In Defense of the Arts

“The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

— Winston Churchill

George F. Will recently wrote an Op-ed for the Washington Post favoring the abolishment of the National Endowment for the Arts. He likened modern art to “rubbish”, citing, out of all of the thousands upon thousands of exhibits featured across the country in the last decade, “Piss Christ”: a photograph of the crucification submerged in urine that drew controversy in 2011.

He then argues that the NEA is not in such a position to declare what art is, and that if they are to finance such exhibits that feature images that — gasp- make you think and cause a reaction, it should be immediately defunded.

My dear George — THAT is what art is. It riles you up. It makes you think. It actually is a catalyst for for action, of which “Piss Christ” did with you.

I am not going to sit here and wax poetic over the importance of this particular photograph — what I think about it is inconsequential, (frankly, I don’t get it). However, what’s important is that it was shown, and shown without censorship. For me, a viewing of a single Kardashian show is more exponentially offensive than a photograph, doing more harm for the culture of young girls than that picture ever could.

What he doesn’t argue is the impact of cutting the NEA also affects public television. Now this — THIS — is important.

I was raised by muppets.

They taught me such valuable concepts as numbers, shapes, and even tolerance — to tunes I can (and will) still sing today. A kindly man used to take me on journeys through a make-believe world and another soft-spoken gent with an impossible afro conjured happy little trees out of a blank canvas that always seemed to include Titanium White. He made me think I, too, could paint. Ok, I couldn’t, but there was hope, and that springs eternal, right?

When I got older, I watched public television because a man named Bill Moyers seemed to be the only person that made sense in an increasingly chaotic political world. I was given a front row seat to operas I couldn’t afford, and my burning desire that I didn’t know I had of understanding the mating rituals of a river otter were satiated.

I was also fortunate enough to work for public television for about a decade. I produced segments about exhibits that were funded by some of the agencies that the current administration would like to cut. I like to think that producing these segments gave someone a chance who wasn’t able to see the museum in person to learn about a piece of culture or art that might enlighten them. Even for a second. I also hoped it encouraged people that WERE able-bodied to see it for themselves. Remember going to a museum?

My tenure at PBS was also filled by working on a music show. We wanted to bring music to someone who couldn’t attend the concert themselves — perhaps broaden someone’s horizon. Just a bit. Maybe show a child the power of plucking a couple of guitar strings, or that a group of musicians that that play together creates a wall of sound from their instruments that could only be described as magic.

The one thing I can agree with Mr. Will is that these performances are expensive — a luxury that not everyone can afford. By his own argument Public Television is valuable because it affords people that aren’t flush with cash, or live too far away, to attend some of these performances. Did you know that you can see a Met Opera without leaving your house? You can. Courtesy of PBS.

In an era of Kardashians, Mama Junes, Bachelor’s and Stars that Dance — there must be an option where children can learn to grow smarter, stronger and kinder rather than skinnier, prettier and richer.

The fact that we’re even discussing the possibility of ending arts funding, which would affect public television, is appalling to me. Call your reps and tell them how you feel. And if you have even some more free time, send a reproduction of “Piss Christ” to George.

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