The Case For The Arts In Times Of Political Trouble
You know that meme, the one with Winston Churchill, where he's asked about cutting funding for the arts, and he responds with, "Well then, what are we fighting for?" Yeah, that never actually happened. Check Snopes, you'll see. It's an apocryphal quote. What Churchill actually said was this:
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them . . . Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
Which, i think, is a much better quote. Because it's so damned true. Also, as a fun historical anecdote, check this out, from ProfessorBuzkill.com:
In 1940, the Battle of Britain was looking bleak. London suffered daily bombings from the Luftwaffe, and German invasion of the island seemed imminent. Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery in London, wrote to Churchill and suggested that their paintings and artworks be sent to Canada to keep them safe from damage or capture.
“No,” Churchill replied, “bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”
And that’s what they did.
So Churchill was actually more of an Arts-saving badass than that meme gives him credit for. And we need reminding of words and deeds like this in times like these. For now, we are living in the age of Donald Drumpf, the Orange Man, the man who in his version of the federal budget (which I'm hoping gets axed to pieces by Congress and put back together again like some Frankenstein monster, with at least some of the cruelty and stupidity removed from it), which cuts — no, cuts is too light a word; it slashes, it guts — funding for the Arts and Humanities. It completely eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts. Yes, it just gets rid of it. Defunds it entirely. It's gone in Trump's budget. Poof, goodbye. In Trump's world, all that matters is military spending, not writers, artists, poets, actors, musicians, or dancers. Nah, fuck those people. We don't need them. What do they contribute? According to Statista:
The global film industry shows healthy projections for the coming years, as the global box office revenue is forecast to increase from about 38 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 to nearly 50 billion U.S. dollar in 2020. The U.S. is the third largest film market in the world in terms of tickets sold per year, only behind China and India. More than 1.2 billion movie tickets were sold in the U.S. in 2015. There are about 5,800 cinema sites in the U.S. as of 2015. About 14 percent of Americans go to the movies about once a month, seven percent go see movies in the movie theater twice or three times a month, whereas 37 percent go a few times a year. This is a considerable share taking into account 53 percent of American adults prefer watching movies at home.
The revenue from the global book publishing market is forecast to slightly increase in the coming years, growing from around 113 billion U.S. dollars in 2015 to about 123 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. British company Pearson is the largest publishing house in the world as of 2015. Besides Pearson, Thomson Reuters, RELX Group, Wolters Kluwer and Penguin Random House are also leading book publishers in the world. The U.S. has by far the largest publishing industry, followed by China and Germany.
"Yeah," I can hear you saying. "But andy, that's Hollywood. And that's the Publishing industry. That's not government funded!" But oh yes it is. Where do you think big-time Hollywood actors, writers, directors, and technicians get their start? How do you think artists live and stay alive and learn their craft while they're still trying to hit it big, while they're still small-time players, while they're young and dumb and just trying to scrape by? Many do so with the aid of government funding. Many start out in small venues, in local theater, and in publicly-funded venues as well. Many of them get their feet wet in school, in college, or apply for grants to study their craft. A lot of them need the Endowment. Without it, we're going to come up short on talent in this country . . . really quickly. Without the Endowment, in just a few short years, Hollywood and the book publishing industry — as well as the news industry, journalism, and other industries that rely on talent pools from the Arts and Humanities — are going to be coming up short, too, and we as a nation are going to pay the price for it. We will fall behind. This will cost us economically. And it will also cost us a piece of our soul, as well.
Because above all, that's what the Arts give us. Our souls. Neil Gaiman has a famous quote that says that Fairy Tales aren't there to teach us that dragons exist; they're there to teach us that dragons can be beaten. (And right now, we have a dragon in the White House, believe you me.) Art inspires us. It speaks to our spirit. It enriches us inside. It is the one thing that bridges the gaps that stand between out intellects, our memories, our imaginations, and our hearts. It is the language of the soul, spoken universally between all peoples of all nations. Art is philosophy made concrete. It is our values and our metaphysics, and our epistemology, our ethics, turned inside-out and made into physical thIngs that we can see, and touch, and hear. It is our politics, made real and intimate so that we can interact with them in real-time and really see them for what they are, what they represent. Art is a way of closing the distance between disparate peoples. It is what we do when we take our thoughts out of our heads and place them in the context of each other, of society, when we have the courage to take a sample of who we are share it with others for them to learn from, critique, appreciate, and explore. Art is a reflection and a prism of our essential humanity. Without it, we are just jazzed-up apes stumbling around in fancy hovels, tweeting on iPhones about the latest craze in banana fashion. We need our Arts. And if Trump can't see that, then he is the ape.
Like I said — I have hope that at least some of Trump's Republican colleagues are at least not half as backward and regressive as he is. I have hope that at least some of them have half a brain and will see that the Arts are as necessary to this country as oxygen is to the lungs, as blood is to the heart and the body, as food is to the stomach. I have hope that our elected Representatives have not so totally abdicated their humanity that they have forgotten that those movies they like to watch and those books they like to read (if they do still read, that is; some of them make me wonder at times) came from somewhere — from a living mind, a beating heart, a thriving soul, one that was, most likely, nurtured and bore fruit because of the Endowment, because they got a leg up in the beginning. And I have hope that my hopes are not in vain. Because if they are, then a dark day is dawning. One in which we return to savagery, and where the only Art we know is strewn upon the walls of our caves and hovels, and the only thing we know is drudgery and pain, the pain of a People who have forgotten that Art is the gateway to — and the nectar of — the soul.