As some of you know, I am an artist. This is how I have made my living in various ways most of my adult life. I love to create paintings that are wanted by collectors. Simple as that. It is a drive to capture a vision on canvas or board in oils or acrylics or watercolor.....something that people would want to look at and buy. I would be painting if there were no buyers. But it's more fun when there are. I've written the article below as my reaction to the recent NEA / Obama administration scandal. And as a reaction to what I see around me with our local art community. Even in our small town in North Carolina, there is a cult fever that has penetrated the art atmosphere. It's pretty sad really.....but here is my article. I am submitting it to our local newspaper as well.
ART FOR ART'S SAKE!
Artists are often stereotyped with characteristics and attitudes such as: flaky, flamboyant, ultra-sensitive, having no business sense, dreamers/visionaries, altruistic, and more. Some of these adjectives apply to some artists in one degree or another some of the time. But all artists are not like-minded and all artists do not carry all of those traits.
Art is a business. It is a business that relies on freedom of expression. To be successful in the business of art, the artist has a fine line to walk between the artistic vision and the business of making a living. Recently a news story surfaced about a well known North Carolina artist named Ben Long who was scammed by a ponzi schemer. Ben is very talented and has had a lot of success with his art over many years. But his story on money handlers is not rare among artists. Having said that, artists are not unique in being scammed. Other people in all walks of life get scammed, too. But this story just adds to the stereotype that artists are too distracted from the practical business realities and are easily taken advantage of.
This stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when artists think they cannot handle their own affairs and that it is too hard to make a living with the career of art. This leads artists to become dependent on income streams from government money. Which leads me to the latest scandals with the NEA, propaganda, and whether or not artists themselves are being politically manipulated out of some desire to keep revenue from the government coming into the arts.
There is a place for some public money for art grants. I have no problem with this revenue stream when it means a deserving artist has an opportunity to create something of beauty to adorn public squares or buildings. The problem arises when that public money gets used to promote a partisan agenda and stifles the creation of art for any other purposes.
The Obama administration has made a big push to politicize everything in our lives and the category of the arts is no exception. Recently, the Obama White House sent its manipulators out to co-opt the NEA to promote the Obama agenda. This was discovered through a taped conference call where the White House operative said exactly that. The directive was that the NEA should use its money and clout with the art community to help Obama spread his agenda throughout the NEA chain of affiliates. That chain includes little towns like ours by money grants from the United Arts Council which then trickles down to the Gaston County Art Guild. The idea promoted by the Obama administration is that those grants should now be judged on whether or not they promote the President's political agenda.
In the divisive political climate we are living in today, I am finding that even the art community has lined up on two different sides of life. One side is pro-freedom, including the freedom to express art in unique and individual ways. The other side is pro-government money, including subverting tax dollars to promote anti-freedom, statist policies. How much more divisive can you get than that? And I might add, this pervasive pressure from the statist is undermining the very tenets of the NEA. That is nothing new, but it has now taken on a new impetus to drive artists to the agenda of big government.
Artists have some hard choices to make in this arena. Artistic integrity can be corrupted by politicians' and government's policies. Some artists I personally know are afraid to speak up and are just "going along to get along." They are seriously afraid to say they are against the tyranny of government interference in the arts for fear they will be ostracized from the art community. These artists may find themselves without the freedom to pursue their unique artistic visions once the statists' views are realized or to make a living without corrupting themselves to do it. To be included or not included into local guilds may rest on whether the artist promotes Obama's Health Care, Cap and Trade, Environmentalism, or any of the other causes du jour. Those artists who sell out to conform to this pressure are misusing their gifts for all of the wrong reasons. I encourage them to speak up and protect their rights to create without government manipulation, within or without the NEA.
Consumers of art have a choice to make also. I am hoping that consumers will be aware enough of the situation to seek out artists who maintain their integrity and refuse to participate in the dilution of art for the sake of grabbing government money. It is the true artist who follows their own vision and not that of some forced political agenda. I hope you will reward those artists who stand tall for the sake of their art.