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Art: Put your money where your mouth is

By Mathew Kay
web posted July 28, 2003

It is claimed by many on the right that good art will flourish in the free market. Most good products do, art being a product it makes sense that the right's presumption is cogent. In fact one would have a hard time convincing any conservative otherwise. The free market is the final arbiter of usefulness if not quality.

However, it appears to me that conservatives applying free market principles to art are disingenuous. I doubt that conservatives are ignorant of the artistic plight. They are poor, often under-nourished and for an honest artist, they are working not only general adversity, but also peer adversity borne of an industry dominated by the extreme left. The idea that there is a free market for art is laughable. In the U.S. or Canada, the left are the "artists" by default and subsidized by their respective governments.

Were art a product like a computer or a service, one could sympathize with leery investors who would rather put their money where the government isn't fostering unnatural competition. I wouldn't invest in cable television if the government subsidized satellite television. But, the fecundity of conservative values doesn't rest on the laurels of endless channel surfing. But they may fall to the wayside if it continues.

Television is dominated by deconstructionist, post-modern tendencies. Why do you think it is that everything the right holds dear is like gossamer, here in these modern times? Or that Rage Against the Machine can enjoy the unquestioned success in a system that they pretend to abhor? Likewise with Madonna. Simply, because post-modern art doesn't require consistency, but rebels against it and since examining po-mo smacks of construction this too is moot, the artist isn't required to rebut any criticism. It isn't required esthetically. The only way to combat post-modern art is to offer an alternative.

This is where the right fails. The conservative movement is long on words but short on visceral experience. I don't recall ever seeing a screen adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, though one exists for The Fountainhead, the former is more appropriate I think. I've never heard of Prometheus Bound being all the rage on Broadway. Shakespeare is appreciated more for authenticity and execution than moral value. Poetry, sadly has died a slow and painful death at the hands of post-modernism, modern poets being more like necrophiliacs than objective observers. I fear nothing will save it. Music, technically being outside the world of ideas, will always have a few bright sparks. But the left will always portray Beethoven as a narcissistic invalid and John Lennon as the patron saint of modern music.

But it can all change with a little patronage. Help an artist out. I'm not saying pay for his life. When you can help guide him in the right direction, do so. Does he need materials? What about books. Maybe he does need some food or next months rent. If you can afford it and the artist isn't taking advantage of you, why not? Your dollar is still the final arbiter, if the artist isn't a productive one, withdraw funding. No committees, no congress or parliament. Just you and your money. Stop pretending that good art will magically appear on the shelves alongside of Chumbawumba, The Others or anything by Michael Moore. Put it where you mouth is, and in time you'll have more than words to back up your free market ideas.

This is Mathew Kay's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • The need for conservative and libertarian arts funding by Thomas M. Sipos (May 19, 2003)
    The right has been traditionally opposed to arts funding and Thomas M. Sipos says that means we have little to offer the popular culture. It's time we built an infrastructure to support the artists on the right
  • Closest to God? by Steven Martinovich (December 20, 1999) Liberals want all art funded. Conservatives only want moral art funded. What's the right answer? Neither, says Steve Martinovich
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