Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Government Spending Can Enable Great Art

It is a common refrain on the right and in libertarian circles to mock government funded art. It is rubbish that has spent decades trying to shock audiences. It has devolved into caricatures of the grotesque, disgusting filth art or too hard to understand what is artistic about it art. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants and college funded, which means government grant funded, art is crap. It is more a function of who funds it. What they want to see matters because they dole out the cash. Government funding can create not just great art but the foundation for decades of great performances. An example of this can be found in Russia.

Russia's Vaganova Academy is the premier ballet school in the world (wikipedia article). Different media outlets have done great articles on the academy. It was founded by government money in the 1700s. It survived and thrived on government largesse. When Marius Petipa was there, keeping ballet alive and raising it to new heights, the Tsar flooded the academy and the Imperial Ballet Company with money. The command was to create the best performances to exhibit the art for the court. Reach new heights, dazzle the audience, and create the best ballet productions ever. The Russian Tsars succeeded as the ballet world lulled a bit in the West in the mid-1800s but thrived in Russia during the same time. Their money, and the efforts of the Russian performers, choreographers and directors, not only saved ballet but created what you see today.

The Imperial company and ballet school are the key. They received government money, and the prime directive was making the greatest pieces possible. This means selecting the best possible candidates and training them in the most difficult and technically exact fashion. There are documentaries made on the academy available on Youtube, and even better, there are Academy examination videos online (for the Academy's exams there is a pic of Vaganova in the background). The productions are a bit of nature and nurture. You will be trained to be the best. They will change how your body moves, and they will push your body to the limits. Watch some evaluation videos. You'll see tremendous physical movements, and these are students. American schools can do Vaganova evaluations, but they are not as good. Below is a documentary about the academy narrated by Grace Kelly.



There might be something more to it, and this is where good, progressive and egalitarian America would never ever be like Russia. Nature is involved. When a child applies to be part of the academy, they are not evaluated on their talent first. They are measured, flexed, and measured some more. See, the Russians believe that they know the proportions and physical traits that make for a body they can mold into a perfect ballerina. A Vaganova quote, "Talent is only worth considering when it's in the right body". Talent matters for a child, but the foundation is a body that will look great and that can be made great. How naturally flexible is a child, what is their natural turn out, and do they have the leg to body proportions to look great onstage. In America, we can be whatever we want to be. One just needs to pull up the bootstraps and work harder. This is why our ballet lags the Russians. The Russians do not believe in that nonsense. Americans hold up exceptions to disprove reality. The Russians do not take chances on exceptions.

Here is one beauty in form and movement: Svetlana Zakharova. She is in the center, with blue sweats over white tights. At the 2:40 mark she has a white Adidas top and performs insanely high extensions. Compare her to the folks behind her.





Remember she has been selected for her dimensions to look the part and perform the best. She has trained with the best. Check out her movements. Makes it look easy. Now if you watched other videos and listened to the translator for her, she spoke of going to the academy. She spoke of crying because it was so hard. She still struggled on, and became what she is today. You think a government funded American ANYTHING would continue if kids were crying because of how difficult it was? No way. The Russians and the Vaganova Academy do not care. You want to be the best? So do other girls and boys. You can be replaced. Be the best. She is now. With her genetics and through effort, strain, sweat and tears, she has become something beautiful.

Beautiful
This is the main point, not just with art but with everything in government. It is about who controls the decision making and where money flows. The system we have now is horrendously wasteful and controlled by ideologues who would love to cast hunchbacks in a ballet because it would be "inclusive" and "transgressive". Who controls the bureaucracy matters, and sadly, this matters for art, too. A patron will always have some say in the art, whether direct conversations or just the threat of removing money or giving more. When the patron is not a lover or mere fan of the art form and is instead of a bureaucracy's goals of leaving no space not politicized, art become just a tool for the fat bottomed bureaucrats, not an organic expression of the artist. Yes, modern government spending creates garbage art that has no beauty. This is more a reflection of the society at large and the hands holding the strings than it is the idea of a government deploying money towards any art form. It is a problem of the democratic age, the age of the everyman.

10 comments:

PA said...

Indeed. The Soviet Union and satellite nation governments sponsored what downright amounted to aristic renaissance, especially once Stalinist social realism was discarded.

For a much more modest example: I listen to an NPR classical music station on my ride to work. I like rock but not the prole-guffaws of free market radio DJs

The larger point is that it's not big government that core Americans hate. It's big and hostile government.

Glen Filthie said...

What a fine point, Sherman.

It's ironic really. Chinese and Russian socialism still makes room for commitment to excellence.

American socialism is the most decadent and is all about celebrating the mediocre and the parasite.

peterike said...

Well, there is a difference between classic forms of art requiring infrastructure and many people, things like ballet, opera, the symphony. These make perfect sense for governments to fund. After all, this is our artistic heritage. And this consists largely of performance of work already acknowledged as great, to carry on an artistic legacy.

If you conceive of a nation as more than a hunk of land with people on it, then the government has almost an obligation to offer access to the great arts. It should be low-cost and accessible. Of course, in America most of these things are now elite based.

It makes a lot less sense for government to fund individual artists slapping paint on a canvas. New work should not be funded. It is not the performance of work that government funding corrupts, it is the creation of works. If dollars are doled out to perform Beethoven, well everybody wins. If dollars are doled out for painters, then they will always drift toward whatever agitprop is popular at the time and you'll get anti-racism, pro-gay etc. work that is tendentious, deliberately offensive, and mostly lousy.

I would include a national theater as something the government should fund as well, but only for classics. But even there, American "classic" drama now firmly includes Commie junk like Arthur Miller, and directors take far too much liberty with things like Shakespeare. Still, on the whole theater would be worth subsidizing, but the writing of plays should not be.

Anonymous said...

The CIA gave us Modern Art.

Suburban_elk said...

I like rock but not the prole-guffaws of free market radio DJs

Hahaha, that is so funny. I was having to listen to those recently, and i was thinking about how it all seemed, those morning shows and their forced bonhomie. The local one here is famous (as they all are), and it is the classic rock station, and now these guys have to be 60 years old and have been doing this for 30 years, and they are lamenting that ELO isn't getting into the Hall of Fame or something. And then their guest is Rain Pryor (yeah) who is telling us about her unique perspective because of her mixed black and jewish blood. (I am not making this up.)

And this morning show is supposed to be real talk - that is their whole schtick. And to their credit, they sort of take you half way there. They joke about jews. They really have a soft spot for blacks though, they are always admiring the conservative ones. But yeah they Rain Pryor's daughter on and everyone was like, "she can be the one to lead this conversation on race (that we have to have)."

So that is how the assumptions are still built in. Why should her perspective be more unique than anyone else's? But they are acting as if it is - wow, a black-and-jewish woman, she must have some interesting things to say. She is a comedian, but she had on-air and did not say a single thing that was laughworthy. Uh, duh, lady, you have how many listeners, maybe instead of basking in the introduction they gave you, make me laugh, isn't that what you want to do? apparently not.

Pvt. Jaybird said...

A couple of random thoughts:

-I recommend Tom Wolfe's THE PAINTED WORD for a humorous analysis on the current (1970s) state of art.

-I wasn't exposed much to classical growing up, but in the past few months I've been making sure to play classical during supper. The stress level and fussiness has shot way down with the kids. It could be merely coincidence, but supper time used to be my least favorite time of the day, now it's pleasant and enjoyable family time.

-Russian is the only ethnicity where I don't automatically assume the male dancer or figure skater is queer. (I could be totally off the mark on that one. No idea.)

-I would assume that nearly all non-folk art and architecture prior to the Modern Era was somehow "government funded".

nikcrit said...

If dollars are doled out to perform Beethoven, well everybody wins. If dollars are doled out for painters, then they will always drift toward whatever agitprop is popular at the time and you'll get anti-racism, pro-gay etc. work that is tendentious, deliberately offensive, and mostly lousy.

There's a conceptual problem in play here; unfortunately, that cultural 'agitprop' you cite is, for reasons good, bad and unknown, a form of creating an artistic market that's otherwise unshaped and thus ineffable; the contemporary pieties, e.g., 'racism,' 'sexism,' 'climate change,' etc., in a certain way form the au courant pieties and politics that shape the art movements - therefore, 'art markets.'
I know of lots of contemporary artists in academia, e..g., grant-writing professors in the visual and physical arts disciplines, such as dance, theater, painting and sculpture and other forms that often receive public funding who complain a lot about p.c. politics in arts and arts funding, yet they willingly play the game ----- and in some cases define that very game ----- cause that's the only way they can get in on the action. Still, they often lament the machine and monster that they in large part created. 21st-century Frankenstein redux.

I believe PA's fave prof-critic, Camille Paglia, often holds forth on this topic. in fact, when i recall her musings about Harold Bloom, which we discussed here recently, they often centered around this very topic, if i'm remembering correctly.

nikcrit said...

"Why should her perspective be more unique than anyone else's? But they are acting as if it is - wow, a black-and-jewish woman, she must have some interesting things to say."

I think there truly is some unique perspective that's useful that can come from mixed-race individuals ---- but, i certainly can see how that view could be wildly abused and used to push a social orthodoxy of whatever current rage or fashion. It's easier for us to empathize and then see how the connected logic works for or against things, case may be..... such hybrid views also can more clearly see the sometimes comic mutual self-dependence among b-vs.-w and jew-vs-gentile in how they so slavishly define themselves against one another, ironically in that process creating a strict social and ideological orthodoxy of their own with each other.

Suburban_elk said...

such hybrid views also can more clearly see the sometimes comic mutual self-dependence among b-vs.-w and jew-vs-gentile in how they so slavishly define themselves against one another, ironically in that process creating a strict social and ideological orthodoxy of their own with each other.

To characterize the relation between black and white, and even more so the one between jew and gentile, as "mutual self-dependence", is a stretch, to put it mildly.

The relationship is not mutual. In the past, in the shared history that blacks and whites have in America, there has been some trade-off, particularly in the realms of music and the arts and style, and i suppose sports, where blacks have had an influence that cannot be denied. Now though, this civilization is falling apart, and it is no longer creating things that are worthwhile such as classical jazz or whatever-you-like. Cultural artifacts such as music and sports are secondary, they come about when there is some strength in the fabric.

But these days, what collaboration is there between black and white? The one example that i can think of is Jehovah's Witnesses.

This stage of history is the collapse of civilization. That is our historical context. How do the races get along, within that context? John Michael Greer is a prolific blogger on the collapse of the "techno-structure", and Kunstler is evocative on the decay and decline of people within their living environment and architecture - and both of them would rather not acknowledge that the "struggle for race" is the primary theme of these our times. The collapse of civilization is the backdrop.

In this article Greer describes the breakdown that occurs, in terms (that are apparently) from Toynbee: the dominant minority at the top, and the internal proletariat underneath. And that model ignores race; and Baltimore belies that model: the whites and blacks there are all poor, and they are not getting along. Similarly, Kunstler this week advises "African Americans" to learn English; what weak sauce is that?

But to get back to the point. Now that modern civilization is no longer on the upswing, and there is no secondary production in the form of art and culture in which black and white might work together, where is any mutual dependence?

Anonymous said...

Your title and premise are mostly wrong IMHO. The tsar is not equivalent to modern government spending. Much great art was the function of the taste of the patron, at least, having the sense to pay the best artists. Court composers and the like.

The russians have the sense to continue funding their dance academy, but the art of ballet does not progress much because the patronage system that would fund new works seem mostly dead. The big donors just contribute to lincoln center or whatever, which continues to put on works of the past hundred years; the art itself does not evolve.

the modern composer seems to be responsible for his own revenue or dependent on the university, it's tough enough that you need to be crazy to do it. bach was not crazy - he did pretty well for himself. none of the greats under the court system took financial risk for their art.

instead of government, we need a new class of wealthy people to take a risk funding art. and not "works" by damian hirsch.

funny thing is - this may never happen. most of the trading in great art these days is for tax benefits of rollovers. i suspect the wealthy today enjoy perks like being able to fund affairs, big vacations, private jets, big houses.

i know most of the characters in the bravo "housewives" series aren't wealthy, but it is interesting to see just how trashy folks in the upper 10% of the income distribution can be.