Why We Should Care About Institutional Failure

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189 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Another related point:


    The post is about an gay latino bar in SF that is closing because of increasing rents and gentrification (and is being replaced by a flavor of the moment yuppie place) and this is upsetting people because they found their home and community here. This is not to say that the bar should necessarily have stayed if, the song above shows that things change even when we don’t want them to. However, it provided community and home to a marginalized and harassed group and it seems to me that human dignity and decency demands caring about the group losing their home/hangout place.

    Saying something like “Dem’s the breaks” is churlish.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Human dignity and decency demand no less than saying “them’s the breaks.”
      Live while you can, people. The world will turn on regardless. And after you die, no one will remember.

      Fear of death drives much madness in this world. And it’s a mad, mad world.Report

    • Avatar notme says:


      I didn’t realize SF was lacking in gay bars?

      Sorry, all you argument seems to consist of is an ill defined idea that some how art is “special” and therefore deserves more support or some special consideration that other entities do in the quest/struggle to survive. I mean god forbid someone with an MFA should have to work in television, the horror!!Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      @newdealer Churlish? No not really just life. Times and people and places move on. That is hard on people, there is no way around that but i can’t see that anything should be done.

      I’m sure you know how many jews used to go to summer camps in the Catskills and the resorts that were there. They were a huge part of life and times for people of a certain age, like my mom. Times changed, people moved, the Catskills stopped being The Place To Go. Was that sad for many people, but that is life. If the place mattered to people then they still have their memories and friends from there. If there is a need for that kind of club then someone will open a new one.

      In all the discussions of gentrification, while i understand how it sucks to be hurt by it, i think people forget that there was someone there before them. All the old immigrant neighborhoods of Newark, where my dad grew up, were someone else’s before all those darn Greeks, Irish, etc moved in. Those people probably weren’t happy all those immigrants moved in to the cheap housing, but such is life.Report

  2. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    In reply to specific institutions failing, like the Corcoran Gallery or the NYC Opera, the question betrays a lack of civic-mindedness. It is also a significant mistake in the US that we haven’t established a federal level department of arts and culture. It’s a substantial space for policymaking that could use further federal coherence and support – at minimum for social cohesion and public diplomacy purposes.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I’ve brought this up numerous times and in numerous places but arts funding in the United States really, really perplexes me.

      Almost every other developed nation I can think of spends a good chunk of money on arts and culture and has a department/ministry dedicated to arts and culture. There are still controversies. The Royal Court’s production of Blasted in 1994 received a strong criticism from Parliament but as far as I can tell, there were no calls for cutting the Royal Court off.

      But many in the US seem to think that arts funding is just an attempt to give hand-outs to degenerate artists or they think it has no place in government spending because markets! (the second one I disagree with but is better than culture war bashing and possibly more sincere.) Other liberals think it is a lost cause and we should just give up on the NEA (Chait mentioned this in a column).

      I’ve tried to think of why the US seems so different in this regard. I wonder if government arts funding in Europe is just the natural continuation from when the nobility and aristocracy acted as patrons for the arts and since the US never really had a nobility, we lack the tradition of arts patronage.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        I recommend Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture. Public subsidies for the arts tends to produce cronyism and go primarily to support the largest institutions in the biggest cities. There’s a “conservatory” effect that can stifle the arts, like the old French art exhibitions that wouldn’t allow in the Gaugins of the art world. * The real problem in NEA funding is not that money goes to the Mapplethorpes and Serranos, but that most of it promotes the most conservative corners of the arts world.

        Markets are great for artistic development and diversity. The bigger the potential market, the more niches there are for innovative artists to fit into. Too much subsidies gives you the French film industry, which is highly “artistic” but actually lot less creative than Hollywood, which produces vast amounts of pure dreck, but in doing so creates space for innovation. Sure, lots of that was spurred by the “independent” film festivals, but a) those were lightly subsidized compared to the French film industry, and b) Hollywood frantically scoured those for innovative films that could benefit from the studios’ well-developed distribution networks.

        I strongly recommend Cowen’s book. He’s the best economist writing about the economics of the arts, and he writes from a position of knowledge about and love for the arts.

        What concerns me far more than our limited public funding for the arts is the pressures of national education standards on arts education in elementary schools. That’s where we should be going to battle; not for the NY Met or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

        * For a delicious take on this, listen to Hank Williams III’s “The Grand Ol’ Opry Ain’t so Grand Anymore.” The first verse runs:
        “Well they were nervous about Waylon cause he had a crooked smile
        For many many years they never wanted Bocephus cause hes too god damn loud
        Did you really think they ever wanted Johnny Paycheck hanging around
        Hell naw cause their too up tight wild
        For real rebels like to get down”Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Its not just national standards affecting eduction, its the frequent budget cuts. Those things might be related but not entirely. Arts and sports are easy to chop from school (except for football and basketball).Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I also think there needs to be more education in schools and not just at the elementary school level. I will certainly go to the mats for it.

        And I like a lot of French movies! 🙂

        I think you can have government support for art or culture without it completely stifling culture or as you called it the Academy effect and for the academy effect to have really worked, the Impressionists would have never gotten known but by needing to set up a counter-academy, the arguably got more famous.

        I am not arguing for the destruction or soclialization of Hollywood and agree that they subsidize art in their own way but I think massive commercialization can also lead to problems and repetitions and suppression of innovation and experimentation. It seems we are locked in an age where everyone is trying to create the next big fandom franchise filled with special effects wow. I’m not sure anyone would greenlight Citizen Kane or Network these days or even the Big Sleep or Maltese Falcon. Niche markets helps on TV though, the so-called prestige shows are watched by way fewer people than any of the CIS shows.

        Musicals are still about adaptation of stuff like Rock (really) and not going super-new and I don’t even like musicals.

        Theatre is a special beast and seems to be able to generate generation after generation of theatre artists but not theatre goers.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I think rebellion will happen with or without arts funding. The Impressionists came about despite or because of the official stance of the Academy. Naturalistic and avant-garde theatre also sprung up in Paris (and other European countries) in the 19th centuries as rebellions against what was popular at the official conservatories.

        Even Imperial Russia gave birth to avant-garde/modern ballet (Ballet Russe), some of the early abstract painters (Kadinsky), and psychological realism in acting (Moscow Art Theatre/Stanislavsky’s Method)Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        I don’t know about the US lacking a nobility as a reason. We’ve have had something near enough to it.

        And this is good old Boston,
        The home of the bean and the cod,
        Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
        And the Cabots talk only to God.

        Politico-economic dynastic power is no stranger to our shores. Look at the origins of some major NYC arts institutions like the Met Opera and MoMA. I think the Met involves the Vanderbilts, when they were new money, being upset about being excluded from the old money extant opera company. MoMA involves Rockefellers heavily. There’s patronage of the arts, and sometimes even state patronage of the arts.

        I think the explanation could be new departments are that hard to stand up and the US system has so many veto points. Getting to all the assents that’re necessary to establish a department is just that tough. So we end up with a smattering of smaller things, NEA, NEH, Smithsonian, etc. It would definitely be good if the arts community made a more concerted effort to get it onto someone’s agenda (likely the Democrats), so that when the did have moments of power free and clear, it could get done.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        True enough but those people did so as private individuals and not as state actors.

        When the European nobility gave commissions, they were doing so not only according to their personal taste but with the power as state actors so there was already an idea of state support for the arts. Even Lorenzo d’Medici was a state actor when he created/funded Renaissance culture in Florence.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Not exactly of that book by itself, but a good enough short intro. It touches on the theme of that book, but a little more on the theme of another of his books, Creative Destruction, which is about globalization and culture. But they’re related themes, and you’ll get a good enough idea about his general take on the issue from that article.

        I’m not calling for the elimination of public funding. The absolute worst that could be argued about it, in my mind, is that it’s somewhat wasteful (“could” be argued, mind; I’m not asserting that it is). And it’s a small enough amount, and so much less bothersome than so much other wasteful spending, that you’ll not find me on the barricades.

        But I won’t go to the barricades for it, either. A couple of years ago, when Michigan was desperately slashing stuff trying to figure out how to balance the state budget–after the state had reneged on its tax-sharing plan with the cities, leaving our city so cash-strapped it has eliminated its parks and rec programming–one of the items on the chopping block was some public art funding. One of my colleagues in the Art Department sent out an email plea that we couldn’t let this devastating blow to the arts happen; this spending was of crucial importance. I didn’t respond, but it irritated me. Social services were being cut, education was cut hard, roads were going unrepared (my county returned one heavily traveled and badly degraded paved road to gravel for two years because that was the best it could afford to do). Arts funding? Way the hell down on my priorities list at that point. In my mind way the hell down on any sensible person’s priorities list at that time.

        Re: French film. You like it; you’re part of the artistic elite. I don’t mean elite in a derogatory sense. But would subsidizing film like that really benefit lots of kids who might otherwise never see Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau? (For the record, I loathed it.) Or would it benefit people like you? Not that they don’t produce anything good, but is the best of French cinema better than the best of American cinema? I don’t think so, and I don’t think it’s because the French are any less capable than Americans (or filmmakers from around the world who come to Hollywood). I think it’s because the heavy subsidization promotes self-indulgence.

        Think of jazz, think of the blues. Those were never subsidized by government, but they’ve been the most innovative American music styles, or certainly among the most innovative.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Several northern European countries pay artists to perform/work in the country. The bass player in my husband’s jazz band is from Sweeden, and he goes home and gets paid to do a tour every year. The French government paid my brother-in-law to move to develop the software that’s the basis for his company (music software) and he moved to France to do that.

        Those same countries also have better IP protection for artist; and much of the music produced in Europe is simply not available in the US; including on-line stores. To purchase it legally, you need to have a European bank account hooked to a European version of Amazon or i-Tunes.

        It’s easy to say “cronyism” is rampant, but that sort of fails to consider the vitality that happens in other countries where arts are supported, where art institutions are supported.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        I think it’s because the heavy subsidization promotes self-indulgence.

        So I’m going to offer a particular vision of a department that doesn’t exist. But one possibility for the prospective US Department of Arts is inserting values into the arts that the market may underserve. Things like gender and racial minority underrepresentation in various art forms. Cate Blanchett tried to call attention to the fact that women centered films earn money; the startling number of films that fails the Bechtel Test is another example. I’m going to guess that most of the people green lighting films and signing the checks come from a narrow segment of US society. Public funding for the arts permits the possibility to open that up some.

        So that’s participation in art making. But also in terms of art consuming, subsidies open up access. I was kind of surprised when I moved back to NY having lived abroad for a bit, and the prices of museum admissions were $25. That’s not exactly accessibility to the broad, general public.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        I also think there needs to be more education in schools and not just at the elementary school level.

        Hey, wait! What are you implying? 😉Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        True. I would fight for social services, roads, and schools first.

        Re: Jazz:

        The Jazz and Classical stations in SF-Bay Area are now non-profits and is the SF Jazz center (which I am sure got government funding). Don’t know if there are commercial jazz stations in other parts of the country but it seems to me that Rock killed Jazz pretty hard.

        Re: French Film

        How are we qualifying better? Night and Fog is one of the best documentaries ever made. The French invented the SF movie (Milies). French movies were doing stuff that could not survive Hollywood censorship and eventually kids who saw it in art house theatres became Hollywood directors. The films of Renoir, Goddard, Truffaut, and Rohmer influenced the directors that became the Hollywood Renaissance. Spielberg gave Truffaut a role in Close in Encounters of the Third Kind as a tribute/honor.

        I certainly think that The 400 Blows, Breathless, Elevator to the Gallows, My Might at Maud’s, Love in the Afternoon, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Jules and Jim, Stolen Kisses, the Last Metro, Lacombe Lucien are among the best movies in the world but you called me a member of the artistic elite.

        Some French movies got American remakes. Breathless was redone with Richard Gere. Le Jete became 12 Monkeys, Love in the Afternoon was turned into I Love My Wife with Chris Rock. Some French Directors became Hollywood directors. Truffaut directed Farenfeit 451. Malle directed Atlantic City and Pretty Baby and others. He also married Candace Bergman.

        This is not just true for French Cinema. There is no Star Wars without Kurosawa’s the Hidden Fortress. Before Clint Eastwood was the Man with No Name, Toshio Mifune was Yojimbo. Before there was the Magnificent Seven, there were the Seven Samurai.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        New Dealer needs to polish his Left Decoder Ring. Bread and Roses!

        As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
        A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
        Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
        For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”
        As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
        For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
        Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
        Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

        As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
        Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
        Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
        Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

        As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
        The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
        No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
        But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!


      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        New Dealer,

        Of course, I agreed the French are as talented as anyone. Yet the films they make have radically smaller audiences than the American remakes.

        It’s not just the language aspect. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a bigger hit than about any French film you can name, I’d argue. In fact Hong Kong cinema is the 2nd largest exporter of films, behind Hollywood, and it also receives very little in the way of subsidies.

        Even the French don’t favor their own cinema over Hollywood. Look at the list of top-grossing films in France. 7 of the top 10 are Hollywood, 13 of the top 20 (although to be fair, one of those was based on a French author’s work, Pierre Boulle’s brilliant The Bridge on the River Kwai).

        So my sincere question is, who is benefiting from these tax subsidies? Are they using the masses’ tax dollars to support art that’s really benefiting the masses (I’m a bit noblesse oblige myself, on that), or are they using the masses’ tax dollars to support things that are culturally elite tastes.

        And when I say you’re a cultural elite, I’m not sneering, not using that in the right-wing way. I think it’s an honest descriptor–even in theater you don’t like musicals, which is the mass public’s favorite form of theater (which is why high schools do musical after musical after musical). Heck, anyone looking at my bookshelf is going to recognize that when it comes to literature I’m the cultural elite, too.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I know you didn’t meant elite to be a sneer.

        Those Hollywood movies couldn’t get so popular without something to rip off first though 🙂Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        The French movie industry is actually a pretty good example of what James is getting at. They make a decent number of films each year and, for the most part, they play in neighborhood theatres across France and on French television, both of which are propped up by state subsidies. My understanding is that a good chunk of that money comes from the multiplex chains, which make a lot more money than the local theatres programming mostly American movies in translation. You want to talk about a lopsided balance of trade!

        To be honest, most French movies are fairly tedious and pretty bad. Every other one seems to be about Parisians eating food and talking about their love affairs. On the other hand, most American movies are pretty terrible too. They’re just bad in different ways. You can see the terrible decline in American movies as a direct result of aiming for certain markets and betting the farm to win them, while the tedium of most French movies probably does have a lot to do with the fact that they’re guaranteed to at least play in theatres and on TV no matter how tedious they are.

        The system we have in Canada is even stupider though because most Canadian movies are funded by grants from Canada, but a huge chunk of them never play in any but a handful of theatres in two cities, don’t show up on the CBC, and don’t even make it to local DVD rental places. In the city where I live, the movies at the multiplexes are all American (even though some were shot in Canada). Actually, the only reason I hear about many Canadian flicks is through imdb.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        But one possibility for the prospective US Department of Arts is inserting values into the arts that the market may underserve. Things like gender and racial minority underrepresentation in various art forms. Cate Blanchett tried to call attention to the fact that women centered films earn money; the startling number of films that fails the Bechtel Test is another example.

        You’re saying that the reason we need more political involvement in the arts is to make the arts more political. That is one way to look at it.

        It is also the exact reason that many people don’t want more political involvement in the arts. Me, I am almost tempted to support such a thing just to see the real-life satire that might transpire. For instance, I would love to see the regulations written to enact some sort of Bechdel Rule.

        As for the idea that a cabinet level arts agency would be accountable to the people, through congress, well, I’m not sure what to say. How accountable is the TSA? I’ll start naming off alphabet agencies and you tell me how much direct accountability there is to the American people.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        the reason we need more political involvement in the arts is to make the arts more political

        Two points here. First, capitalism provides a certain set of incentives and values. These inputs influence the culture that’s produced and consumed. I’m saying, in addition to the capitalistic structures we have already, a public sector actor has a different value mix that can also be an input. I offered specifics of my values, and no doubt others given the wheel would offer their values as inputs. The 1980’s classics-focused, conservative vision of the arts would no doubt get in the drivers seat from time to time. Overall, I’m comfortable with the addition of the state as purchaser, commissioner, patron of the arts. Whether or not I as a liberal, or a conservative counterpart is in the drivers seat.

        Second point, mentioned but not drawn out as explicitly in the course of this discussion. Federal support serves the same funding smoothing role of endowments at universities. Arts institutions and charitable giving is also vulnerable to the business cycle. A diversified base of support, including a public sector actor, means that institutions could more ably get through the lean years rather than closing shop altogether.

        I would love to see the regulations written to enact some sort of Bechdel Rule.

        Yeah, I’m not saying time for a Federal Bechdel Rule. I’m not calling for a renaissance of socialist realist, state directed art. I’m saying that adding a public sector actor, committed to diversity, could move things along in the private sector which is moving at a snail’s pace to diversify commissioning posts, female directors, etc., etc. It is an example of a value I’d like to see.

        As for the idea that a cabinet level arts agency would be accountable to the people, through congress, well, I’m not sure what to say. How accountable is the TSA? I’ll start naming off alphabet agencies and you tell me how much direct accountability there is to the American people.

        That’s a much broader point about our form of government. Personally, I’m not in favor of plebiscites, I’m wary of the whole public legislating by initiative/proposition process. As far as I understand the run-of-the-mill federal agency is highly accountable to congress (of course, depending on the level of institutional insulation built in).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @j-r Creon beat me to it, but there is a big difference between the government subsidizing arts – or subsidizing alternative are – and the government directing art. I’d be vehemently opposed to the latter the vast majority of the time (the only exceptions being limitations of limited and public airwaves), I am only skeptical of the former.

        That said, I do fear that an excessively robust public sector of art would crowd out private sector. More and more artists would gear their work towards what the government wants. That could be problematic. That said, the same robust private sector of art that makes me unenthusiastic about public sector art really is reason not to be too concerned about the crowding out.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        1) Modern French films kinda suck — Israeli films tend to be better, by and large.
        You don’t see them winning top prizes nearly as much as one might expect.
        This is not to say that Renoir etc do not have their place (though I maintain the last Renoir I watched, I missed MOST of Everything, thus making the entire work very dated — very much a period piece in a way that Moliere avoids).

        2) James and NewDealer, I’m fairly certain that focusing on the NEA is missing half the money our government spends on arts — hell, the military spends $50 million on video games [and not combat sims]Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Let me ride on James Aitch comments: “Public subsidies for the arts tends to produce cronyism and go primarily to support the largest institutions in the biggest cities. ”

        Seen it first hand.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Damon, James,
        Sure, but at least they don’t produce pictures of Jesus that look suspiciously like the patron.
        (which is to say, the cronyism involved in direct patronage is … much worse than governmental support.)Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        Let me give you a good example. A local arts group is “in good” with the county board of arts. They get funding and space-all heavily subsidized-and yet, no one shows up to their shows. In the meantime, good theatre, that has an excellent track record of 1) finanical sucess and critical reviews can’t find space in that county.

        If the choice is between letting some egohead have his face on jebus or “gov’t funding”, like above, I’ll go with mr. egohead.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        oh, god, that’s such bullshit. We have theater in warehouses around here, in basements in Chelsea, in attics too — and outdoors.
        “Can’t find space” is bullshit.
        (now, you may be right that the honestly profitable people deserve a decent space, and the less attended folks really should have a smaller footprint).

        Oh, but you realize I was going light on the patrons,don’t you? “Do art. But the art isn’t the priority. Your job is going to be to be my whore, and if you do that well, you can do what you want with the rest of your life. Turning me down would be most unwise.”
        [That’s a recent example too. You know the names of both parties.]Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        That said, I do fear that an excessively robust public sector of art would crowd out private sector. More and more artists would gear their work towards what the government wants. That could be problematic.

        Just to muddy things, even absent a strong public sector participant there’s the prospect of private sector actors gearing their works towards what a government wants. Here are examples from News Corporation because I was writing about a particular lecture,

        What about media independence from governments? James Murdoch’s lecture frets over the potential for Orwellian mischief due to state sponsorship of a major media player – suggesting profit is the bulwark against such interventions.

        In 1998 a News Corporation publisher dropped a book by the last governor of Hong Kong concerned that the book would be critical of China, reportedly Rupert Murdoch personally intervened in the decision to drop the book (BBC). The publisher later apologized to the author for claiming the book was dropped because it was boring (BBC).

        In 1995 various media organizations were pressured by China over a Martin Scorsese film. China strongly objected to Kundun, an official remarked “We are resolutely opposed to the making of this movie,” continuing, “It is intended to glorify the Dalai Lama, so is an interference in China’s internal affairs.” China first tried to to stop the filming and then to stop distribution of the film (NYT, Time). Universal Pictures caved to China, which also tried to get other TV studios to not distribute Kundun. Disney ultimately didn’t give in – but reportedly did engage “the employment of the services of arch-diplomat Henry Kissinger to soothe relations” (Independent).

        In early 1994 News Corporation dropped the BBC World Service from satellite broadcaster Star TV due to Chinese concerns – the Chinese government concerned over the BBC’s coverage and News Corporation concerned over the loss of potential profits in the Chinese market. Jack Shafer at Slate writes about the Star TV affair and presents clippings from various sources. From the Economist,

        “Seldom has [Rupert Murdoch] let ideology stand in the way of profits; nor is he especially fond of the BBC. Recently he told The Economist that the BBC caused him ‘lots of headaches’ with a number of Asian governments—especially the one in Beijing—because of its critical news coverage. (March 26, 1994)”

        Profit as a “reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence” – in the face of… the Chinese government profit hardly stands up as a profile in courage.


      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Public funding of the arts is something that can be great but needs to be handled very carefully for a variety of reasons. One reason is that if the funding program is not carefully designed than you can get some serious fraud problems. I believe the textbook case was in the Netherlands. There was a program that basically gave money to artists so the wouldn’t have to worry about groceries, rent, and could focus on making art. In return the artists had to make three pieces of art a year and give them to the government. This resulted in a lot of really questionable pieces of art quickly slapped together sitting in a government wherehouse. Ideally you want to avoid this sort of thing as much as possible.

        Another issue with public funding for the arts is that it does come from tax money. When you have a diverse and vocal population, you are always going to have a substantial number of citizens protesting. You either need to protect arts funding from politics, which is very anti-democratic and elitist, or find ways of defusing the anger through the funding of things that cater to popular tastes and is relatively uncontroversal even kitschy. Say a free Renoir exhibit for every Mapplethorpe or something.

        In a country as large as the United States, you also need to make sure the spending is widely diffused throughout the country rather than concentrated in major metropolitan areas. People in the Dakotas or the Deep South need to receive their arts funding to.Report

      • @rufus-f Interestingly, growing up there were a lot of good Canadian made-for-TV movies or miniseries (“Journey Into Darkness”, “Conspiracy of Silence”, “Gross Misconduct”*), yet I never really saw a whole lot of good Canadian movies in the theatres.

        It doesn’t mean there weren’t good movies in the theatres/on VHS (there were things like Highway 61 and Yes Sir, Madame, off the top of my head), just that I wasn’t seeing them and I wasn’t seeing ads for them. It was mostly just stuff made for CBC. And despite making good TV movies, Canadian TV shows tended to suck. It was kind of a weird situation.

        *Though now that I think of it, these were mostly based on true crimes, so maybe it was a tiny niche of a niche of films that were good.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      Why in the world should the US government fund the Corcoran when it’s got several other art museums in Washington, DC, including the National Gallery of Art and the American Art Museum?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I don’t think Creon was arguing for the Corcoran specifically but arguing for much broader cultural financing and official government support through a Department of Arts and Culture like we have a Department of State.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Rattling off in my mind the number of taxpayer supported museums in London: British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern… those are the one’s I can think of offhand, and IIRC are all free. Yep, that’s right, a National Gallery and a separate National Portrait Gallery. Imagine that.

        The US is at least as capable as the UK in supporting multiple, great, free museums in the nation’s capital (and beyond). If I understand how the Corcoran is being divided up, the National Gallery is taking over the collection in any case.

        It doesn’t strike me as problematic that the state would support a bunch of significant cultural institutions (even better, in cooperation with civil society).Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        @creon-critic To be fair, the US also has not only the National Gallery of Art but also the National Portrait GalleryReport

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Will we be subsidizing art like “Piss Christ” in these situations or will we be making sure that the art we subsidize is bland?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Hopefully a wide variety of art and there is plenty of not-bland stuff that gets support in Britain.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Fair enough. But their are four free Tates. Two of them in London, Tate Modern and Tate Britain.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        The federal arts institutions are insufficiently insulated from politics. I have no idea why the board of the Smithsonian, for instance, should include the Chief Justice of the United States, the VP, and six members of Congress. Given the right trust-board-grant structure, the arts community can innovate without fear of political influence. Not that it isn’t difficult, but look at the BBC and BBC Trust system in the UK. The Deputy Prime Minister is not on the board.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        I can think of very few groups of people that I’d less like to see in charge of our federal arts institutions than politicians. But “the arts community” is certainly one such group.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I think we can agree that politcians do a lousy job with the arts. On the other hand, what I see here is a call for reducing accountability for the use of public monies on the grounds of “you can trust these people with this stuff.” We may all sincerely believe that “our people” can be treated with “our stuff,” but if that’s not a rule we’re willing to generalize to other people and their stuff, we have little business asking them to apply it to us.

        Political funding of the arts invites politicization of arts funding, and in a democratic society that politicization is legitimate. The people and their representatives have the right to object to how public money–the citizens’ tax dollars–are spent, whether we respect their arguments or not. Anything less is undemocratic.

        There’s an underlying irony here that the arguments being made are in the name of the good of the people–opening up access to the arts–but opposed to letting the people, through their representatives, control what’s being done for them with their money.

        We had some questions the other day about technocracy. This is it, although we might call it artocracy.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        opposed to letting the people, through their representatives, control what’s being done for them with their money.

        Ultimately, the people have the final say. Creating a cabinet level post would mean a department accountable to Congress in the usual ways. Insulate from politics doesn’t mean make immune from politics. And there are numerous agencies, departments, functions, whatever, that the US currently sees fit to insulate from the, sometimes destructive, sometimes distracting, hurly burly of DC politics. Witness the senseless grandstanding by various senators over federal research money. I believe there were calls not too long ago to cut off political science federal research dollars. I think there’s good reason to have grant structures, peer review, and significant subject-matter expertise weigh in on such decisions. Grandstanding senators who think political science research is useless is a thoroughly unsound basis to me. Similarly for the arts, I’m going to lean towards the opinions of the MFA, professional artists, critics, academics set over the views of senators hoping to win a news cycle or two.

        Insulate, like for instance, the Federal Reserve board. The principle of having an independent central bank, is something we’ve seen fit to insulate from raw congressional politics. The Fed Chair still testifies, is approved by the Senate, chosen by the President, etc., etc.. But there is a term of office and norms around staying clear of Fed decisions, at the White House press briefing for instance. The Treasury Secretary and Commerce Secretary aren’t on the Fed board – though they could bet totally qualified to weigh in on Fed decisions. There is a foreseeable level of insulation that could be built into the institutional design for a US Arts Department (I’ve pointed to the BBC Trust and BBC as an example. Still accountable to Parliament, but providing a kind of fire break).

        Something else to note here, what qualifies the VP, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the six members of Congress for the Smithsonian regents? I mean, they have pretty demanding day jobs don’t they? And the Smithsonian is accountable to Congress anyway, why also have members of Congress on the regents?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        The NEA is already much like the NSF, with experts weighing in. But make it as insulated from politics as the Fed? I think that’s nuts. The Fed is insulated to the extent it is because the task given it is so crucial; it has to be able to take potentially unpopular action quickly. Neither of those really applies to the arts. Further, their tasks are structured in a way that makes it hard for them to benefit themselves directly, which reduces opportunity for corruption. An Arts Commissioner could steer money to close associates or to an institution to which they have–and expect to continue to have after their term–close ties.

        Only rarely should a part of the government be that protected from public control. The Supreme Court, the Fed (maybe, there are arguments against its independence), but not many others.

        As to the attempt to cut political science funding ftom the NSF, I wasn’t outraged, even though the arguments made against political science research were demonstrably false. In no way do I think my people ought to be insulated from such political accountability for our use of public funds. It forced political scientists to publicly justify their funding, which is as it should be.

        Similarly, there was a recent discussion on an Amerjcan Political Science Association listserv about how horrible it was that the regional accrediting bodies are demanding academic departments to assess their programs. I was the first–but not the last–to criticize my fellow political scientists for trying to avoid the kind of public accountability we–as scholars of politics and government–believe is necessary for others.

        This is a general principle for me that I’m willing to apply to all government funding. The Dep’t of Ag should be closely accountable, the Dep’t of Energy should be, the Dep’t of Education, etc. Arts agencies, like the NEA are clientele agencies, primarily existing to satisfy the demands of a well-defined group, and so are prticularly appropriate for close political control of their operations, regardless of how stupid politics is.

        “Our” group is always different, according to “us.” Except that it isn’t. It just wants autonomy to do what its experts think best, which is exactly what all government agencies want.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        This is a lot of detail for a notional department, but as always you raise points worth considering. I chose the Fed, but I could have chosen the FCC, or another independent agency. I wasn’t saying, do this exactly like the Fed, but that insulation exists in government and varying degrees of it are instituted to serve important purposes. There is an important purpose served by having had congress/the executive delegate responsibility to a quango.

        In the case of the arts, potentially unpopular stuff is exhibited. Witness, Giuliani and the Brooklyn Museum’s Sensation exhibit (Chris Ofili’s the Holy Virgin Mary), Giuliani threatened to withdraw a $7 million grant. Or the cancellation of a production of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi on a state university campus in 2010. The arts involve potentially unpopular stuff, and there’s reason to keep an independent(-ish) board and some experts between the politicians and the grant seekers.

        As to the attempt to cut political science funding ftom the NSF, I wasn’t outraged, even though the arguments made against political science research were demonstrably false. ….

        So I see having an Inspector General as important to address the points you make here, about potential for waste, graft, and corruption. And ultimately, there’s accountability to Congress. To me, it just doesn’t always have to be direct, and certainly not as direct as Giuliani trying to withdraw funds from the Brooklyn Museum. And , no, not 14 year terms like Fed Board members, but terms beyond a single presidential term, highly advisable in my view.

        so are prticularly appropriate for close political control of their operations, regardless of how stupid politics is.

        I think you underestimate how stupid the politics can get.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        A line from a five part PhD Comics series on humanities funding,

        You boorish barbarians! Just give use the money and leave us alone!


      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        But the FCC is an 1) independent 2) regulatory agency.

        Independent in that sense only means that it’s not a sub-agency of a larger agency (e.g., the National Forest Service is a sub-agency of the Department of Agriculture), so that there is no cabinet secretary over it. It’s fairly independent from direct presidential control. It has nothing to do with having any degree of independence from congressional oversight.

        And, importantly, the commissioners are forbidden from having any financial interest in an FCC business. At an absolute minimum, for an arts agency, you’d want to establish some bright-line rules about relationships to art organizations that could potentially receive funding–I’d make that bright line a x years before and after rule that you couldn’t be affiliated with any arts organizations, and I think that would make arts people scream because it would keep a lot of people deeply embedded in the art world from qualifying to be in the arts agency. But that’s the price of gaining autonomy–limited public control–because then you absolutely, unequivocally, must set up barriers to corruption.

        Second, the FCC as a regulatory agency is a different beast than a clientele agency. A clientele agency looks out for the interests of a subset of a population–normally, by virtue of having such an agency be created for them, one with demonstrated political clout–and shifts resources their direction. That calls for relatively more political oversight, rather than less.

        an Inspector General … to address … potential for waste, graft, and corruption.

        I’d want that. I’d stick it in the GAO.

        And ultimately, there’s accountability to Congress. To me, it just doesn’t always have to be direct, and certainly not as direct as Giuliani trying to withdraw funds from the Brooklyn Museum.

        Giuliani overstepped his authority. But I’m dubious about your “ultimate” but “not too direct” accountability. It sounds to me like accountability only in the case of outright corruption, but not accountability for non-corrupt uses of the money. And for me, it’s the public money, so they should legitimately be able to demand close oversight over how their money’s used, even when it’s used non-corruptly. If Congess can tell the National Park Service to spend more of their money on interpretive services for visitors, and less on campgrounds (I don’t think they have, but they could), why shouldn’t they be able to tell the arts agency to spend more of its money on exhibitions of early modern European Art, and less on avant garde American art or contemporary Latin American art?

        I.e., why should art get exemptions from (potential) control over spending that other agencies do not?

        I think you underestimate how stupid the politics can get.

        😉 But, no, I don’t. My point is that those stupid politicians represent stupid constituents, and those stupid constituents are the American taxpayers whose money you’re demanding to spend without having to consider their objections. Their stupidity is entirely irrelevant to the question of democratic control over spending.Report

    • Avatar dhex says:


      “It is also a significant mistake in the US that we haven’t established a federal level department of arts and culture.”

      what would it do?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Usually promoting art that adheres to the preferences of the person advocating it.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Promote stewardship and accessibility of the arts. Help institutions that serve as incubators of young artists. Promote diversity in the production and consumption of the arts. Help promote American arts abroad like the British Council, Goethe Institut, and Confucius Institute.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        doesn’t the nea already do all that?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        If we’re spending money promoting American art abroad, I have some better ideas of what we could be doing with that money. That’s like the scene from Dave where the Secretary of Transportation is trying to explain to the president the line in the budget about advertising to make people feel good about the American cars they already bought.

        I feel the same way, though less strongly, about financially promoting high art in general.

        I’m at least a little sympathetic to the diversity issues, though I have a general sense that it would actually cause a lot of headaches and fights in its execution.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        [from the first slide]

        “The National Endowment for the Arts recognizes and supports a wide range of music, from classical to contemporary to America’s indigenous jazz.”

        it’s like that joke about liking both kinds of music – country AND western.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        doesn’t the nea already do all that?

        “Whether you call it a minister of culture or not, it would be wonderful to have someone with a policy role to coordinate arts education, cultural diplomacy and support for arts organizations. Those activities are not coordinated but divided among many offices,” said Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

        “We need a voice that looks broadly,” said Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a national lobbying group. He is advocating a senior position, not necessarily a Cabinet post. “We are calling for a person at the executive office level who understands there is a National Endowment for the Arts, but also understands the arts portfolio in the Education Department, the State Department — and in addition to the nonprofits arts, is looking at cultural tourism, broadband access and trade through records, movies and videos.”


        The exact portfolio of the position is subject to discussion, but I think department level is important, and I think the broad based coordinating role is important.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        If we’re spending money promoting American art abroad, I have some better ideas of what we could be doing with that money.

        It can be a component of public diplomacy. Here’s one State Department description,

        America’s public diplomacy outreach, which includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. Government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism.

        I think that’s a kind of gratuitous mention of terrorism there, but communicating with publics abroad doesn’t strike me as making you feel happy about the car you just bought.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I have to confess that I have some affection for VOA. But art? We don’t exactly have a problem with our art finding its way onto foreign shores. That’s what I mean by the comparison to a car already bought.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Promoting American art abroad seems like a really positive thing for the government to be doing at the funding levels at which that is ever likely to be implemented (which is to say, miniscule) to me.

        The emphasis should be on diversity of art forms – promoting the sense that we have a rich artistic palette and produce art other than action movies and pop music. It’s actually a real challenge for perceptions of the U.S. that people feel imposed upon by certain market-dominant forms of American entertainment. Not that we could really alleviate that much or that we even want to, but at least promoting our achievements in other domains of artistic endeavor to fill out cultural impressions of America to me seems a reasonable aim of government.

        It’s also something that doesn’t require picking and choosing of artists to give subsidies to domestically, with the various incentives and political pressures that creates, which, wherever one comes down on doing that sort of thing, one has to acknowledge reason for there to be legitimate debate about.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Anyone interested in the issue of sponsoring American arts abroad–whatever your perspective on it–might enjoy Frances Stonor Saunders The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.

        It’s about post WWII Europe, and the battle for influence by the USSR and US. The U.S. was seen as a cultureless country of gum chewing cowboys, and capitalism as the cause of the Depression and ultimately of WWII. Russia was seen as having a rich cultural history, and socialism as the solution to capitalism. The CIA, originally heavily populated by elite East Coast Ivy League types, sponsored cultural exhibitions in Europe to demonstrate the cultural vitality of a capitalist country. Ironically, they often used the work of artists who were “fellow travelers,” and who were being criticized by right-wing politicians for their socialist views.

        Saunders is not a great writer, imo, and at times the book is tedious in its detail, but overall it’s a great story (and goes beyond just the bit I mentioned). I highly recommend it for your reading lists.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Dammit, glyph!Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        If I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that…Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Good point, Glyph & James.

        Seems like a relatively productive set of activities as CIA operations tend to go to me. There were probably various weirdnesses that went on with it in the event, but as a concept I don’t have a problem with either the CIA doing it in some slightly clandestine way (in terms of their role in organizing the events), or the State Dept. doing it as an overt act of the U.S. government.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        yeah, certainly worked better than their “train cats” idea.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        I recommend the book, Michael. I think you might like it.

        I also think it was a relatively good use of clandestine spending. But more than anything I love the convoluted storyline of old money elites with a true cultivated taste for the arts, with sincere respect for the work of the fellow-traveling avant garde artists, using that work to undermine the influence of socialism, while less affluent conservatives screamed that the work was anti-capitalist. It’s really firmly within the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction realm, in my mind.

        And meanwhile, Soviet art, after an early avant garde flourishing (cynically, but beautifully, highlighted in the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics) had been forced into the constrained box of socialist realism, in contradiction to Russia’s cultural past and the beliefs a lot of artists had about socialism’s, and capitalism’s, relationship to the arts. Of course that was more about authoritarian government than socialist ideals, but then that gets hard to disentangle as well. It’s a deliciously rich and subtle issue.

        (Full disclosure: I taught an art and politics class a couple of times. I really like the topic. Unfortunately, the last time I offered it too few students signed up so I had to cancel it, and with other things I need to do, I don’t anticipate ever offering it again. Alas. But if I sound enthusiastic about the subject, that might help explain why.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I think I’ve heard tell of it before. I’ll see if I can locate it.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        James, I believe that Bernard Shaw once mentioned something about morals being for the middle class because the rich don’t need them and the poor can’t afford them. The Old Monied Eltie are a really fascinating group to study. Many of them were dull, provincial, and prone to traditional morality but others could be very Bohemian in their tastes and morals while still conservative poltically and economically. The first Rockefeller was a life long Evangelical Baptist with all that implied but his daughter-in-law convinced her husband to build MOMA.Report

  3. Avatar Maribou says:

    When I visited Portland and Seattle, I noted that there was only one museum and it covered the entirety of art and culture from pre-history artifacts to Sol LeWit and beyond.

    Whaaaaaaaat? I haven’t spent much time in Portland but there are certainly multiple museums in Seattle. (Some of the links on that list are broken, but the ones I noticed were broken correspond to museums I know are still thriving, so the point stands.)Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I stand corrected! I wouldn’t consider all of those art museums though and I know the sculpture park is run by the Seattle Art Museum so they might not all be separate entities.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        And yet, lots of them are, and that list is not complete. Seattle is a dubious example of a city without museums. Even a hinterland city like my own Colorado Springs, by any reasonable definition that includes its attached-at-the-hip-satellites like Manitou, has multiple art museums and some satellite galleries.

        It’s not a good hook to hang a hat on, yo.

        (I agree with your larger point. Just.)Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    this is @jm3z-aitch above:
    Think of jazz, think of the blues. Those were never subsidized by government, but they’ve been the most innovative American music styles, or certainly among the most innovative.

    I totally agree that jazz and the blues are amongst the greatest innovations in the arts to come out of this country. But I really want to push against the notion that starving artist syndrome somehow helped it along. Seriously want to push against that. A lot of the musicians who innovated that music went through serious hardships that hindered their productivity. You cannot be great without putting in the time to be great. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NATURAL TALENT. There’s certainly inclination and innate ability, but without the effort — ongoing, dedicated effort — ain’t gonna be no innovation.

    I get so sick of the cultural assumption that, for some, it’s easy. That artists are degenerates; alcoholics and drug users and sexual deviants of all sorts. Certainly, some artists are (and the lack of support, the pressure on them to appear cool and not show how hard they work probably contributes to substance abuse problems.) But I know a lot of musicians who’ve been playing professionally for decades. Some have recording credits as long as your arm. They can walk into a gig, without rehearsal, and play not only competently, but artistically.

    And they’re still lucky to get $50 for that gig.

    Mastery of that sort requires years and years of effort; these people aren’t drinking on the job, they’er not out back toking during their breaks, and they’re not in the rest room snorting lines. They could not work at the level they’re working if they were. Those artists who are tend to not remain artists for long or to die young. Just like regular people who abuse substances. They don’t maintain mastery of their lives.

    (And if you want to go see some mastery, go to The Lily Pad in Inman Sq. Thursday night and check out the drummer playing with my Sweetie. Not to mention the northern European bass player who gets paid to play in his native country.)Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      I really want to push against the notion that starving artist syndrome somehow helped it along….I get so sick of the cultural assumption that, for some, it’s easy.

      Christ almighty, I never said anything of the sort. Not on either of those points.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I didn’t say you did; but your comment buys right into this meme; we’ve got these innovative things over here, so why support the arts?

        If you want innovative artists, just like innovative engineers and code monkeys and inventors, they need training, tools, and time to hone their skills. We don’t subsidize artist with government funding; and very few artists have patrons. Very few artists ever have training, tools or time to become innovative.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        your comment buys right into this meme…we’ve got these innovative things over here, so why support the arts?

        B.S. My argument was that good art gets plenty of market support. Is government the only source of support? Is someone who’s not a big fan of government support claiming there shouldn’t be support?

        If you want innovative artists, just like innovative engineers and code monkeys and inventors, they need training, tools, and time to hone their skills.

        Where do most of those get subsidized in their training? College. What else do we train people at in college? The arts.

        Look, if you think we need more government funding, fine, but don’t go warping my argument into something that’s not even remotely what I said and pretending it’s buying into that meme. I’m of no mind to be patient or polite about such a misrepresentation.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I can understand the government getting together and saying “we need to pay people to do jobs nobody else is willing to do” but “we need to pay people to make art nobody else is willing to buy”?Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        You haven’t seen anything made by the BBC?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Oh, we’re talking about awesome television shows instead of museums?

        Sign me up! I could totally go for another season of Sherlock.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @jaybird I think you’re sort of missing the point; for art to be worth ‘buying,’ artists need support to develop those skills.

        So things that actually help include studio space, public displays and shows, not just at the large, institutional level, but in local communities. For performing arts, performance space and ticket prices that fit with local residents’ budgets. Community arts non-profits are pretty awesome, but directors who actually know about the arts (and not just about non-profits and grant writing) and who know how to put on a show, be it of visual or performance, are beneficial.

        In general, artists in the workforce tend to earn higher salaries than the median; but not making art. Instead, they’re doing graphic arts, design, corporate videos, commercial jingles, website design. Their creativity is valued, but their ability to use that creativity to make transformative works is not much cultivated.

        Ironically, artists are constantly asked to work — to perform or donate visual art — for free. Come play my party. Donate a painting. Do an ice sculpture. There will be great people. It’s a good cause. You’ll get great exposure. yada yada yada.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I enjoy some BBC TV shows, but we don’t need a BBC to have quality TV shows. BBC news is nice and I’m glad they do that. But we’ve demonstrated that we don’t really care for good news sources over here, for the most part, and I don’t consider news to be art. I like BBC’s radio dramas, but I like audiobooks and Graphic Audio, too.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        Having public television doesn’t give you great TV shows. Having really, really well-funded public television staffed by people who know what they’re doing gives you great TV shows. Almost every fiction show the CBC – Canada’s public broadcaster – has tried to make has been somewhere in the terrible-to-mediocre range (Corner Gas being a rare exception, now ended), because they don’t have nearly the same level of funding (and thus not the same level of writing, or acting) as the BBC.

        The BBC does excellent fiction, but what I really value it for is its nature documentaries, which I watch avidly. They are a boon to humanity, and an excellent use of public funds.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        I don’t consider news to be art

        In the UK it is the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. The portfolio includes public broadcasting and museums, sort-of public diplomacy things like the British Council are shared with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office I think. I don’t know if I’d precisely follow the British model, but there are any number of possible models in other developed countries that the US could follow. I think NewDealer is exactly right that many (every?) other developed country has a cabinet level culture/art ministry. It is the US that stands out as not having it.

        we’ve demonstrated that we don’t really care for good news sources over here

        What’s sad is that high quality broadcast news is possible in America. Used to be called Newshour with Jim Lehrer (before that McNeil Lehrer…), but now called PBS Newshour regularly does high quality coverage of events – not “Killer Bees THIS SUMMER!!!” local news overhyped, scare mongering, bleeds it leads stuff.

        NPR also has all kinds of high quality stuff. You might have to go out of your way to find it in the US, webstreams available, but the BBC’s radio broadcast non-fiction, debate, interview… pretty solid stuff. A better resourced NPR could offer several alternatives to some of the vile, vile dreck that’s currently on US radio.

        As you implicitly say above, the commercial sector in the US is doing stuff that it is successfully exporting abroad. But the US culturescape could still stand to benefit from a stronger public sector participant. (I mean, who’d do the children’s programming untied to super-sweet cereals?)

        I’m not familiar with VOA’s reach. Do you think it has a similar reach, strength, brand recognition as the BBC? I suppose it varies by plce, but I honestly don’t know.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        The BBC were the ones who gave is four seasons of Monty Python. They were also the ones who would have wiped and re-used the tapes if Terry Gilliam hadn’t got wind of that and purchased them first.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Creon, I mostly see it as a solution in search of a problem. While I value the VOA and would argue to preserve its budget to try to increase it’s reach, I don’t think it really needs to be a BBC it can’t be (everything they do independently is public domain, which is awesome but comes at a cost).

        I’m also open to children’s broadcasting, because there is a problem for which the government might can provide a good solution for.

        But I just don’t see the need for a whole new division dedicated to this sort of stuff. I get that we’re unusual in this, but we’re one of the big countries that doesn’t need this. I don’t begrudge other countries for doing what they are. My views would actually be different if I were advising the Republic of Texas or the Free State of Louisiana or somesuch. But we’re large enough, wealthy enough, and produce enough that we don’t need the “jump start” that other countries do in the general sense.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Plenty of people go to Museums and plenty more would go if they were more affordable. You are making an awfully big value judgment on what people like. Your wife seems to like museums.

        Would you support increased funding to PBS and NPR under your awesome show rubic?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        The BBC were the ones who gave is four seasons of Monty Python. They were also the ones who would have wiped and re-used the tapes if Terry Gilliam hadn’t got wind of that and purchased them first.

        That kind of captures it in a nutshell. It’s a mixed bag, neither salvation nir damnation. Because it’s run by plain ol’ human beings, just like the human beings at both NBC and CBS who failed to record the broadcast ofvthe first superbowl.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        SteelMills make fine art museums too (some of it’s “pop” art, some of it’s “commercial”…)
        I advocate for keeping around the museums of architectural significance.
        Otherwise, lower rent!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        The “first Super Bowl” is a fake, and not even a plausible one. Seriously, the Chiefs?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I heard Stanley Kubrick filmed it on a soundstage.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        “I’s Wideout”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        KatherineMW, no love for the Murdoch Mysteries?

        The genius of the BBC is that it was given a dedicated source of funding and made completely indepent of the British government. It also realized it needs the right balance of light entertainment and high culture. PBS never had a great source of funding because American conservatives did not want to create the American equivalent of the BBC. Because it lacked funding, it could never get great fiction series of its own and had to rely on BBC imports.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Did you hear that a recording that has most of it was discovered a few years ago? Some early tech adopter with a VCR recorded it, and somehow that was found. Which is kind of fascinating.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        You are making an awfully big value judgment on what people like.

        I assume that they will pay for what they like and they won’t pay for what they won’t. I also assume that it’s not good of me to do stuff like “take money from other people to subsidize the stuff that I like to make sure that more people buy it.” That just creates distortions.

        Your wife seems to like museums.

        You wouldn’t believe the stuff she’s into.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        great, now you’ve got me imagining.
        (also, fetishes that require fedoras… or ornithologists)Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @jm3z-aitch I apologize if, in any way, I seemed to be attacking you, what you said, or was putting words in your mouth.

        In quoted you here to build off what you said; it evoked the blues musician’s variation of starving-artist syndrome, paying your dues. That’s a funny phrase, it suggests suffering through hardships, poverty, broken hearts, a life on the road, difficult human connections, and pouring that pain out in the music.

        But for musicians, it usually means something else, as well — putting in the time and effort, gaining the mastery to walk into a gig and play competently on music you may have never seen or heard before. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard musicians suggest someone else hasn’t paid their dues yet; hasn’t put in the effort to do the job they need to do on the stage. It’s athletic; all about breathing and timing and muscle memory; you need practice many hours nearly every day, you need to listen many hours a day. Active listening is not like having music as background, either; it can be both analytical and meditative. Unlike sports, your best years may well be in the latter half of your life; but it’s still athletic, and requires an ongoing effort to keep your skills sharp, your mind sharp.

        That the suffering is required seems suspect to me; I don’t think they jazz musicians of the 40s and 50s would have grown lazy and not innovated, I think they would have innovated more.

        So I apologize if you perceived, in any way, that I was attacking you. I meant your comment as a spring board to say this.Report

      • @katherinemw

        Corner Gas was a CTV* show, not a CBC show.

        (And I think it still classifies as terrible Canadian television, but it was probably the most popular Canadian show of the last decade or so.)

        (*For those wondering, CTV is a private network.)Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        it evoked the blues musician’s variation of starving-artist syndrome, paying your dues.

        If the market rewards somebody who hasn’t “paid their dues,” I’m totally hunky-dory with that.

        I totally get that people need time and opportunity to build their craft, but I’m suspicious of the idea that others ought to have to fund it involuntarily. How do we decide which artists get that funding?Just jazz musicians? Just musicians? Visual artists, too? Performance artists, as well? Let’s not forget writers.

        And how do we know we’re funding people who both seriously work at getting better and have the innate talent to do so?* How do we avoid funding a bunch of ne’er do wells and dilettantes? Or does the public have such a fundamental duty to support true artists that they just have to put up with funding the dilettantes as well? I’ve written a number of short stories, but I’ve never had one published, and in part it’s because I don’t have time to work on my craft. Can I quit my job and get public funding to write and develop my abilities? If not, why not me? If yes, why should my factory-working neighbor be taxed to support my dreams of literary success?

        I agree that artists need support to be successful. But I just can’t see the public pot as something that’s appropriate for every good thing we’d like, because it’s not simply a public pot; it’s money taken from people who worked to earn it. And so I think we always have to ask ourselves the question, why should Aitch’s neighbor who works in the Ford plant be forced to give up money for this?

        If you can’t come up with a fair answer to why he should have to pay–and “Bob the Blues Bassist” needs money to practice the bass is not a fair answer–then I think it’s time to think harder about what we’re asking other people to involuntarily pay for.

        * I believe in innate talent–not that it blossoms by itself without diligent practice, but that without it diligent practice won’t result in anything; not everyone has the inherent ability to become an accomplished writer, painter, actor, or musician no matter how much practice they put into it.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        We do incubators all over the place. Tech incubators. Industrial incubators. Commodity incubators. Often, partnerships between private and public. We put government money into R&D, and private industry grows out of that; somewhere between 20 and 25% of pharma is based on government-funded research.

        In the arts, there are things like Lowell, MA, which has performance space, gallery space, studio space. Some front office to help with promoting yourself, small things that start-up businesses can access? This is not unreasonable, particularly when you measure how much the arts help in bringing life to communities that have gone through economic collapse, like Lowell did when its textile industry died.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        1 in 10 success for venture capital dollars, right?
        I’m not opposed to evaluating artdollars samewise
        as we do sciencedollars, but let’s get the terms the same…Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        With the other things, we incubate them (or should, anyway) because without the incubation we would have a shortage. I am not particularly seeing a shortage of art or good art. Maybe we’d have more with the more money we put into it, but I’m not sure how much more we need compared to what we have.

        Nationally speaking, anyway. It can vary at any given local level.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        How much are we looking for? Who decides how much? How funded? How accountable?

        “We need to fund this because it’s important” doesn’t answer all those question, and those are the crucial questions.

        If a Downtown Development Agency wants to fund some artist studio space, I shrug and don’t care. If you want a federal agency that pays people a living wage to spend years perfecting their craft, I say hell no.

        I personally don’t mind city-owned performance spaces, but I think it’s instructive to look at the case of the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene, OR. I saw a bunch of good shows there; love the place. But funding was voted down by the public repeatedly. Then the supporters got strategic and put funding on the ballot in what was sure to be a low turnout election and mobilized their supporters, and managed to get it passed.

        OK, that’s strategic democracy in action, and as far as that goes it’s a fair victory. But consider this–a minority snuck through a tax, when few people were paying attention, to make everyone pay for something the minority wanted for themselves but a majority had consistently rejected. There’s a real element of “fuck the masses, they should pay for elites’ pleasures” in that, that really grates at me.

        It’s awfully easy to say “Others will benefit from the things that I really want,” but it’s pretty arrogant to go speaking for those others. And that’s what I see in this whole debate so far, people with non-mass tastes insisting that in one way or another the masses will benefit if they’ll just fund what we (their cultural superiors, because we like real art while they watch Honey Boo Boo) want.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        who is trying to say that honey boo boo isn’t art?
        it’s great parody/satire.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I am not particularly seeing a shortage of art or good art.

        Exactly. If anything, there’s too many good artists out there and therefore that there’s too much competition amongst artists for The Monies, which circularly justifies the idea that public funding of the Arts needs to increase. Because so many artists can’t make a living doing their thing.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I am not particularly seeing a shortage of art or good art.

        I was going to say something along those lines. I, personally, own so much art that I have had to create custom storage solutions for it all. I’m knocking over stacks of books and records and DVDs, right here in this office*. My problem with art is that I will never get to all of it, not that there is too little of it.

        *And yes, I am aware that by world-historical standards I am extremely wealthy; but even that’s to say nothing of the art that I can access for (almost) free via the internet or airwaves or library. Hell, you can go thrifting and obtain art. We sell art along with old rusty bikes and toasters at yard sales, that’s how much art we have lying around.Report

    • Avatar dhex says:


      “If anything, there’s too many good artists out there and therefore that there’s too much competition amongst artists for The Monies, which circularly justifies the idea that public funding of the Arts needs to increase. Because so many artists can’t make a living doing their thing.”

      my difficulty here, and it may be simply that i’m an idiot, is that i don’t get how you get from point a: “there are musicians who don’t make a living at music in part because there are too many of them and traditional industry structures have changed/collapsed” to point b: “thus we should support them with tax dollars”.

      you can drop in lawyers, or graphic designers, or mid- and low-tier mba holders in that formula and, i would hope, we would all laugh and shake our heads and walk away from that.

      when we say “the arts” we mean paintings (of a certain kind) or, in the nea’s case, classical or jazz (of a certain kind). we do not mean pig destroyer doing three nights at the kennedy center for a black tie grindcore ensemble. that would be cool for the sake of absurdist spectacle, but the actual scope of “the arts” means “the respectable arts”. and respectable, in this case, is a fairly narrow band.

      to take it one step further we don’t see many calls for nea grants to neo-nazi bands despite the case i can make for it:

      1) underfunded genre without much roi
      2) it’s practitioners are dedicated to their craft beyond reason
      3) socially marginalized players
      4) pushes the boundaries of what’s considered acceptable in polite (and even impolite!) society

      etc. i’m ok with letting the skinheads go without federal funds in this case. i presume we all are. even if they work really, really hard at being dickheads.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Yeah, that comment probably came out more confused than it sounded in my head. There’s an implied Reversie(TM) in there.

        The argument started from agreeing with Will’s observation that there’s plenty of good art and good artists out there and then constructed an argument for government support from artists from that along the lines of a reduction. Ie., that since there’s so many good artists out there competition is really high for good paying gigs, therefore, the gummint should subsidize artists who can’t make a living on the open market.

        Still confusing? It’s trying to show that the fact artist can’t make a living doing what they do doesn’t mean we need to fund them. If anything, it shows the opposite.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        gotcha. i believe the fault may be mine.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:


    “To be honest, most French movies are fairly tedious and pretty bad. Every other one seems to be about Parisians eating food and talking about their love affairs.”

    There are worse fates in the world than being Parisian and eating food and talking about your love affairs.

    I suppose it is about the tediums we prefer. The tedious French movies are probably navel gazing but this seems better than Super Fandom Franchise 500 in my opinion.Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer says:


    I agree that old factories can be great spaces to switch over to museums and other facilities and be cool aesthetically.


  7. Avatar LWA says:

    Art institutions are suffering from the threat of modernity itself.

    Let me start with a (highly debatable) definition: Art has for most of human history been defined as something that reveals a larger truth- usually The One and Only Truth Of The Human Condition.
    Greek mythology, Bible mythology, fertility statues, icons; European easel painting like Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo; They all presented what they considered to be an unassailable truth that reflected the beliefs of the popular culture.

    In this role, art gets used by those in power for educational purposes, often veering towards outright propaganda. The busts of Roman Emperors, the Sistine Chapel, the statue of David Liberty storming the barricades; these were religious and political propaganda. But how much les was Carnegie’s funding of libraries? However well intentioned the notion is of bringing culture to the masses, doesn’t it begin with an assumption of what this culture is?

    In our modern secular and egalitarian times, the Enlightenment and Modernity challenged the entire premise of art and culture.

    If there is no single Truth, and if the powers that be are merely fallible creations, where does art get the authority to be considered Important?

    What makes an avant-garde artist more important for our culture than an amateur hobbyist?

    Our small ‘r’ republican sensibilities get irked when we are told that we somehow must fund and admire artists that we find boring, trite or incomprehensible. Yet the idea that art is merely a consumer good, a trivial little something that goes well with the rug, seems disturbing.

    We hold publically that there is no universal truth to guide us, yet privately believe in a universal theology. The art world embraces the Modern notion of multiple truths, yet fiercely enforces a salon system that locks together artists, educators, gallery owners and museums and that does in fact establish an acceptable range of viewpoints. This is equally true whether they are publicly or privately financed.

    The thing is, the art world reflects its culture- and we haven’t yet come to grips with the conflict of our own beliefs.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Have you been to the Museum of Sex?

      Have you interacted with these folks? At all?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


      I agree with this, particularly about modernity and art, and your antepenultimate paragraph.

      the statue of David Liberty storming the barricades

      Did something go awry in your writing or is this a thing (of which I’m unaware)?Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:


      One thing I’ve noticed is that we live in an age of radical cultural relativism and this has been going on roughly since late 1960s but I think there has been an uptick in recent years especially with the ascendency of the Internet and geek culture as the current paradigm.

      I’ve heard many people talk about how they “wish they had more time to read” and then talk about how X amount of hours of TV watched and video games played. Suggesting that people maybe spend an hour or two reading instead of playing video games is considered ultra-snobby.

      A few years ago Time interviewed a few book critics and one said that he would not be reading the Hunger Games because there was more on his plate before him and that stuff was meant for adults. This caused the Internet to go crazy because the blogsphere seems to be filled with YA-fanatics and said reviewer was called a snob by Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress.

      Julian Sanchez stepped up to the plate in defense of the Hunger Games dissenter and said that it used to be that part of being an adult was trying for difficult material that could not be easily processed on the first go.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        possible insight:

        “Suggesting that people maybe spend an hour or two reading instead of playing video games is considered ultra-snobby.”

        the reason this may come across as snobby, outside of your general tone, is that you’re offering up a metric.

        reading > video games

        simple enough!

        but at this point you need to actually convince people your metric is true, or at least true enough. otherwise you’re just making a very common argument from authority – that reading is a better use of one’s time in terms of enhancing the the life of the reader – and you’re making that argument in a way that cannot help but be felt as personal.

        and ultimately, it is an arrogant argument to make. i would argue that people might consider playing “gone home”, for example (an amazing, multifaceted use of the medium) in place of reading any number of books by a lot of authors, ya fiction or not.

        but for my to insist that one would be in some sense morally/spiritually/essentially better than the other is incredibly arrogant. i have a lot of strong feelings about music and literature, but i have to temper those feelings, strong as they are, with an understanding of how my tone is received *if* – and this is one BIG IF – i am interested in changing minds on the subject.

        one also has to consider if, ultimately, the argument has any merit beyond one’s own life. maybe it doesn’t. to discount the joy someone else feels when doing things that i personally don’t enjoy to the point of offering corrective instruction – no matter how well-intentioned – is a very base kind of evangelizing.

        if i just want to pontificate about it i can go on and on about about how great the things i like are and how not great everyone else’s stuff is, one can certainly do that. lord knows i love making fun of my wife’s favorite bands, and she does a very funny impression of jon cheng from discordance axis.

        she’s objectively wrong, but such is life.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Oh, so you’ve bothered to play The Stanley Parable?

        *Bows to the Crowd*Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Did you miss the part above where the same people also say they wish “they had more time to read”? If someone says that they wished they had more time for X, it should not be arrogant to suggest that perhaps cutting back on X or Y just a little would increase the possibilities for free time.

        And yes, I am not a complete cultural relativist which seems to be the current zeitgeist.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Radical cultural relativism is something I associate with the Renaissance, and perhaps the Demimonde (though you’ll call that reactionary, and on second thought I’ll agree).

        Why must we watch Moliere and not a Morality Play?
        Why is one inherently culturally better than the other?Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        i only have so much space in my life for games that aren’t the binding of isaac, and gone home was about as much ludic art as i can stuff into my free time these days.


        “If someone says that they wished they had more time for X, it should not be arrogant to suggest that perhaps cutting back on X or Y just a little would increase the possibilities for free time.”

        the presumption is that, for a certain segment of the culture, that metric of reading > playing is presumed to be true, even if they don’t actually feel it to be so or otherwise privilege it in their lives.

        there’s also that obviously they enjoy the other activities, so cutting out something they value in favor of something they obviously value less (or else they’d be doing it already) is a roundabout, culturally acceptable way of saying “only so many hours in the day” or “i should get to the gym sometime”. a platitude.

        because you believe the metric more strongly than they do, the end result is being called a snob, apparently.Report

  8. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    @glyph @stillwater @will-truman

    I am not particularly seeing a shortage of art or good art.

    Yes there are shortages. This is rather presumptuous of me, but I’m going to say, that you, given your geographic location, socioeconomic position, level of social capital, etc. are very unlikely to encounter them.

    I encourage you to browse the NEA’s recent grants, pdf, http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/Art-Works-grants-by-discipline-12-11-13.pdf

    Some of these grantees probably don’t meet your criteria and fall into a category you’d roughly put as “we have enough of that already”. But I’d draw your attention to the money going to currently underserved communities (arts education and outreach), and the money going to bring artists out of their concert halls, conservatories, and theaters into the schools, the money going to help young people become art producers… (Will Truman, who does the money go to if not local communities? There is no such thing as a not local community directed grant. What’s the difference between Texas and Louisiana supporting the arts and the federal government supporting the arts.Very similar underlying principles are at play.)

    I’d urge you to consider, do deaf artists have as much access to the arts as you do? Do Alaska school children? What about Alvin Ailey going on tour in America and doing lectures and master classes? As a New Yorker, I can drop by Alvin Ailey any day of the week (not literally), but people elsewhere in the country can’t. And I’m just not convinced by @dhex ‘s neo-nazi bands example – I can draw a distinction between Alvin Ailey and the neo-nazi band, saying to the neo-nazi band, you know what, you’re on your own with that.

    Where Will Truman sees the childrens TV programming as an outlier case, I see as more pervasive. There’re all kinds of places the market will likely under serve. Due to geography, socioeconomic circumstances, the market creates a “he who can pay gets, he who can’t does without” structure. That can be remedied, in part, by state action.

    I’m not sure you’ll find these NEA grantees compelling but to me they are. To me, the future of the symphony, and yes, what state intervention can do to sustain the art form, matters. I’m disappointed the US hasn’t ratified a bunch of UNESCO conventions like the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

    When @jm3z-aitch poses his question, should his factory-floor working neighbor have to pay for these sorts of community goods my answer is yes. Pitch in. It is part of his cultural heritage too. We’re stewards of something collectively, as a community. And those artworks need to be preserved, future artists (and audiences) need to be developed, and students need to be educated as to the diversity of our cultural heritage.

    I think defensible definitions of civic-mindedness, public goods, and (more open) access to the arts means it is worth putting public money into the mix.

    tl;dr: Bread and roses!Report

    • Avatar notme says:


      So what the country needs is more NEA art like Piss Christ?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Piss Christ is a great work.

        But the NEA never gave Serrano funding for it. The NEA gave a grant to a regional museum, which selected some pieces, including Piss Christ, and gave $15,000 fellowships to some of the artists, inckuding Serrano.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        You know what fascinates me about that, and the ants on the crucifix controversy. There is sacrilege in some pretty prominent places and as a society we digest it just fine. There’s an aria in Tosca where a character is singing during a church service of his plans to rape Tosca. Interspersed with the te Deum is his plans for a rape.

        Similarly, in a children’s film, a character exhibiting his raw lustful desire for another character: “It is not my fault if in God’s plan he made the devil so much stronger than a man”. Kids movie!!! Again, interspersed with the lust, music from a church service.

        Sorry @notme if this is a cul-de-sac for you, but it just fascinates me.


      • Avatar notme says:


        Sure let’s get it right. The NEA gave part of the 15k he got as a prize for his object d’art. Let’s not forget “performance artist” Karen Finley, known for smearing chocolate and tinsel on her nearly naked body while shouting four-letter words. That was really a waste of the taxpayer’s money. There are more wonderful examples of NEA waste.Report

      • Avatar notme says:

        I hit post before I was done.

        The NEA was going to settle with Finley but she insisted on taking it the S.Ct. to make a point and I believe lost. The fact that the congress had to regulate the NEA speaks volumes about the folks that want taxpayer funds for their “art.”Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Sometimes I wonder if there are certain people who think the letters NEA stand for “Piss Christ,” because any time the letters are uttered in that order, they can’t help but say it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I’m inclined to agree any money spent on Finley was a waste of money, but then I just don’t like that type of performance art in general.

        Unfortunately once the government starts handing out money, there does become a First Amendment issue–government can’t engage in viewpoint discrimination. And when you have an artist with a distinct, and in some circles very unpopular, viewpoint like Finley, it can get really difficult as a matter of law to distinguish between not funding because you don’t think smearing chocolate on your naked body in front of an audience (which is, of course, the simplified and politicized description of Finley’s work, not a fair and objective description) and not funding because you don’t like her viewpoint.

        In Finley’s case, though, there was strong evidence that viewpoint discrimination played a role. Her grant was denied in a manner not in accordance with the normal NEA process, and the veto by the NEA chair occurred after protests by a senator who was a vocal religious conservative.

        Cases like this are one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of public funding. If you’re going to publicly fund the arts, you’ll inevitably end up funding some stuff that a lot of us citizens think is crap, and you’ll inevitably end up with big political battles because some people on both sides (mistakenly, imo) think it’s a really important issue.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Actually, as I ended up describing that, it misleads as to what the Finley case was about. The question before the Court was whether the requirement that things the NEA funded meet “general standards of decency” was, overly vague and likely to produce viewpoint discrimination. It’s a fair question, and I don’t have any problem with Finley challenging the law on those grounds. But she did lose at the Supreme Court, and it wasn’t close–an 8-1 ruling that the decency clause was not overly vague.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        i think we all agree piss christ is pretty awesome and also a good name for a high school marching band.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        PBS did what it could to subsidize Bob Ross’s show and he made art that, he admitted, wouldn’t end up in the Smithsonian but, he pointed out, he’d like to think that he’d be teaching you to make something that you’d be proud to put up in your own home.

        Now, if you ask me, I’d say that Bob Ross’s stuff is a hell of a lot “better” than most of the stuff that couldn’t get funding from the NEA and the very fact that he inspired thousands to paint is something that damn few artists can brag about.

        Looking at Bob Ross’s site, one of his seasons is about 50 bucks and the whole kit and caboodle is 1500(!).

        Now *THAT* is something that we need to be subsidizing. I mean, assuming we’re going to be subsidizing art.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I have nothing to add to your expert analysis except an observation that I am bemused by the fact David Souter was the dissenting vote in the Hanley case.

        Random tangent: Are David Hackett Souter and David Hackett Fisher related? Cousins via their moms possibly?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Er the Finley case though your freshman might see you as a performance artist 🙂

        Finley is not my cup of tea either.

        Now if we were talking Propeller or Cheek by Jowl or ODC…..Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        To be fair, Creon, a lot of people found The Hunchback inappropriate for kids and wondered what the hell Disney was thinking.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        Re: Piss Christ-
        Observant Christians, of whom I am one, should also reflect on the use of religious icons by other cultures.
        I am thinking of how African icons are regularly appropriated as decorative objects.
        For instance, a fertility statuette or mask used in ceremonies might be repurposed into a pretty object to set off a David Hockney painting. I am sure there are plenty of people who would see this as a sacrilege, but they are not allowed a voice and certainly don’t have possession of a 24/7 cable new network.

        But what if the tables were turned? I am imagining a future in which some wealthy African hipster takes a 17th century Spanish crucifix and has it refashioned into a urinal flush valve or something.

        For those on the other side of the debate, I wonder why we never see art that mocks, oh, lets say MLK.

        Because art reflects the attitudes and sensitivities of those who create/fund it. It is completely true that the intellectual elite who create and fund art have different taboos and beliefs from the popular culture in which they operate.
        Further, there is an underlying hostility of avant garde towards the larger culture- sometimes this is entirely deserved, but in any case, there is little love lost between high and low culture.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Hey, if you limit it all to underserved areas and keep the funds out of the big metro areas, you just might sell me. I’m sure my neighbor would rather pay for that than for an exhibit of contemporary German Art at MOMA.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        i’m all in favor of more public art, particularly in poor places.
        I LOVE murals! Why aren’t we doing more with our current architecture??

        Of course, I’m the one who thinks that an entire city of LED lights is art too…
        (and will make the city money, so there’s that too).Report

    • Avatar dhex says:


      “I can draw a distinction between Alvin Ailey and the neo-nazi band, saying to the neo-nazi band, you know what, you’re on your own with that.”

      i kindly ask your indulgence while i go totes crazotes on this subject.

      of course you can draw a distinction between the two. we all can. and oddly enough that’s the entire point of rejecting the notion of a surgeon general of the arts in the first place. it’s about what a small community of people think is important, or uplifting, or educational.

      in fact, i’ll go one further. “the arts” is a category that, in this context, refers to entertainment that believes itself to be above entertainment. it also believes itself to be nourishing, particularly to the malnourished. which is condescending as all hell but let’s move on.

      folks with money can buy influence and keep “the arts” alive for a long time, which is why they reflect such an incredibly small segment of what can reasonably be called artistic expression.

      consider my black tie grindcore at the kennedy center hypothetical, and not just because it’s hilarious. it will never happen. ever. is not grindcore part of “the arts”? why is it mostly jazz and classical (and some contemporary composer stuff) that gets promoted? why not completely marginalized subgenres whose work pushes the extremes of what can be considered “music” in the popular imagination? why not neo-nazis? because they’re not uplifting? because they’re negative? because they’re jerkoffs?

      you can’t answer this because it is a dumb question for anyone who knows anything about anything.

      we all know what “the arts” means. it’s boring stuff that needs handouts to get funded in a world where about a hundred hours of material is uploaded to youtube every second. or it’s this stuff that nourishes the soul with deep questions about the human condition but can’t pay the bills because america is a rotted pylon holding back humanity. or something.

      i tell you what. i used to live in society. i used to go to the rubin on the weekend when the weather was still cold because it is frankly the most well-designed museum in the city. now i live in not-society, in the middle of nowhere. unemployment is fairly high in this county. there’s a pretty big “arts” scene here. it is what you would imagine. most of the stuff they put on is free, particularly these symphony and chamber orchestra thingies. we advertise them extensively (and pro bono) because they involve our campus and often our faculty.

      they are attended by whom you would assume would attend these things.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        I didn’t go into detail about the neo-nazi band, but do you think your point 3 “socially marginalized players” really stands up? I’d mentioned upthread women directors, underrepresented minority groups in the production and consumption of media. There are underlying claims about structural sexism and structural racism there.

        Are the neo-nazi band members similarly situated? Similarly situated to the Alaskan school children receiving NEA grants to bring artists to their schools (actually, I think arts organization got the grant to go to schools, but you get the idea)? There’s more substance in the underserved populations angle than I think you’re acknowledging.

        That said, so you’re right about a bunch of stuff in your most recent comment. Who is likely to get funding, what is likely to be considered art, and what is likely to be overlooked – not holding my breath for a JFK Center grindcore ensemble performance. You’re also right that there’s an element of condescension. If I claim the community is stewards of something and we’re passing it from generation to generation, there’re going to be some artforms, representations, traditions that’re included in the preservation effort and some artforms that’ll have to fend for themselves. Grindcore seems to have been put on the “fend for yourself” list, while the symphony, ballet, opera, jazz… are on the “cultural heritage for all mankind” list. It is an accurate reflection of the power dynamic, current assessments of what arts matter and what arts don’t to say so. And I’m not going to fault you for pointing that out.

        As LWA points out, “Obey your betters” is not a popular message in a republic. And in a society that has leveled a lot of distinctions between what culture is seen as worthy, it is more difficult to sustain. Why are you, Mr. MFA, better? Why Mozart and Shakespeare, and not grindcore? Why support for the Met Museum and MoMA and not the mom and pop outsider art not-recognized as a gallery place in Iowa? Those decisions have to be justified

        And yet (after ceding so much ground a “but” had to be coming). We can reach an overlapping consensus* about what we want to preserve. You put your preferences into the hopper, I put mine in, the grindcore fans contribute their preferences and we see where our lists match up and where they diverge. If as a community we get enough artforms, works, traditions, then we can say those are the ones we’re going to spend public funds on. Not a perfect solution by a long shot, I acknowledge the imbalances in power between who’s putting what names into the hopper are likely to show up on the back end. But not altogether insoluble either.

        Also, some of the projects involved mean empowering others to make art and express themselves, take a look at some of the NEA grants linked above. Giving those students or members of the public access to the software, studio space, and what not. Then they make the art that they want with those tools. So even if they get no love on the front end, NEA grant givers, the outlier sub-genres aren’t entirely shut out. They are able to access the infrastructure that’s built up around the arts that the public has helped support.

        There will always and forever be the artistic expression that doesn’t get the extra boost of direct public sector support. Free concert series are great, poetry readings are great, community based arts groups do yeoman’s work. Even if I had my dream federal arts department, only a tiny sliver of that work would ever get the support it deserves. Nonetheless, I still think it’d be worthwhile.

        * This could be a horrible, horrible misappropriation of Rawls’ overlapping consensus. I hope not, but I like the idea anyway.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        We can reach an overlapping consensus* about what we want to preserve. You put your preferences into the hopper, I put mine in, the grindcore fans contribute their preferences and we see where our lists match up and where they diverge.

        And one of two things comes out of that.
        1. The most popular stuff gets subsidized, even though–being most popular–it probably doesn’t need it.

        2. Those with actual political influence get their stuff subsidized and the marginalized populations without influence, well, they remain marginalized unless and until those with actual political influence happen to notice them and take them on as a pet project.

        Rawls’ theory of overlapping consensus is a theoretical construct that assumes equal input, which is about as likely in the real world as a black-tie grindcore event at the Kennedy Center.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Of course you make a good point. But there’s a tension in there as well. With this, “I acknowledge the imbalances in power between who’s putting what names into the hopper are likely to show up on the back end” cutting in another direction. That leans towards the “opinions of the MFA, professional artists, critics, academics set” being a competing pole.

        This all makes it sound very adversarial, but I’m sure there are consensual ways of doing this. So you have grant assessment boards with broad geographic representation, multiple avenues of approaching the arts, and so forth.

        “they remain marginalized unless and until those with actual political influence happen to notice them and take them on as a pet project.” Ok, let’s put it this way, there are a certain set of circumstances where I’d imagine the marginalized groups would be pushing on an open door here – the people they’re making these arguments to about redressing marginalization may be pretty receptive to it.

        This is an extreme simplification for the sake of untangling my possibly dense prose but: when Democrats are in power, they’ll have allies. When Republicans are in power, they’ll have to wait them out.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “I didn’t go into detail about the neo-nazi band, but do you think your point 3 “socially marginalized players” really stands up?”

        i feel very comfortable saying that neo-nazi bands are extremely socially marginalized. and i’m ok with that. i think we all are.

        but something i think gets lost in a lot of discussions about “the arts” – though this is kind of off-topic in this particular subthread – is when people applaud something for being “challenging” what they really mean is “challenging to other people.” neo-nazi bands are challenging to established norms in an extremely stark way.

        now, perhaps seemingly contra myself, the educational aspects of the nea are not a terrible idea at all, particularly if (presumably) the vetting process finds a local group that works with an underserved population and cuts them a check to more or less find their own way. but promotion of “the arts” is far more than just that educational/community mission, and its flavor will always be largely stodgy.

        and there is that twist you point out that there’s a certain kind of paternalizing/eat your veggies pov on “the arts” that seemingly never extends to the people making the argument. they don’t really believe in challenge for the sake of challenge when it comes to themselves. one might be down like a clown with glen branca or whatever, but they’re very unlikely to attend a modern country music concert, even though that would be both challenging and uncomfortable. i certainly couldn’t do it, and i like some *really* annoying things.

        “the arts” are probably in danger. artistic expression in all its forms is perfectly fine, pretty much forever.

        it seems odd to me that museums are completely unable to stay afloat for the most part, but perhaps the inflated cost of art and showmanship/curation requires far more money than people would be willing to pay to see. which i think says something about how much “the arts” are actually valued by people who are not collectors or already fairly wealthy.

        tl;dr version of myself: “most of my heroes don’t appear on no grants”.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        The Carnegie International had a multimedia rap thing going on.
        Also neon signs, and an array of books about the Middle East.
        Plus some blatant propaganda flicks (cut and remastered).

        An earlier exhibit had D’Angelo’s pieces which incorporate Mario and lolcat-like memes found on the internet.

        The Carnegie Museum of Art is kinda cool.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      To me, the future of the symphony, and yes, what state intervention can do to sustain the art form, matters.

      FTR, this is (obviously?) the primary lens through with I see this issue as well, and while of course I have thoughts on it (they might not be exactly what you’d think given my affinity for the form and my politics), I don’t consider myself remotely objective enough on the question to think they’re really worth sharing. (Basically, I would consider major state aid for major symphonies as a last resort, but it’s vastly less desirable than orchestras placing themselves on a sustainable self-sufficient financial path with community support, which is in turn something that the state can aid with in ways other than direct grant aid).

      It’s particularly resonant for me lately, of course, because the Minnesota Orchestra just went through a truly difficult labor dispute, though I don’t think it was born out of the kind of absolutely dire peril that the Detroit Symphony and others have faced down. …But given that Detroit has been in grave danger recently, I’d be interested to know whether @jm3z-aitch followed that situation and what his thoughts were about it – whether it’s something that’s really concerning to him, or just one more art form that rightly competes with others.

      Also generally, I really, really appreciate the discussion you guys have been sustaining on this, @creon-critic & @james-hanley. I’ve had some thoughts, but they wouldn’t add very much, aren’t strong positions on any of the questions you’ve been discussing, and, as I say, I don’t consider myself objective enough on the question to want weigh in anyway, really. So I’ve preferred to sit back and try to learn something, and I definitely feel I’ve done that. So thanks to both (and the others who have weighed in.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I don’t know anything about what’s gone on with the Detroit Symphony. I do know that there was a grave risk that the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts (the art museum) would be sold off to pay debt-holders as part of Detroit’s bankruptcy. I was very bothered by that, but at the same time retirees are having their pensions slashed, so I have to ask whether I’m bothered by the right things–are my priorities really defensible?

        In the end, over $300 million was pledged by foundations to help protect pensions (at least reduce the cuts), and that will (is supposed to anyway) allow the DIA’s collections to remain untouched. I think that’s an awesome outcome.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I am not sure what is to be done about the orchestra but there is a lot of writing about it. Classical music seems to be going towards a low period and potentially has been since the Beatles came to America in 1964.

        I’ve seen numerous suggestions that classical concerts be more like pop music shows where you can show up at any time, wander around, etc but that seems to go against the spirit of the music. I like rock concerts but the symphony is different.

        Part of this is because it seems fewer kids are exposed to classical music. When I was a kid, my parents took me to Young People concerts at Lincoln Center with the NY Philharmonic. How often does this happen now? How many people live in areas without an orchestra to do Young People concerts? How many kids listen to classical when they are young?

        Video game nights are popular but those crowds don’t come back for Shostakovich or Mahler.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        This is an area where there are options. People complain about how Orchestra tickets are expensive but they can be had for 25-40 dollars and plenty of people I know who decry the price of orchestra tickets or theatre tickets can easily spend that much on a sporting event or even just going out for drinks and dinner with friends. Usually more.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Chamber music is made to be talked over.

        I don’t think classical music is going towards a low period. I think it’s actually going towards a high period, honestly.

        But then again, I know a musician or two. I know you’ve listened to some of their compositions, but I highly doubt you ascertained their derivation.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Doesn’t that tell us what people really value? And isn’t taxation for something they won’t voluntarily pay for (setting aside collective action problems) really a way of telling them they’re wrong for not valuing what we value?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        I think orchestras face their biggest challenges when they struggle despite doing relatively well in filling up eats, which does happen. But of course declining audience base is a huge problem.

        I of course feel that huge numbers of people would come to be seized by classical music & especially orchestra if they would just give it the chance it needs to grab them, but I’m an evangelist who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in others’ heads. So we are where we are. I don’t have any better ideas than those paid to work on this do, except to say that if somehow orchestra concerts in general started to trend toward becoming more pop-like, well, then they can just go down the chute anyway AFAIAC. I’ve got plenty of recordings that make me happy.

        …Which goes to the other big problem, that in addition to the special problem of failing to capture its share of the young audience, classical music of course faces all the same problems that the music industry faces in general on top of that. You can enjoy nearly(!) hall-quality performances with a pair of good headphones and an iTunes account indefinitely for the price of two or three live performances (most of that being the headphones).

        So there are a lot of problems. Fortunately, for now it look like most orchestras are finding ways to scrape by.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Maybe to an extent but not completely.

        I will use a roundabout example. It seems that whenever there is a recession or budget crisis, school funding and library funding are two of the first things to get cut. Yet libraries are among the most popular public services:


        Yet a lot of conservatives still talk about how libraries are not necessary in the age of Amazon.com and downloadable books. Note that many libraries offer e-books now.
        So there seems to be a disconnect between what politicians think people value and what people really value. There is currently a huge upcry in NYC because the management of the system wants to turn the iconic mid-market branch from a research library to a lending library and move a lot of the research materials off site. The main branch of the NYC library is one of the most important research libraries that is not connected to a university or private institution. It is called the “People’s University” for a reason.

        When it comes to cutting school budgets? How many politicians send their kids to private school and are insulated from school budget cuts? One thing I like about De Blasio is that he sends his children to public school. Dante De Blasio is a student at Brooklyn Tech.

        I think there is a disconnect between private school educated people and people who attend public schools. Plus a selection bias that private school peeps tend not to recognize.

        So maybe you are right about symphonies but maybe not completely. I don’t think the people have much input when it comes to art education in public schools and it is with education that will change everything.

        Now maybe there are arguments to be made about why libraries should have budget cuts before public health and safety and social services but I think people would like to have better libraries but politicians seem clueless on the issue despite the polling.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        So there seems to be a disconnect between what politicians think people value and what people really value.

        So if we increase public funding for the arts, we’ll get which of those?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        And isn’t taxation for something they won’t voluntarily pay for (setting aside collective action problems) really a way of telling them they’re wrong for not valuing what we value?

        I’ve never thought so. It’s really just a statement that we value it enough to take a very little bit of money (way less than they’d actually have to pay to support it by buying a ticket) from them in the name of sustaining an art form we think is valuable enough to do that for. It can be reciprocal. I rarely go to museums (and when I do, it’s always on the free day). I don’t feel, though, that if I were taxed to preserve a few institutions thought to be culturally paramount, I would feel I was being told I should value them enough to support them on my own. I’d just feel that I was being asked to contribute to something that a critical mass of people feel strongly is a key part of the cultural in need of preservation.

        ..Which is a proposition I can reject! Obviously, it’s totally legitimate to then object to having that money taken from you for that purpose, and it’s even legitimate to feel as if you’re being told what you should value. But I don’t think it’s really a way of telling them what they should value from the perspective of the people doing the taxation, or advocating it. It’s a way of saying what is valuable enough to the person advocating the tax to cause them to advocate for a tax.

        Is everything that is spent on by the government a statement to every taxpayer that doing this thing is something you should value enough to pay taxes for? Isn’t it understood that there are certain things that the government does that won’t be valued enough by some taxpayers that they’d personally okay the expenditure, but that we do because, basically, they’re just overruled? That’s not a statement that their values are wrong, it’s just a statement that there won’t be universal assent to every government expenditure. Some expenditures that those who don’t value thing T enough to support expenditure X do want will be expenditures that those who do value thing T enough to want expenditure X… won’t want. No?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        our Librarians got their own land tax passed. They ran the campaign, as well.
        (Note: if you want to show that you can marshal information and communicate it to a ton of low-information folks, running a good public-interest campaign for a Tax Increase is a great way to do it.)

        Important to note: Public Libraries serve as a community center, as a hub of ideas and interaction between folks of a wide variety of walks of life. How much do we say that about the symphony? (except when they do John Williams Day– or LOTR day or whatever…)Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I also think it is very hard to argue about what people value in a nation of 300 million people. I value public transportation, arts spending, universal healthcare and other social safety net programs, money for education at all levels, and affordable public universities with low tuition. I don’t value the sheer sums we pay on spying and the military-industrial complex.

        There are probably tens of millions of Americans just like me.

        There are also probably tens of millions of Americans whose values are the exact opposite. Isn’t it true that Americans like to say they are conservative but when you ask them about specific funding issues they tend to get more liberal/Democratic?

        Very few people like paying taxes but they seem to like all the things taxes fund.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        One thing I noted is that a lot of classical music fans like to insult and look down upon rock and other popular music genres still. There is still enough of a pre-rock generation out there and maybe even some boomers who did not take to rock music*.

        This attitude is wrong. Classical concerts should not be rock concerts but don’t dismiss the music.

        *Years ago, I remember a conversation on another part of the Internet where a bunch of boomers could not understand why their peers like the Beatles, the Stones, etc. The participants said that they sat in their own corner of the middle school cafeteria and wondered why their peers would want to listen to the Beatles when you could listen to Gilbert and Sullivan.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Oh, dude. No. Rawk on.

        Although, actually, if someone rejects rock, I mean, that’s their prerogative. But you’re right that it furthers the impression of classical music lovers as fussy snobs. So I wish they’d just reject it in the quietude of their fireplace dens with their Chopin LPs and brandy snifters, not loudly in the public square.

        Mostly, though, I find most music lovers respect nearly all forms of music.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Here’s a nice acid test for whether folks are actually classical music fans, or whether they either like a certain subset or are just being snobby.

        Can they name five modern pieces that they’ve listened to and liked? (I can, for classical music/opera, surprisingly. “I keep my nose out of trouble!” — name the opera)Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        How are we defining modern?

        I am a huge fan of Ravel especially is solo piano work, The score for Mishima by Philip Glass, Aaron Copland, Messien’s Quartet for the End of Time, Shostakovich especially the 13th Symphony (Baba Yar), Britten’s Cello Symphony, Gerald Finzi’s Incarnations of Immorality, Bernstein’s The Chinchester Pslams, etc.

        Is that modern enough?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Concurred but I imagine being against the zeitgeist and radically so was much more isolating in the 1960s than it is today. Now popular music is very niche and divided. You might be the only kid at your school who digs The Magnetic Fields and Decembrists but they are still part of a very large genre of popular music.

        Preferring Gilbert and Sullivan to the Beatles and Rolling Stones in 1964 as a middle or high school student really sets you apart from your generation’s zeitgeist.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Preferring Gilbert and Sullivan to the Beatles and Rolling Stones in 1964 as a middle or high school student really sets you apart from your generation’s zeitgeist.

        Truer words, my friend. Truer words.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        my definition of modern is: Composer still alive, or dead within the past 5 years.
        Modern [note: yes, we can discuss whether this counts as classical or not. personally, I find the operatic stylings to be indicative]
        The opera I referenced above? also modern.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        No need for the “true fan” showing off. I’d rather create ten “fake” fans who go from thinking classical music is stuffy and boring to loving Beethoven and Tschaikovsky for the rest of their lives (and maybe eventually discover Mahler or Shostakovich) than prove that anyone’s appreciation isn’t yeah-deep.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        we value … a critical mass of people

        I’d say those terms are used a little loosely. When benefits are concentrated and costs dispersed, “we” can be a pretty small group and still be a “critical mass.”

        I also think it is very hard to argue about what people value in a nation of 300 million people.

        That’s part of the analytical problem here, isn’t it? So if we’re not talking about what the whole nation values, we’re talking about what “we happy few” value. Or what we few think the whole nation should value. And then we’re saying “value it or not, you have to pay for it, too.”

        Pointing to other examples doesn’t really solve the problem. It’s just a “they’re doing it, so why shouldn’t I” argument. There’s also the reality that some things do benefit all, or the great majority, of people. National defense is one of those–almost everyone agrees we value some national defense; the rest is just quibbling over how much. Public transportation benefits those who don’t ride. Education also has positive externalities.

        Does art have positive externalities, or do the benefits primary go to those who engage with it? I wouldn’t argue it has no positive externalities, but I don’t see them as being very great.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        No doubt. This can obviously mean some really dubious or unpopular spending. But the question was whether all spending is an implicit statement about what everyone should value. The very dynamic you point out, I think, tends to suggest that people aren’t really claiming that.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I am not trying to claim that i’m a true fan.
        I just think that modern classical music doesn’t get nearly as much love as premodern classical — and a good deal of that is snobbishness.
        And I haven’t even touched the cultural superiority complex inherent in calling
        only western music “classical”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        he question was whether all spending is an implicit statement about what everyone should value. The very dynamic you point out, I think, tends to suggest that people aren’t really claiming that.

        I think I actually suggested all–or at least a helluva lot of–spending is either a statement about what everyone should value or it is just an effort to make others pay for the things we value.

        From a democratic theory perspective, both of those are problematic; because democratic theory is about more than just counting votes.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I think I actually suggested all–or at least a helluva lot of–spending is either a statement about what everyone should value, or it is just an effort to make others pay for the things we value.

        I mean, you said:

        “And isn’t taxation for something they won’t voluntarily pay for (setting aside collective action problems) really a way of telling them they’re wrong for not valuing what we value?”

        So that’s not saying “…or it is just an effort to make others pay for the things we value.” That’s what I was saying it could be. “We think this is valuable to preserve in our culture; we’re going to take a little of your money to do that.”

        Problematic under democratic theory? Sure. As has been said recently, practically everything that happens in actual democracies is problematic under democratic theory. That’s just a feature of… theories.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Fair enough. I think the two comments were broken up among, and hinted at in, several different comments, so not putting the pieces together isn’t surprising.

        As to things being problematic under democratic theory, yes, democratic theory is much more problematic than most people think. But the appropriate intellectual solution is not to revert to an assumption that just counting votes is a sufficient justification for an outcome. We all reject that in the case of civil rights, of course, and civil rights do, I think, have the strongest case against pure vote counting. But that doesn’t mean lesser cases are insufficiently important enough to worry about.

        Which isn’t to say that you’re taking the position that vote-counting is enough in those cases. Just that I think that is the effect, whether or not it’s the intent, of some of the arguments here.

        Also, you mentioned that “we give a little for the things you want, and you give a little for the things we want” (a paraphrase). That sounds good on the surface, but it’s got two fatal (by my own definition of fatal) flaws. One is that if we’re being equal in our contributions, then we could bypass that indirect method of payment and just pay for our own (and save the cost of the middleman). I.e., if I give you $5 for a concert ticket and you give me $5 for a baseball ticket, neither of us is better off, and since the middleman has to get paid, likely we’re actually worse off.

        If we’re not paying the same amounts, then one of us is gaining at the others’ expense and deceptively telling them they should be happy because we helped them out, too. If I give you $4 for the concert ticket and you give me $5 for the baseball ticket, are you really going to say it’s all good because I helped you out, too?

        Second, because of the indirectness, costs and benefits are severed from each other, and we can’t make proper rational judgements about how much we’re really benefiting overall from others or how much we’re contributing overall to others. So we’re highly likely to collectively be overpaying compared to how much we really want.

        “We’re all contributing to each other” is a group-level analysis, and like so many group-level analyses it obscures what’s happening at the individual level.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        On the broken up thing – I gotcha. That statement just seemed pretty definitive on its own is all, and it’s always been a point I’ve thought about.

        On justifying, I was specifically setting that aside to address your “It’s a statement about what they should value” claim. Clearly how to justify simply taking money to fund what we value is problematic – especially if one isn’t making the claim everyone should value it. But nowhere did I suggest I was attempting to justify it. I was just addressing whether it is necessarily a statement about what everyone should value.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        Chamber music is made to be talked over.


        Pre-concert lecture or master class, maybe ok. Just maybe.

        I’m scowling at you for even suggesting talking over the likes of Schubert is permissible. (Ants on the cross, no biggie. Talking over my favorite passages, we’re going to have serious trouble ).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …And to be clear, I wasn’t offering the “you get this that I don’t want to do, I get this that you don’t want to do” as a justification or a claim that it all comes out even at the end (is the latter necessary for the former? an interesting question… which I was not addressing). I was offering it as a clear reason why doing it is not a statement about what everyone should value. It think it’s clearly that, even if it’s not finally a justification.

        It’s just true that everyone has things they’d rather the government not be spending money on; to advocate for things they do want the government to spend money to balance that out in some way is hardly a statement about what someone else should value (unless it is… it certainly can be, but it needn’t be). It’s only necessarily a statement about what one values oneself.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I fully support your right to shush people who are talking during the good parts.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @michael-drew There is an interesting parallel between that and the “pro-bundling” argument for cable. The argument goes that everybody is served by it because while you are paying to keep channels you don’t want alive, others are paying to keep the channels you do watch alive.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        Yes. Insurance in many of its forms, too.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There’s art that pretty much anybody can enjoy, anywhere (music, television shows) and art that you pretty much have to go somewhere to see (statues, paintings) or, worse, art that you pretty much have to go somewhere to see at a particular time (concerts, plays).

    If *I* am in charge of choosing which to subsidize, I’d probably subsidize the “anywhere, anytime” art (and choose to have high-production recordings of concerts/plays made available as well).

    Hell, put them on youtube.

    But it seems to me that the approximation of a live concert that a youtube video of the Philly Harmonic is a *LOT* closer to the real thing than, say, anything the internet could do with The David or the Mona Lisa.

    So if we’re going to be taking money from everybody to subsidize art, shouldn’t we be putting the most emphasis on art that everybody will be able to enjoy?

    I mean, assuming that we all agree that it’s moral to take money from people in order to make television shows about Sherlock Holmes in the first place.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      If you play thief, you can see statues and paintings on your own time. (or the fan missions — there are a lot). And you can experience architecture in new and novel ways.Report