Burt Prelutsky / Jan. 22, 2011

A Plea to Unendow the Arts

For years, I have argued against the very existence of the National Endowment of the Arts. If an artist can't be self-sustaining in a capitalist country as large and as rich as America, he should get into another line of work. It's certainly not the business of the politicians and the bureaucrats, who you notice aren't spending their own money, to support him and his artistic pipedreams.

For years, I have argued against the very existence of the National Endowment of the Arts. If an artist can’t be self-sustaining in a capitalist country as large and as rich as America, he should get into another line of work. It’s certainly not the business of the politicians and the bureaucrats, who you notice aren’t spending their own money, to support him and his artistic pipedreams.

If 300 million of us have decided we don’t wish to underwrite inferior work, where do a handful of senators and congressmen get off wasting millions of our tax dollars to keep these dilettantes in beer and skittles?

Understand, I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, and I have no problem with the private sector squandering its own money any way it likes. Heck, if the trustees of the MacArthur Foundation see fit to bestow $300,000 grants on a bunch of weirdos who write Eskimo poetry or build sand castles, that’s their affair. Still, I can’t imagine why they’d rather give all that money to some beatnik who makes giraffes out of pipe cleaners, and will probably blow the dough on cheap hooch and wild women, when they could just as easily give it to me, knowing that I will invest it prudently, being too darn old to invest it any other way.

Almost every time you read about a community going berserk over an art exhibit that is either sheer pornography or re-creates the Christmas crèche using animal blood and human excrement, you can rest assured it’s your tax dollars at work.

Some years ago, I read about a controversial artwork that, for once, wasn’t underwritten by the feds. On that occasion, it was only the good citizens of Livermore, California, who got taken to the cleaners. And if it happened there, it can happen in your hometown. So if you notice your councilmen suddenly sporting berets and floppy bowties, and dropping a lot of French words into their conversation, hang on to your wallets.

It seems the city fathers had $40,000 lying around, so they decided to commission a ceramic mural to grace the exterior of the new library. For some reason, they decided that the perfect artist was someone named Maria Alquilar. I’m not certain why, of all the artists in America who would kill for a $40,000 pay day, she was selected. Only a cynical old poop would hazard a guess that her selection may have had more to do with Ms. Alquilar’s ethnicity and gender than with her natural gifts. Whatever the reason, it obviously had nothing to do with her spelling ability.

For when the 16-foot-wide work was unveiled, 11 of the 175 famous names had been misspelled! They included the likes of Einstein, Shakespeare, Van Gogh and Michelangelo. On the bright side, Ms. Alquilar got 164 of them right.

In her own defense, the lady said, “The importance of this work is that it is supposed to unite people….The mistakes wouldn’t even register with a true artisan. The people that are into humanities, they are not looking at the words. In their mind, the words register correctly.”

The city council, clearly not into the humanities, subsequently voted to pay the artist an additional $6,000, plus expenses, to fly cross country from her new studio in Miami to correct her spelling errors.

Now do you see why it’s such a stupid idea to allow public servants to dabble in the arts? A private citizen would know better than to fork over the entire $40,000 before the job was finished. You or I certainly wouldn’t pay even more money so that Ms. Alquilar can repair the damage. She’d do it or we’d sue her ass in small claims court! But, then, you and I don’t go around commissioning art; we know there’s already plenty of the stuff lying around, and mostly without spelling mistakes.

Hell, I’d sue Alquilar just for being so damn snotty, and trying to turn illiteracy into a virtue. Her mistakes were all the more ironic and her attitude all the more abysmal, considering the venue was a public library.

I suppose, to be fair about it, she did get most of the names right. So one could look at the big picture – or ceramic mural, as it were – and ask whether the glass is half full or half empty.

Speaking of that particular glass, I have long wondered who came up with that line, which so neatly defines the distinction between pessimism and optimism. I suspect it might have been the very same fellow who first moved the couch out of the living room and into the office so that he could write it off as a business expense, Sigmund Freud. Or, as Ms. Alquilar might put it – and very likely did on the Livermore mural –

Sligmond Fried.

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