I was so struck by this discussion when I read it this evening that I think it warrants a second post this week. The students, artists, and theologians over at Transpositions opened this discussion on the importance of art in culture, based on the current controversy in the UK over cutting government funds for the arts. The question is, is art essential to society? That is, when things become critical, should the arts be cut before (to use the specific example used in their discussion) healthcare? What should come before art, and what should come after art, when funding is cut?
Unfortunately, we exist in a world that requires these pieces of paper with arbitrarily assigned values to make anything happen. Since at least the Renaissance, artists have frequently functioned by having wealthy patrons fund their work. Or, they do what I and many others do, and have the bittersweet “day job” that pays the rent while pursuing what we love (a poet once said that the only thing worse than having a job is not having a job).
I have an inherent dislike for assigning monetary values to works of art, or, even worse, to an art form in general. I think the value of good art is inherent. Of course, as humans don’t create ex nihilo, artists must have supplies, and thus receive money from somewhere. Having recently experienced funding cuts for the arts in Virginia, I know how critical some public sustenance is to the art community at large. Yet, as much as any artist will insist on the necessity of good art for a healthy culture, I think the conversation on Transpositions asks an important question: is art absolutely critical for the survival of a culture? When the worst happens, and humanity enters “survival mode” (as in times of war), how critical does art become in Maslow’s Hierarchy? Dare we reduce it to make sure people are fed? Dare we not reduce it to make sure people are fed?
I think good art is indispensable to the emotional, spiritual, and psychological health of any society, as well as for influencing the positive movement of a society (L’Engle once said that only writers with something to say are censored). In both the UK and the U.S., there is an entire industry for creative professionals that will be heavily impacted when funding for the projects that employ them is reduced. During the Hollywood writer’s strike of 2007, many freelance support professionals were out of work for an extended period of time. I understand that a similar situation recently occurred in New York City when a CSI series stopped production. Many similar instances could occur when theatres, symphonies, and other venues are unable to maintain their volume of seasonal offerings.
Another question posed in the original post (for my readers of faith) is: what are the ecclesiological implications of this? In the West, I cringe at the idea of the Church influencing the arts until it becomes better educated about them, lest we end up with more Thomas Kincaid. Yet, historically, the Church has held an important role in the arts that it should reclaim.
Head over to Transpositions and read the post. There are many questions posited there that I haven’t even mentioned. Let them know your thoughts. And I’d love to hear them, here, as well.