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Salon covers 1-13
Salon covers 14-25
Salon: a Journal
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A Venice Wedding
Other Hartman art
and more of it
Style: Joshua Tree
Visions of Venice
To See Venice
Is To Live
Venice's True Sister City
Spirit of Truth (fiction)
Articles from Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics
This Sugar Daddy is Bad for Our Teeth
by Pat Hartman
from Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics #1 Spring 1988
Unemployed people can be brainwashed into thinking
that a government bureaucracy is the only way to find work. In the real
world, there are in every field legions of successful people who never
set foot in the State Employment Agency. Like any such entity, its purpose
is to serve its own needs and those of the legislature, other agencies,
the employers, and only last and incidentally the needs of the ostensible
beneficiary of the system, the poor schmuck who just needs a job.
Likewise, many artists accept as a truism that the
government is their best and only hope for being paid for their work.
Sometimes we accept without challenge the concept that nothing real or
meaningful can happen except when backed by officialdom or occurring on
Among the artists who attended two symposia here
some time ago, a need was expressed for more ways for artists to meet
each other. While it is true that these meetings themselves provided such
an opportunity, there is a danger: the accompanying belief that the city
is obligated to provide venues and opportunities. It is true that the
city as a whole will benefit if it provides these things. But to think
that we must depend on publicly sponsored events to meet other artists
and to show our work, is to fall prey to a very insidious mind-set.
As a result of these gatherings a statement was put
together, which may come under the heading of well-intentioned but misguided.
It may be that the answers to our perceived problems as artists lie not
in committee action, not in drafting statements that can only attempt
to express the will of so many people. Artists are after all a particularly
difficult group to herd into an amorphous mass. Perhaps what we need to
concentrate on is finding and creating ways of causing the community to
become more aware of each and every one of us as individual artists. Too
many times one hears a variation of this: "I've worked with him or
her for years and never knew s/he was an artist." Are we ashamed
to admit it, or what? Let's emerge from the closet, for heaven's sake.
We can make our separate voices heard, and we don't have to wait for some
bureaucratic wheels to grind before we do it. To switch metaphors, the
cumulative weight of all of us can be much heavier than that of any committee,
however dedicated its members.
Here is one example of the difficulty of accomplishing
anything within a bureaucratic framework. What ever happened to the Artists'
Directory, which has still not appeared as of this writing? And it sure
wasn't nice to hear that we'll have to pay for it this time. After all,
even with the limited funding available to Arts and Humanities, surely
the distribution of such an elementary thing as a directory of local artists
should be a priority. Such a resource is needed not only to facilitate
collaboration between artists, but for the use of the business community,
art show organizers, and individual art patrons.
At the time $2 seemed like a lot. At this point I'd
be willing to pay an entrepreneur $5 just to have the Directory on my
desk. One motivated person with a personal computer could put this thing
together in a night.
These aspects of sugar-daddyism are bad enough, but
what about a much more important issue: creative control. R.S. Jaggard,
M.D., writes about the medical profession but his words are equally and
ominously applicable to the arts. "When the federals give you money,
they ask you to hold out your hand to receive that subsidy...Your bare
wrist is exposed, and that is where they put on the chains. With the federal
government, you do NOT get something for nothing. Whatever you get will
come to you complete with controls." This goes for state and city
funds, too, and should be memorized by anyone tempted to seek publicly
funded subsidies for any purpose.
Profit With Honor
by Pat Hartman
from Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics #11 (Fall 1990)
Thomas Jefferson said, "To compel a man to furnish
contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves
and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." The same could be said of art.
The solution? Stop funding either opinions or art from tax revenues.
The preferred solution calls for an end to tax-funded
support of anything. But even if I can't muster enough libertarian arguments
to prove to your conclusive satisfaction that other things - military
and medical spending are two examples that come to mind - should not be
government funded, any imbecile can prove with one hand tied behind her
back that the government should not be funding the arts. There is no constitutional
justification for it and no intrinsic, rational reason for it. Most important
of all, the hand that holds the purse strings dictates the way the money
is spent. That is something that no free people who call themselves artists
should tolerate. It's also the reason for the endless debate we've seen
in past years.
Of course it could be argued that we're only talking
about a miniscule amount of money - a relative drop in the bucket. Last
year the National Endowment for the Arts budget was 171 million, compared
to a budget of 193 million just to keep military bands going. But
the amount is not the point. It it's wrong, it's wrong.
Big Brother and the Scolding Company
One interesting feature of the Mapplethorpe debacle in Cincinnati: members
of the grand jury visited the show, came away aghast, and indicted the
art center's director. Question: since the show was NEA funded, i.e.,
paid for with government funds, doesn't this constitute entrapment? How
can the government donate money, which implies permission to go ahead
with the activity, then turn around and indict people for doing what it
gave them permission to do? Fortunately a judge felt the same qualms and
threw the case out of court. The same question came up in Philadelphia
at the Institute for Contemporary Art, which may lose millions in federal
support because it carried the Mapplethorpe exhibit. It had provided the
NEA with complete information on the nature of the artist's work, including
slides, and was granted the funding. Now, for going ahead with the show,
it faces punishment. Isn't that what's called an ex post facto law? Didn't
we learn in history class that one of the reasons we fought the Revolution
was because of laws that punished people retrospectively for things they
did before the laws were in effect?
The upshot of the whole mess is that the legislature
approved a watered-down version of the Helms amendment, not as gruesome
as the original but still restricting federal assistance for work considered
obscene, indecent, blasphemous. (By whom?)
Momentous Moral Musings
Some claim that the issue is sponsorship, not censorship. As long as artists
are still free to do what they want on their own time, with their own
dime, the federal guidelines are not seen as being overly restrictive.
Maybe so. But why not make the whole question moot by refusing to have
anything to do with "government" money, which is in actuality
loot stolen from your friends and neighbors by the government. It's
tainted money, folks, and if you think great and noble art can be created
on a stipend of stolen loot, maybe you're not worthy to call yourself
a creative soul.
Cancellation of a Mapplethorpe exhibit by the Corcoran
gallery in Washington led to an artist boycott that canceled two other
scheduled exhibitions. Annette Lemieux is an artist whose work is subsidized
by the NEA. Her canceling does not punish the government, since it already
spent the money on her, but does rip off the taxpayers whose money it
originally was. What kind of expression of principles is that? It just
goes to illustrate that getting mixed up with tainted (stolen) sources
of funding can do an artist nothing but bad.
Writer Martha Collins of Massachusetts also suffered
an attack of scruples over accepting the $20,000 NEA fellowship she had
been awarded. Along with 4,000 other artists who received grants, she
was asked to sign a promise to comply with federal guidelines, including
anti-obscenity and anti-drug restrictions.
Equivocation and Compromise
A moderate position is that it's no big deal if something objectionable
slips through once in a while, as long as it's a small percentage out
of the thousands of projects that are funded. On the same principle that
it's better for a guilty man to go free than an innocent one to be executed,
many people feel comfortable with the idea that something they don't like
is funded once in a while, rather than take the risk of denying help to
National columnist Dave Rossie presented another
balanced view. "Most Americans, I suspect, do not much care what
consenting men do provided they do not do it in public. And chances are
they won't care if a talented voyeur wants to photograph those erotic
bouts. But I suspect they do draw the line at underwriting the cost of
presenting those photographs to the populace in the name of enlightenment."
People for the American Way, on the other hand, commissioned
a poll that proved the overwhelming majority of Americans support the
Rossie went on to lament that these funds are spent
on art while so many are homeless, etc. This is a knee-jerk response one
hears everywhere. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that the money,
if not spent on mounting the art show, would have been used to improve
the lot of the homeless.
Unrest in the Rockies
The board members of the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities are
appointed by the governor: his own daughter, for instance, and his son,
even though Mark Romer's out-of-state residency made him technically ineligible.
Board members are supposed to be private citizens who demonstrate some
competence and experience in the arts as well as a knowledge of community
and state interests. The CCAH is also said to have strict "conflict
of interest" rules regarding relationships between members and artists
who apply for grants, but apparently there is no problem when it comes
to having representatives on the board to look after the interests of
the governor. Other board members tend to favor such art as statues of
Ben Franklin and life-size sculptures of buffalo - in other words, they
are stuck strictly in a representational rut. One member objected to a
proposed sculpture for the Auraria Higher Education Center on the grounds
that "to me it is not a piece of art." Don't these people know
their job is to define what is acceptable in terms of government interests
- not to define what is art?
Last year the CCAH awarded 92 grants, including those
for bluegrass music, cowboy poetry, Western art, and choral singing -
none of which I would pay a nickel to see or hear if the choice were mine.
In fact, they may not even be art. (Hey, I'm as qualified as the governor's
kin to make that kind of judgment.)
Made an Example Of
Actress Karen Finley has been chosen scapegoat of the year by critics
of NEA policy. She has received grants three times to continue working
in the field of "social theatre art," giving performances that
consist of ranting interminably about the plight of women and smearing
her naked body with chocolate as a metaphorical representation of what
she really thinks Society covers women with. Cutting-edge art, perhaps;
but one can witness as stirring an expression of outrage any Saturday
afternoon downtown, as street people denounce the citizens who refuse
to empty their pockets. The only redeeming feature of Finley's act is
her candor in filling out her latest grant application: the receipt of
more NEA funds would permit her "as an artist to continue working"
- the only honest answer possible, and the only one that any artist in
a similar position should offer.