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We Need a Separation of Art and State

Art, being what it is, is way too important to put into or near the hands of the state.

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By Mason Mohon | USA

Many aspects of American society have been rightfully viewed for centuries as outside the jurisdiction of the state. In particular, the separation of church and state protected by the first amendment of the constitution has gone more or less unabridged throughout American history. The United States Federal Government has fortunately restrained itself enough to let individuals live and let live in the world of religion, whether that means being Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, or Christian. This is because spirituality is important to the individual, and it is highly subjective, meaning that the cold non-discriminatory hand of arbitration extending from the state should not be involved.

It is important for individuals to experience truth for themselves, rather than it being forced upon them. People search for an emotional or spiritual truth within religion, but at the same time within articulation and writing of their thoughts, feelings, desires, and arguments. This is why we also have a separation of the press and state, so that information can spread freely. We have a freedom of speech in the U.S., paired usefully with a freedom to gather, which creates the potential for dialogue, allowing truth to arise through the exchange of thought between two or more individuals.

One instance, though, that we have not seen this clear line in the sand for the protection of free thought and truth pursuit is the arts. Art is an incredibly important aspect of humanity, society, and civilization. Jordan Peterson stated that paintings give the viewer a connection to the unknown, gripping them within. Artists find the balance between chaos and order and then express it within their art form. Leo Tolstoy said that “[a]rt is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others.” Barbara Ernst Prey, an appointed member of the National Council for the Arts described art in the following way:

A lot of what artists do is tell stories. They help us make sense of our world, and they broaden our experience and understanding. The arts enable us to imagine the unimaginable, and to connect us to the past, the present, and the future, sometimes simultaneously.

Art is a phenomenal aspect of humanity. We do not fully understand it, for it is deeply ingrained in our emotional state. This ingraining, though, has serious implications. Something that is so tightly connected to our humanity should not have involvement with the state for various reasons. These reasons are the philosophical, political, and economic dangers of state involvement within the arts.

In the first place, as stated before, art is deeply tied to who we are as humans. It is made to connect with our deepest emotions, in a personal, subjective, manner. The state, though, cannot fit into this world. The state itself is a violent entity, for it receives all funding through either secretive and destructive inflationary methods or taxation (the taking of money from individuals through the threat of force). These two things will only mix as well as oil and water. It poses serious moral and ethical questionability to have such a powerful force (art) backed by such a destructive force (government). David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, said that “art…is so powerful, dealing as it does with such basic human truths, we dare not entangle it with coercive government power.” It should be a serious red flag to ever suggest that beauty should be backed with violence.

Furthermore, it would be a dangerous game for the art world if it began to mess with politics. Furthering what Boaz said, there is another disadvantage to the entanglement of art with government power. Politics is a mess, for people on the left and right are constantly trying to fill it with their culture. Art, being a heavily cultural matter, should not be subject to the whims of whoever has control of a state agency. When the public funding of the taxpayers is involved in the promotion of art, controversial questions of what kind of art should be funded arise. Should gay characters be allowed in publicly broadcasted TV? Should brutal violence be allowed? Should the horrors of slavery be revealed? Should possibly offensive language be censored? Any answer to any of these questions will go against the convictions and cultures of one taxpayer or another. Boaz continued by saying that “[t]o avoid these political battles over how to spend the taxpayers’ money…we would be well advised to establish the separation of art and state.”

The economic side of the issue should also be looked at. Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, said that “expecting government to pay for the [art] bill is a cop-out, a serious erosion of personal responsibility and respect for private property.” The free-marketers are seen as enemies of the art world because we do not support “public funding” for the arts. This could not be further from the truth, for, aside from the political and philosophical issues with state-funded art, there are various economic issues. Money taken from individuals through taxation is money that cannot be spent on something else. Every dollar the state takes from someone is one that can not be spent on something that they may have actually wanted, which could, of course, include art museum or theater tickets.

“Public” government investment almost always comes with strings attached. There will be some sort of political manipulation that erodes the integrity of the art world. At the same time, public investment always has the potential to displace private investment. The danger of a publicly funded art program is the same as any other publicly funded program. When funding is guaranteed, the price tends to increase while the quality tends to decrease. In a demandless publicly funded art world, this issue will only manifest itself in one of the most important parts of human existence.

When art finds voluntary funding, it is because people wanted it. When it finds public funding, there is no way to know if people wanted it with the same degree of accuracy that the market provides. Public funding and state involvement in the world of the arts is dangerous for many moral, political, and economic reasons. Art lies in the same interhuman space that speech and religion tend to inhabit. These things should all then be treated the same; they should all be treated as too good for state control.

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