this is all complicated stuff, and it takes time and money to push it forward. It's become rare in our society, but anyone who can look long-term recognizes the benefit of and need for research. (Even though it's not my field, I'm still upset with what they've done to NASA, too.)

Research is different from art in many ways, yet I also see a few similarities. With research, you can never know exactly what will be successful or what you'll find; with art, you never know what it is that may trigger something deep within people (or even society). Art may not be able to offer a cure for cancer, but I recognize that it can have a meaningful impact on people's lives. Artist's life stories are some of my favorites to read about particularly for that reason: out of many, they took a risk, invariably suffered, but somehow (usually by massive chance) were recognized and appreciated.

Since I was in academic research, the idea of profit-driven, industrial research taking over entirely is a frightening thought. What would happen if the art world took a similar course? I don't have an answer, and maybe it wouldn't be bad at all, but it's a disconcerting thought...