Three words you don't generally hear from a critic: 'I was wrong'

November 21, 2011

. . . but, before you get all excited, I'm not talking about critical judgments I've offered on shows. Rather, I was wrong about what arguments people find persuasive when they're considering the value of public funding for the arts. At a recent forum, I argued that once we talk about the arts in terms of the jobs they create and the economic development they spur, we've lost the argument, because weapons manufacturing creates more jobs and spurs more economic development (as do most other forms of economic activity--just think about how badly-paid artists are before you announce that the arts are an engine of prosperity!). But, as is often the case, I mistook my own critical assessment for what other people would think. In a recent posting (skip over the part about Mitt Romney), You've Cott Mail drew attention to a two-year-old report from the Fine Arts Fund of Cincinnati making the case that most people find the economic argument compelling. More important, that argument---crass as it may seem---helps foster a shared sense of responsibility for the arts, a sense that they belong to everyone. And that, of course, is the consummation for which all of us in the arts devoutly wish.

While the argument won't persuade people like me who think it's an inherent conflict of interest for artists (whose job is to de-stabilize society) to take money from the government (whose job is to stabilize it), it may well persuade people whose view of public funding for the arts is that it's all very well but a luxury we can't afford right this minute. Moreover, that "shared sense of responsibility" may light a fire under the people whom I propose as replacements for government funding, namely, generous individuals who appreciate the importance of all you de-stabiliziers out there.

And the moral of the story is, don't imagine that what you think (however unimpeachably accurate!) is what everybody thinks. You may be in touch with the zeitgeist, and then again you may be shouting down an empty corridor. Gentles, pardon.