A Conservative defense of Art

A conservative defense of the arts

Conservatives often look down on the arts. Ben Shapiro remarked that he does not want to pay taxes so that some blue-haired artist with a degree in lesbian dance theory can spend his time water painting.

The famous conservative writer Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book The anti-capitalistic mentality:

People long for amusement because they are bored. Nothing makes them so weary as amusements with which they are already familiar. The essence of the entertainment industry is variety. The patrons applaud most what is new and thus unexpected and surprising. They are capricious and unaccountable. They disdain what they cherished yesterday.

A tycoon of the stage or the screen must always fear the waywardness of the public. He awakes rich and famous one morning and may be forgotten the next day. He knows well that he depends entirely on the whims and fancies of audiences hankering after merriment. He is persistently agitated by anxiety. Like the master-builder in the play by Ibsen, he fears the unknown newcomers, the vigorous youths who will supplant him in the public eye.

It is noteworthy to keep in mind that no other American milieu was more enthusiastic in support of communism than that of people cooperating in producing these silly plays and films.

I will reply to their accusations one by one.

Shapiro fails to acknowledge that it takes time to become a great artist. Artists are not just born fully formed. Even the most talented person has to nurture and develop it. Julia Cameron wrote a best-selling book, The Artist’s Way. She argues in the book that to become a great artist, you first have to be willing to be mediocre. You will create a lot of bad art before you become good at it. Great artists spend an enormous amount of time honing their skills. Given the time, that artist might produce a masterpiece.

As for assertions of Mises: people do not just go to the movies or plays because they are bored.

The mathematician and philosopher Jacob Bronowski wrote in The ascent of man that ancient tribes painted animals on the walls of the caves at Altamira, Spain, not for beauty but to simulate the hunt. The survival of the tribe depended on the hunters successfully killing ferocious wild animals. Bronowski argues that the tribesmen went into the caves to train their emotions to stand their ground and not run away in fear when they confronted the herds.

Richard Walter is a Former Professor of Screenwriting at the prestigious Film school at UCLA. In his book Essentials of Screenwriting, he wrote: The movie theaters are the modern version of the primitive cave. A film is a life simulator that allows modern men and women to rehearse their emotions, to experience desperate, painful sensations in an environment of total safety.

Movies thus offer a lot more than mere fun. Our very survival depends on our ability to process intensely painful emotions. Movie art helps us to accomplish this. Richard Walter writes that film and stories are essential to our spirits and souls as food is to our flesh and bone.

Mises writes that people disdain entertainment that they are familiar with. He is wrong. Many people love re-watching their favorite movies or re-reading their favorite books.

Mises also writes that a movie tycoon awakes rich and famous one morning and may be forgotten the next day. But people will not forget him that easily if he creates a masterpiece. The fans of George Lucas still love him even though he has not made a movie in a very long time. People still admire Alfred Hitchcock. Shakespeare is still admired and loved centuries after his death. Parents still read the stories of the Brothers Grimm to their children. Great art can outlive its creator and us all.

According to Mises, the movie tycoon fears newcomers. But there is no need to. More experienced filmmakers can work more efficiently. They are usually financially better off than newcomers and already have a name. They should find it easier to convince people to finance their films since they have already proven that they can make good ones. Clint Eastwood just keeps making films.

As for the leftist politics of Hollywood? It is a paradox to me. Artists should value freedom more than most. They need the liberty to express themselves. That is why many of them chose to pursue a career in the arts. Yet, the new draconian guidelines in Hollywood are guaranteed to cramp their style and limit their creativity. True artists would rebel against any limits put on their art. Yet, for now, they seem to embrace it.

Perhaps the explanation of Mises for this is correct. He wrote: “it may be fairly assumed that none of the Hollywood and Broadway communists has ever studied the writings of any socialist author and still less any serious analysis of the market economy.”

They probably do not understand politics well enough. Leftist politics leads to an accumulation of power in government which limits freedom and encourages authoritarianism and tyranny. Just read the works of Frederich Hayek — especially The Road to Serfdom.

Mises betrays his disdain for art by describing films and plays as silly. It is this attitude that allows the left to dominate the arts and to win the culture wars. Stage plays and movies are not trivial. To create a film or a stage play that draws crowds over a sustained period is a terrific achievement. Titans of other industries should acknowledge that. Creators of art deal with more uncertainty than most. It takes tremendous courage to do what they do. Artists are of the same mold as entrepreneurs.

If the right wants to win, they should embrace art and acknowledge its value. Movies are the business of feeling. Unlike some conservatives claim, in relationships and life, feelings matter a lot.

What hard-working capitalist or entrepreneur does not like to watch a movie or a play? Perhaps he takes his children to one. When he started dating his wife, he did not take her to his office to show her his accounting books. Perhaps he took her to an art gallery or a museum, to watch a play or a movie before going to a nice restaurant. There they enjoyed a meal created by a great cook or chef. A great meal is a work of art by itself.

Perhaps he draws inspiration from the wheeling and dealings of J.R. Ewing in Dallas. Or he imagines himself as James Bond, a suave secret agent of industry. These great shows were all created by artists.

To be fair, Shapiro wrote a book, Prime-time Propaganda. In it, he laments how the left dominates television. His company, The Daily wire, now produces movies to compete with Hollywood. So, indirectly, he acknowledges the value of art.

In a sense, the approach of conservatives to art appears schizophrenic.

Some conservatives do acknowledge that art has value. Jordan Peterson said that there is no higher value than beauty. He argued that it is the magnificent architecture and art of Europe that attracts millions of tourists every year. They certainly do not go for the weather or the friendly people. Perhaps they come for the history, but that manifests in the magnificent architecture of the old castles and cathedrals. It is enshrined in art made by masters like Dürer, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Donatello et al. Art can create plenty of jobs. It is beneficial for the economy. And no artificial intelligence can create art like a living, breathing human being.

So to my fellow conservatives: Please give art, creativity, and artists their due.

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