The (Government-free) Pursuit of Artsy-ness


Even people who are not art fanatics have to admit that it is impossible to live without it. Let’s face it, you would lose the music you listen to on the way to work, the TV drama you watch at night, every painting you ever hung to hide your ugly white walls and even your fashionable clothes. Human creativity is a beautiful characteristic and should be enjoyed and encouraged; some have even gone so far as to say that art is a “basic human need.”

As an English major who loves attending poetry readings and can’t remember a year without being in a drama production, I will not deny that art is near and dear in my heart. However, I would disagree with those who claim it is such a basic need that it should be sponsored by the government. The government’s job is to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Though art is certainly part of many people’s happiness, the government cannot promise or provide happiness, only the safe pursuit thereof. Who is the government to know what will bring happiness to the artistically minded in the first place?

Art is a basic human response to life and beauty; where humans are, art will happen with or without funding. People with a passion for painting, writing or composing will not require government funding, or possibly any outside funding at all! They will make it their hobby and set aside portions of their own paycheck to afford the materials needed to create. Where more expensive art is concerned, there is a long tradition of patronage that I see no reason to break. Though wealthy people today may not have a personal artist who writes them symphonies on commission or paints their portrait yearly, they have founded many philanthropic foundations in support of the arts, sponsored the building of theaters and become collectors of the pieces which private artists have produced. On the homepage of the Arts Funding Watch website alone, I saw numbers adding up to at least $70 million being raised to support the arts. So why would the government need to become involved in this already functioning system? It doesn’t.

This is not to say that the government can have no contact with art. For instance, I would not begrudge it adding statues to beautify the capitol building, or painting a mural beneath a formerly graffiti-ridden bridge. What I would like to discourage is spending the tax money which could be going towards our national debt on art that we might not even choose for ourselves. By all means, beautify the city in ways that we can’t, but leave the creating to us. It will be better this way. Maybe the arts will take a hit financially, but if it is truly good, beautiful, edifying art, then a passionate patron will seize the opportunity to support it as they have in the past.

Next time your family visits the privately funded Meijer Gardens, Getty Museum or Huntington Library, be sure to remind them, “The free market made this.”

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One thought on “The (Government-free) Pursuit of Artsy-ness

  1. Perhaps the greatest example of private philanthropy supporting the arts is the life of Andrew Mellon. The extraordinarily wealthy banker and one-time Secretary of the Treasury (up until 1932) amassed an unparalleled private collection of art work. Late in life he donated it (along with an extra $10 million) to start the National Gallery. Even FDR, Mellon’s longtime nemesis given his administration’s anti-business rhetoric, was thrilled to receive Mellon’s art collection. For a closer look at Mellon’s life (as well as his role in combating much of the New Deal), I’d strongly suggest Amity Shlaes “The Forgotten Man” to any free marketeer.

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