“Men see what they want to see
And disregard the rest.”
Simon & Garfunkel
Art is one of the highest forms of human achievement. “Art” can reference a diverse band of cultural creativity; I won’t attempt a definition, and that is not necessary to my argument. But herein I speak of painting, music, architecture, facial make-up, dress, wall-grafitti, witty repartée and so on; in essence, anything creative derived from human flair for the dramatic or expressive.
“Freedom isn’t free at all, that it comes with the highest of costs.”
Queen Gorgo to the Senate, in “300”
My argument relates to Art and Politics. All the greatest dictatorships used art to advance their purposes: Nazi or Soviet art and architecture, the pyramids of the Pharoahs in ancient Egypt, or of the Aztecs in Central America. Yet the term “art” seems strained when it is enlisted by the State in such circumstances, when it appears to have been recruited and used to advance or manipulate some political agenda.
The greatest art, I would have thought, is that rendered by a free spirit expressing itself. It is the product of that joy of the artist unleashing their inhibitions, and perhaps it is, ironically, one of the greatest expressions of anti-establishment. A quick example is of music. Sometimes we are exposed to nationalistic dirges such as anthems, or Olympic theme music, crud devised for people not actually paying with their own money; but then sometimes we get Mozart, or the Beatles. Do you think that if the government mandated the arts, the Beatles would have existed? Should their lyrics have been regulated or censored? Could a bureaucrat, or a committee, have come up with 'Abbey Road', for goodness sake?
Why do you suppose the youth of the Soviet Union were so eager for the arrival of the Rolling Stones, U2, or Led Zeppelin in concert? Because, I suggest, the youth there, as in all countries, still sensed their inherent liberty as human beings and had not yet been crushed under by the old men of the Politburo and their ponderous ramblings. With great art, a receptive soul will cry out and find emotions as deep even as love.
The arts flourish, or not, as does any product in a free market. Cultural habits of creativity catch hold at the expense of other, non-successful, experiments. We all know of Ukrainian dolls for instance; yet we don’t know so much about the artistic competition over the centuries which the dolls succeeded in overcoming. Maybe some fine art was lost to us: but it was because the dolls were more valued. Rest assured though: if there had been a Ukrainian government that wanted to make some other cultural impact, it would have artificially propped it up at everyone’s expense and taxed the life out of the dolls. Does that make it art, however? I would say no. Art seems to derive in some measure from the creative struggle of the artist, not the legislative whims of the State.
However, all that said, we have in Canada a government that is being lobbied to “support the arts”, whatever that means. Well, I know what it means - some artist lobby groups would like the government to take my money by force (through my taxes, which I am forced to pay), and compel me to invest in some drivel I would not voluntarily purchase, to save them the trouble of having to earn their living in a free market.
I enjoy fine art and music very much indeed, and certainly have wonderful artistic friends and respect very much the artists whose works make my soul lift; but they are wrong if they believe that the government’s job is to underwrite unmarketable artists. That merely artificially props up forms of art that are not culturally driven, as well as immorally wasting innocent people’s wealth; and, as well as crushing the best, but politically unconnected artists. It just lowers the bar of excellence.
The government has no more right dictating artistic tastes to its citizens, than it does dictating sexual tastes. Stay out of the bedroom, and stay out of the parlour too.
“The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed”
King Leonidas to Xerxes, in “300”
While I will defend honest artists from the depredations of government, I will add in this article my thoughts about artists as politicians, and people’s excitement by these folk, which continues to baffle me. I will repeat this theme again and again. If someone has practiced very hard all their life at playing hockey: they woke up every day bright and early from the age of six to go skate, and then pushed and pulled their way into the arenas to get noticed by agents, and ended up with a great career in hockey: what makes you think they would be a good dentist? Or a great engineer? Or a great politician?
If someone has learned how to act or sing songs really well; they win prizes from actor’s organizations for their wonderful portrayal of imaginary, fictional, or historical people, or they have gold records on their wall from all the music they have sold: what makes you think they would be a good lawyer? Or a good carpenter? Or a good politician?
They simply remain people with political opinions; but to make those opinions worthwhile, they have to be able to defend them with intellect. A reputation as a hockey player, or as a famous actor or singer, is surely and utterly useless in politics.
The sway of hero-worship is a very dangerous thing, especially in the realm of power: actors and actresses, rock stars, sports stars… they may be heroes, but surely only in the field in which they shine. Look at this business with Roman Polanski, a confessed child rapist, for instance. How can anyone rally around this man because of his director’s résumé! So what? What are the artists thinking? What on earth has the French government been thinking? Do they love some daft movie so much they would hand their daughters over to him for the night as some perverse sacrifice? If anyone else had raped this girl, justice would follow as night follows day. What macabre logic suggests a movie star, hockey player, rock star, or movie director stands on some plateau beyond the reach of justice? Or on some plateau that makes them immune to political challenge?
Beware popular figures who get an idea – it might be a good idea, but at least beware. Judge the idea, not the speaker.
I am William Wallace, and I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?
Veteran soldier: Fight against that? No, we will run, and we will live.
William: Aye, fight and you may die, run and you'll live. At least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom?! Alba gu bra! (Scotland forever!)
William Wallace, in “Braveheart”
“There is a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.”
William Wallace, in “Braveheart”
“All men with honour are kings, but not all kings have honour.
What is honour?
Honour is what no man can give you and none can take away.
Honour is a man's gift to himself.
Do women have it?
Women are the heart of honour, and we cherish and protect it in them.
You must never mistreat a woman or malign a man, nor stand by and see another do so.
How do you know if you have it?
Never worry on the getting of it. It grows in you and speaks to you.
All you need do is listen.”
“Rob Roy” with his son