Thoughts on the NEA, government, the arts

I’m almost always a smaller is better type of guy when it comes to government, but two things in the past two months had me reconsidering the value of the National Endowment for the Arts. One was a Makoto Fujimura comment on Facebook (that I’m not going to have the time to go back and look for) and the other was an article titled Barack Obama and the Arts: A disappointment. I’m wondering if I can flesh out my thoughts with a few words here.

Reasons the federal government should support the arts financially: It validates of the arts in our culture. It shows the government believes the arts have value. They are putting their money where their mouth is; talk is cheap, especially when it comes from Washington D.C, and at the least I do like seeing artwork in public buildings.

Is this worth it though, is the next question? Should taxpayer dollars, public dollars, be spent on the arts (outside of new art for public buildings)? This is quite a wriggly can of worms. It brings up questions such as “What is art?” or “What is good art?” Just because you might want to spend money on that sculpture doesn’t mean your neighbor will.

Of course, when it comes to legislation and divvying up tax monies we could also be asking “If the monies are spent on such and such, why aren’t they should be spent on the arts too?”

Or should the government stick solely to infrastructure and defense of country? I don’t have answers.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to Thoughts on the NEA, government, the arts

  1. Julie says:

    Arts, and general charity (caring for the poor &c.) used to both be funded and supported by the Church. Not the case any longer.

    I think the questions of “what is art” and “what is good art” are questions that are worth consideration by everybody, not just artists. For better, I think, there’s a lot of art that can be understood by artists but not by “regular people” in the same way. Who cares about a giant shiny balloon animal? The art might not come to the viewer, in terms of a typical demand that art be beautiful; the viewer may have to go to the art and find an understanding. Lots of people might bristle at this, but have allowed math and physics and engineering to maintain their mysticism. But those are hard sciences, dealing in fact… how about soft sciences? Sociology, philosophy? Do people bristle and think that they should easily be able to understand any of these things? While we don’t build museums to them, these are also essential practices that have the capacity to reflect on the world as it is and was.

    Point of all that: laypersons have no right to demand that any specialized area restrict itself to their understanding. (Although I am half an inch away from mentioning some ways that people have stuffed “God” into a box.)

    Another way of thinking about art is an an object that happens in the background, that is part of the stage setting for whatever activity happens in a space. I think that’s valid.

  2. pcNielsen says:

    Well said.

    Yes it was formerly funded by the church. And yes, it is not anymore. And In our finite physical existence as humans, I often wonder if we can actually avoid putting God in some sort of box. Sad as that is.

    I don’t know what to think of the fact that as artists, we will understand beautiful balloon animals on a level different than non-artists. It makes sense; it’s our profession. It’s always on our mind. But one of the things that often enters the discussion about defining art is communication. The intent to communicate. The need to communicate?

    Art will communicate one way or the other, despite intent. Does it have to communicate to everyone? Does it have to have mass appeal to be an important work? Does it have to be shiny to be successful?


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