Can the NEA Fund Individual Artists Today?

Posted on May 24, 2010


NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman says it is time to look at funding for individual artists again. The question that confronts the Chairman, is the politics of free speech or free artistic expression possible in America today. In the early nineties Congress banned funding for individual artists. Piss Christ by Artist Andres Serrano’s, the Photograph of a plastic crucifix in a bottle of the artists urine fueled the Congress to ban funding for individual artists.

Sister Wendy on Piss Christ

What the Congress missed in it’s action to take funding away from individual artists and fund arts organizations was the fact that the most controversial grants of the time funded by the NEA were given to arts organization and not individual artists.

With all the talk about free speech in the media from our congressional leadership today, mostly concerning controversial conservative talk-show hosts and far out right wing candidates. I doubt Congress is up to the task of extending those free speech rights through funding to individual artists.

I think the fear of an attack from the right is so chilling in Washington on any politician that dares to tread in controversial territory that funding for the individual artist will remain a memory of a more enlighten period in America.

The NEA itself is always on the political chopping block. Yes it would be wonderful as an artists to get some help with money, to get some subsidized funding.

After all most of the important advancements in the Arts were not marketable during their time. The money came much later. The question I am asking you is: Where would we be today as human beings if Artists had not taken the risks to ask the tough questions, to make the controversial images that fired important debates.

In the Dark Ages Artists were limited to the political correct doctrine of the Church.

Should Artists be funded and at the same time be uncensored by the Government?

I think so because as a free nation as a free people we need to embrace the freedom of expression without the boundaries of the free market which through the idea of what is sellable limits the expression.

And further if as a society we believe in the freedom of speech and we chooses to fund artistic expression then we should not limit that expression.

The other relevant question is: Who decides Who gets the Money? The jury process in itself is a form of censorship. Do we base funding on Education, Training either formal or informal that establishes an Individual as an artist combined with the need for funding. How many great artists out their never get funded, never get the change to get their ideas off the ground largely because of the politics of art and the politics of the country at any given time.

I have always believed as an artist that the art experts follow trends and excepted history in art. Seldom does an art expert venture out into unknown territory, well except for Sister Wendy.

That is why it is important to break the Rules.