Defund The National Endowment for the Arts

Why Defunding The National Endowment for the Arts Won't (Necessarily) Make Karen Finley "history."

By Jim Ray

The National Endowment for the Arts was established to spend taxpayers' money on art, the theory being that if the taxpayers were allowed to keep their money, they'd just waste it on things they actually wanted. Because frankly, the average taxpayer is not a big supporter of the arts. The only art that the average taxpayer buys either has a picture of Bart Simpson on it or little suction cups on its feet so you can stick it onto a car window. -- Dave Barry :)

Unlike performance artist Karen Finley, I think the federal government should get out of the art business altogether and completely defund the NEA.

My brother is also an artist. He makes Japanese Bizen pottery. Ms. Finley evidently thinks that my artist brother should be taxed so that wise, benevolent government bureaucrats can decide to give his tax money to her. I do not want to pay for Ms. Finley's performance art, but I can think of a few corporations, such as Calvin Klein(tm), which might sponsor her performances.

A decision by the NEA to fund any artist implies a hidden decision to tax everyone else, including my artist brother (or just tax all our grandchildren). For some reason, my artist brother thinks that we all should spend much more of our art money on Japanese Bizen ceramics.

Principled opponents of N.E.A. funding don't care whether it's the most shocking chocolate-covered performance ever performed, or a lovely glorification of God, kindness, good government, the flag, peace, America, motherhood, apple pie, and "family values" that Bill Clinton, Pat Buchanan, Jesse Jackson, and Jesse Helms all somehow manage to enjoy at once. Our grandkids shouldn't be paying for ANY art while the U.S. government drifts in a sea of red ink!

Is the NEA funding that Ms. Finley advocates somehow better for everyone's freedom of expression than the free art marketplace? Do any but the most idiotic corporate executives need the federal government to tell them whether an artist is good or not? The marketplace may have a reputation for irrational behavior, but the free marketplace never forced a person who disagrees with something to pay for it. Since Ms. Finley's book was rejected by Crown Publishers, she has an opportunity [thanks to the marketplace] to find a different publisher who will print it (but only if her book is considered good enough to sell).

Jazz music has survived and prospered to this day, despite racist censorship attempts early in its history, without taxing the people who, for whatever reason, choose not to listen to jazz. The marketplace provides "peer review" at no cost, with far more stringent quality standards overall than the well-paid "experts" appointed by Washington politicians. I have no doubt that artists like Ms. Finley can still thrive in the marketplace without my artist brother's tax money, despite competition from Bart Simpson.

I am 100% for freedom of expression, but many people don't grasp the main point of libertarian opponents of *any* taxpayer funding for art. Republicans rant about financing the chocolate-covered nudity of Ms. Finley, but by "courageously" confining their objections to controversial art exclusively, they fall into a "so, you want censorship" trap.

Artists who create unorthodox art, such as Ms. Finley, have every right to create it, but with their own money. I don't believe that taking her off the government dole makes Karen Finley "history." I may be far more likely to pay to hear music than to see her performance art, but if other people disagree that's OK with me...I promise not to tax them for my jazz concert.

Jim Ray is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Dade County, Fla.

For more coverage of this issue in The Ethical Spectacle, see End All Federal Support of Controversial Art, by Jonathan Wallace.