Friday, May 27, 2011

I Don't Know Much About Art (but I know I don't like it)

Well-known for being on the cutting-edge of intellectual innovation, Kansas is about to become the only state in the Union without an Arts Commission. Governor Brownback says we don't need one and, despite resistance from members of his own party, he seems determined to make sure we don't have one.

Those opposing Brownback's actions have largely based their arguments on fiscal considerations. The tacit assumption appears to be that Brownback is motivated by budgetary concerns. Consequently, many of the Governor's opponents have noted how much revenue the Arts Commission generates (through taxable wages, matching federal funds, and so on).

This completely misses the point. The money "saved" by abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission is a fraction of one percent of the projected budget shortfall. The issue is that Governor Brownback doesn't like art.

He doesn't like Darwin either and I doubt he is fond of Stephen Hawking.

But he loves Jesus.

Historically, of course, simultaneously loving Jesus and supporting artists worked quite well. This is one of the areas that I apparently missed in high school so I am vague on the details, but from what I can gather Christianity inspired some really spectacular paintings and ceilings and whatnot [1]. And since this appears to be the only positive contribution Christianity has made to civilization in the last couple of thousand years one might expect modern-day Christians to embrace it.

[1] Source: Stewie Griffin, Family Guy.

Given how much the Christian PR department is in need of someone who is handy with watercolors, one might hope Brownback would at least support a bit of painting. The last leaflet I received from the local Baptists, for example, is absolutely woeful. It took me several minutes to realize that the pale, flaxen-haired girl in the nightdress was supposed to be Jesus. I suppose one might allow some artistic license, but I find it hard to accept that the Son of God got his hands on a bottle of SPF-45 while wandering around the desert. Furthermore, the sheep in the background are completely out of perspective and would be the size of elephants.

And the funny thing is, many of the people currently benefiting from the Kansas Arts Commission are precisely those who are likely to paint sheep (or at least cows) grazing in a pasture, and to be on speaking-terms with Jesus.

This is where I can break my usual blogging practice of making up facts and draw on my personal experience of leading a creative writing workshop at Lawrence Arts Center. The participants spanned the spectrum from a nervous teenager looking for a friendlier environment than high school to share his prose to a delightful woman in her eighties who read her stories in a purring Gone-with-the-wind drawl. Other courses were similarly populated. A beaming guy who had recently retired from Jiffy-Lube covered in clay after successfully making his fifteenth ashtray. A bespectacled dental hygienist delighted when she finally mastered "Yellow Submarine" on the guitar.

It's conceivable (perhaps likely) that Brownback is completely unaware of the realities of publicly-funded arts programs in the state he governs, and that he assumes recipients are primarily taking photographs of people peeing on each other. I suspect, however, that there is a deeper ideological issue.

I got sick a couple of months ago and having tired of a "River Monsters" marathon tuned in to a program about missing Gospels. Apparently there are loads of these things, but someone called Irenaeus with a similar political agenda to Brownback decided that they were wrong and burned them.

A conservative theologian was asked whether, just perhaps, these additional texts might hold some useful information about Jesus and God and all the other stuff that Gospels tend to cover.

The theologian beamed menacingly.

"Everything I need is in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John! What more could I possibly want?"

I briefly sat bolt upright on the futon before collapsing in a drizzle of mucus.

This man claims to be a scholar. And yet he has no need of additional information because everything he needs is in the Bible.

I wondered how in the hell he got tenure and dozed off.

In my dream I was Governor Brownback sitting at a big oak desk holding an ornate fountain pen. To my right there was a large Bible. In front of me were pieces of paper, each with a single word: "ART, SCIENCE, MUSIC, LITERATURE."

On each piece of paper I crossed out the word and wrote underneath: "NOT NEEDED."