In defense of art again

Facebook recently seems to have turned from a place for me to keep up with my friends’ lives into a forum for my acquaintances to share and re-share comics, pass links to news articles around, and spew their political or religious beliefs. I logged onto Facebook today and one of the things that caught my eye was the news that a politician (doesn’t matter which one, they’re always doing this) was pledging to cut funding for the arts.

The endlessly frustrating thing about these smug figures—regardless of political party—is the way they paint (pun not intended) the arts as a useless, disposable luxury that needs to make way for more important things. The other frustrating thing is that there are many people in this world who agree with said smug figures.

I guess when these people think of “arts education” they think of kids in school being taught to paste construction paper together or a horde of instrument-wielding children hooting tunelessly in band class; and when these people think of “funding the arts” they imagine millions of dollars being thrown at symphonies that play boring music only old people like to listen to and charge too much for tickets anyway, and people who make weird sculptures that get placed in parks for birds to poop on.

It is just too bad that these people—politicians and plebeians alike—can’t seem to understand that the arts are a functional thing, essential to society and to humanity. I dare anyone who wants to cut any sort of arts funding to go a week without using, doing, or looking at anything that involves the arts of any kind.

First they’d have to get rid of their clothes. Clothes and textiles are designed by artists. Then they’d have to move out of their house or apartment because the building they live in was invariably designed by an architect. Naked and shelterless, if they were able to find a place to lay their head (parks don’t count, they’re designed too) they couldn’t watch anything to pass the time, as movies and TV shows are produced by artists (and they wouldn’t be allowed to have TVs or computers anyway, as those are designed by arts-educated people) and they couldn’t read anything either, for writing is an art, as is bookbinding, newspaper-printing, and layout creation. They wouldn’t be allowed to listen to music of any sort, and the politician who did this (not that any would) would find him or herself no longer a politician, with no speechwriter to write speeches or designer to make signs and billboards.

The upside is that no one would have to see this poor pathetic arts-deprived sap, as he or she could not allow photographs to be taken, since photography is an art.

I’m not saying that cutting arts funding would result in a world where we’re all bored cavemen who aren’t allowed to do anything. But eliminating funding for the arts sends a very powerful message: that humankind’s rich, unique ability to create is useless, that the creativity that drives human innovation to improve our quality of life and our ability to create even more is not worth supporting or studying, that in the end we are all just wretched creatures scurrying pointlessly across this lonely Earth.

It tells children—the ones that dream of being artists and writers and musicians and dancers—that these dreams are stupid. It tells the dreamers who grew up to pursue being architects and designers and opera singers and concert pianists and ballet dancers and journalists and photographers that their very existence and struggle has absolutely no bearing on humanity.

It contradicts the fact that things like the Mona Lisa and Beethoven’s Fifth, held as the pinnacles of human achievement (we sent Beethoven’s music out into space to represent us to the aliens, for gosh sakes) are treasured and revered. If the arts are not worth funding, then what is the point of valuing art?

If you strip art away from humankind, what do you have left? Without art, we’re really nothing more than the other animals on this planet, living to eat and sleep and reproduce so that our descendants can eat and sleep.

What an absolutely wretched existence.

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