Letters to the Editor

Art history

September 6, 2011


To the editor:

Doesn’t Gov. Brownback know that without the arts, the story of Jesus and the message of Christianity could not have been carried so clearly and faithfully through the centuries?


Diehippies 6 years ago

The arts have survived centuries w/o federal and state funding....?

chootspa 6 years ago

The governments may have changed, but they've pretty much all supported and funded arts. There are some exceptions. The Taliban blew up their own historical sculptures and banned portraits in Afghanistan. The Khmer Rouge actively killed artists. But for the most part, governments patronize the arts.

Think the pyramids would have been built without the Pharaoh's order? The famous Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo was commissioned by the Pope during the time of the Papal States. Mozart composed for the royal courts. Royal dancers performed for them. And every single state besides Kansas has a funded arts commission.

So, no, the arts have not survived centuries without government funding.

beatrice 6 years ago

That "customer" purchasing that art is the government in each example chootspa gave.

beatrice 6 years ago

Governments in the past have supported and purchased art -- from paintings and buildings to orchestras, and governments around the world today (if you want apples and apples) continue to support the arts. Deal with the obvious.

Oh, and I'm not a "statist." What, have you already grown tired of calling me a "monster" and "hysterical"?

voevoda 6 years ago

chootspa is right on this, Liberty_One. When the popes were supporting the arts, it was because they were the monarchs of the Papal States. The secular rulers of Florence (for example) supported the arts, too. Ditto in France, England, Russia, China, etc. In fact, most governments in most periods have redirected some (maybe a small amount) of the revenue they received (mostly from taxes) into artistic projects. While some of the art that was purchased from these public moneys could be enjoyed only by members of the elite, some of it was on display for the populace at large.
So it's your comparison that is faulty, Liberty_One. Advocate whatever position you want based on your political perspective, but don't distort the historical record.

voevoda 6 years ago

Liberty_One, You misunderstand the historical situation, because royal art patrons were not just purchasing for themselves, but for their states and for public consumption (although "public" often meant only the elite). The rulers benefited primarily by establishing their own reputations for being cultured individuals who appreciated beauty and provided generous funding to produce and share it.
Now that I have (again) corrected your flawed historical comparison, I will address your argument concerning the Kansas Arts Commission, in the present: I don't see why you object to state art commissions, if "A [our elected goverment] is using B's [the taxpayers'] money for B's [the taxpayer's] benefit." Isn't that the ideal of what a democratic government should do--pool our resources to accomplish things we want? We the public want roads, and state government gathers money for this purpose and expends it to produce what we want. We want schools--well, all of us except you want schools--and similarly the state gathers our money and provides schools. What would make art different? We the people of Kansas, through our elected representatives, made it clear that we would like a tiny portion of our tax money to go to promoting the arts so that they are available to all. Why do you have a problem with that?

voevoda 6 years ago

I see, LIberty_One, that you are not truly a libertarian, because you don't want to allow the people to organize themselves and delegate authority to govern. You're really an anarchist. You're opposed to all laws and any type of government.

bjohanning 6 years ago

The Arts have always been supported by the state and the church. The few private "patrons" were usually working for the state (royal/ government leaders) or the church. Later private patrons only made up for a small amount of the support that the arts received. Read your history.

chootspa 6 years ago

I don't think Brownback's against art. I think he's against jobs.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Look at how successful the brainwashing is."

You give us multiple textbook examples every day.

Getaroom 6 years ago

Brownbackward is all about Brownbackward. He prays for rain inTexas because it gives him face time with the choir members with whom he is already aligned. At the same time he prays in Texas he is hard at work taking from those here in Kansas who can least afford to lose anything and hands it back to the corporations that are paving his way to the White House. I personally believe that the arts can survive from public gifting, but the way he has gone about defunding it by pulling the rug out is not justifiable. He along with other ultraconservatives are weakening our society rather than supporting it and all for capital gain through profit taking. He and his fellow conservatives are ripping education to the bone, which seems to be the Republican way. Dumb down the populace, take away jobs, pay low and unfair wages wages, and do so by handing freebies to the corporations. That is the way it is. Some of you voted for him.

beatrice 6 years ago

He and Rick Perry prayed for rain in Texas. Texas is on fire now. God has voiced his opinion on Perry's decision to run for President, and he is clearly against it.

Liberty275 6 years ago

Which government paid for the cave paintings in France? And don't blame art for that silly god stuff.

voevoda 6 years ago

Liberty275, We don't know enough about the structures of the society that produced the cave paintings in France to know whether a government funded them or a private individual. But we do know that the cave paintings are now preserved because a government decided to invest its own funding to do so.

Liberty275 6 years ago

OK. I'll concede the biggest caveman (ie the caveman governor) might have given the artist a few pretty shells to paint animals deep in a cave so they would have better luck getting dinner.

Preserving art is a different story altogether. We would be fools to not archive works of even the slightest importance.

beatrice 6 years ago

L275, who ever said that art exists only in context of government support?

Besides, how do you know cave aren't was ordered by a tribal leader -- in essence, the government at the time.

And if it wasn't for art, we wouldn't know that Jesus had blue eyes and blonde hair.

Liberty275 6 years ago

"L275, who ever said that art exists only in context of government support?"


"Besides, how do you know cave aren't was ordered by a tribal leader -- in essence, the government at the time. "

Look up.

"And if it wasn't for art, we wouldn't know that Jesus had blue eyes and blonde hair."

Ummmm, jesus was a raptor. You've been looking at the wrong art.

http://media.photobucket.com/image/raptor jesus/jerrits/raptorjesus.jpg

Fossick 6 years ago

The author seems to not realize that the "story of Jesus and the message of Christianity" were not transmitted by the arts at all except in very small measure, unless speaking and writing are now "the arts." Paintings, whomever pays for them, are artist's renditions based on the Bible and have never served as the basis for maintaining or spreading the Christian message.

So if Brownback doesn't "know" what this letter writer thinks he should, it's probably because the presumption is just not true.

Liberty275 6 years ago

That's not exactly true. During the medieval period most of the populace was illiterate. They couldn't read the words in the bible, but they could understand the illustrations paid for by the church. Durer's work probably kept lots of people paying their tithes lest a demon carry them off to hell.

Fossick 6 years ago

The populace was illiterate, but the populace had very little to do with the transmission of the story or message of Christianity. The author's assertion was that message was "carried faithfully through the centuries" by the arts.

No one is denying the presence of religious art obviously, nor that it could impact people (that's its major purpose). But no one then and no one today appealed to a painting as the basis* of any story, much less the central message of Christianity. Both would still be with us today in the same form if Durur had never been born.

  • yes, an illustration, but never a basis.

Liberty275 6 years ago

"The populace was illiterate, but the populace had very little to do with the transmission of the story or message of Christianity."

Weren't they half the equation? Like the receiving end?

In the long term you are right. The words were passed down in books, but it's possible Christianity would have withered badly if it weren't for illustrations designed to instill the fear of hell that kept men pious.

One last thing, we have moved off topic a little. What we can appreciate as art today (much art commissioned by the church) was propaganda then. We can appreciate the craftsmanship and innovation removed from the dull subject matter.

Fossick 6 years ago

"What we can appreciate as art today was propaganda then."

Agree entirely. That also has not changed all that much today.

voevoda 6 years ago

Liberty275, You are seriously underestimating ordinary people level of understanding of their faith. Even if they couldn't read, they could and did listen to texts being read to them in church. (And outside of church, too; literacy levels in the later Middle Ages and Reformation period were actually quite high.) The art illustrated familiar stories--that's why ordinary people then could make sense of them, while most modern people, despite their literacy, cannot--so they already knew them. And you are wrong if you think that people paid tithes only out of fear of hell. The evidence of genuine popular piety is overwhelming.

Liberty275 6 years ago

Until Luther, the bible was in Latin. And it stayed in Latin for a reason. The people heard what the pope wanted them to hear, which was... "if you want to skip purgatory, give us your money".

You explain to me how a person that can read the bible, or understand words read from the bible, can be convinced they can buy their way straight into heaven.

voevoda 6 years ago

No, Liberty275. The Bible was available in a number of vernacular languages before Luther, including English. And if you were familiar with ordinary people's religion in the late Middle Ages, you wouldn't think that they believed everything the pope said. The practice of buying indulgences was a lot more complex than give money, skip purgatory, and most Christians understood this. As for what the Bible says about the path to salvation, its teachings are not nearly so straightforward as Luther--and many modern-day evangelicals--would like to claim. Of course, not all Christians assume that the Bible is the single source of religious truth. Those are two reasons why there is such a proliferation of varieties of Christianity.

Liberty275 6 years ago

Once more, if the bible was available in the vernacular, and could be read by more than just a few here and there, how were people convinced to buy indulgences? Is there a verse in the bible that even suggests it, or that could be read wrong so the suggestion is made?

What is it?

Boston_Corbett 6 years ago

I love it when LibertyOne accuses others of being brainwashed.

voevoda 6 years ago

Liberty_One, You're not original. You're just an old-fashioned anarchist of the sort that was discredited a century ago.

Liberty275 6 years ago

I've never seen him condemn our form of government, only the size, scope and elected officials. That makes him a libertarian and it makes you wrong.

Liberty275 6 years ago

"The Taliban blew up their own historical sculptures"

No. They destroyed artwork that predated them by centuries. It wasn't "their own". It was a statue of The Buddha. Islam forbids images of animate objects. Muslims have destroyed artwork everywhere because of that tenet, not just the Buddha in Afghanistan. I hate to be the one to break the news, but Islam and Buddhism aren't exactly the same thing.

"The Khmer Rouge actively killed artists"

They killed people that couldn't be re-educated or that were enemies of the state. It didn't matter if they were artists or not.

"Think the pyramids would have been built without the Pharaoh's order?"

Which Pharaoh ordered the building of pyramids in central America? But seriously, Egyptian pyramids weren't art, they were tombs built for a god (the Pharaoh). Central American pyramids were alters.

The ancient Greeks and classic Romans have better examples of the state funded art. However the Romans mostly just made knock-offs of Greek art and renamed the god-figure it portrayed.

Most early artwork in the south of continental Europe in the medieval period and early Renaissance was commissioned by the church or wealthy patrons, not by government. Art in the northern half wasn't as well subsidized, but the region still produced works of genius from the same periods.

A lot of the late renaissance art was funded by patrons and the church, but we also find artists working for nothing. Arguably, the greatest artistic genius that ever walked on our planet painted because he was psychotic and probably drank too much absinthe. He was supported by his brother and only sold one piece of artwork during his lifetime.

In America, Warhol didn't need the government subsidizing his work. He was willing to paint billboards to pay his bills. Pollock lived in near poverty continually expressing himself on canvas regardless of money.

In the end, an artist doesn't work for money. They do it because they can't not do it.

chootspa 6 years ago

I've no interest in quibbling over historical details. My point remains, and even you acknowledge it. You can argue that there are alternative means to procure funding, but you can't argue that the state hasn't been one of the largest patrons of the arts throughout history.

However, on your other point. Artists do indeed work for money. I'm tired of the starving artist meme. There are some who feel so passionately about it that they willingly create art/dance/compose music/act for free, but the same can be said of robot builders, astronomers, gardeners, and tons of other professions that have both passionate hobbyists and paid professionals. Pollock and Van Gogh might have lived in poverty and substance abuse, but Dale Chihuly makes a decent living and is an actual job creator. He's even gasp done commissioned works for government projects.

Liberty275 6 years ago

"but you can't argue that the state hasn't been one of the largest patrons of the arts throughout history. "

I think the hinge is on the definition of "state". You include religions in that definition, but that is an unacceptable because they aren't/weren't taxing entities. You might argue that tithing is a sort of tax, but it is voluntary.

When you subtract religion from your definition of state, the state becomes a bit-player in all but modern and later art and early greek and roman work.

Also, I have a trump card. Even if the effect is subtle (although it isn't always) state funded "art" is actually propaganda. Even the public art downtown is in place to enhance the city's stature, not for the enjoyment of it's citizens. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy it, it just means they didn't care if you would when they paid for it. Most of it is actually quite well done and I'm happy artists were paid, but I don't suffer any illusions that government wants to provide meaningful art for me to look at for free.

As for your disdain for the "starving artist" meme, that doesn't change anything. An artist will create whether he is paid or not. I've seen it happen.

chootspa 6 years ago

Actually the Papal States did raise taxes, but nice try. They were particularly fond of taxes on luxury goods and consumption. If you subtract religion from the definition of state, you subtract state from a lot of states, and it seems the world went without government for very long periods of time. Ah, hairsplitting.

Your trump card is meaningless. So what? You mean that mural of John Brown in the state house is propaganda? Say it ain't so! Politicians have motives other than the cultural enrichment of the people? I'm shocked to see gambling in this casino! .

LIke I said, I know people that will do all sorts of things whether they're paid or not. That isn't an argument for not paying people to do things like program computers, landscape, fix cars, or cook food.

Liberty275 6 years ago

If they had the right to tax, I'm hoisted by my own petard.

"That isn't an argument for not paying people to do things like program computers, landscape, fix cars, or cook food. "

Then what is your argument for the state using tax dollars to pay artists? Is it similar to the argument for having the government pay for everyone's automobile tune-up?

chootspa 6 years ago

You're hoisted by your own petard. Look it up. Ah, history!

Actually the state does pay people to fix cars, program computers, and cook food. We just don't pay everyone to fix every car. We pay them to fix public cars and buses and whatnot. I'm also not arguing that we should pay every artist for every work of art.

When I go to Topeka to the capital building, I'm happy to see that it isn't a square, unadorned box of a building devoid of any aesthetic value.

voevoda 6 years ago

The wealthy patrons in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Early Modern period were the heads of state. As Louis XIV of France put it, "L'Etat, c'est moi"--"I am the state." They expended public moneys for works of art for public consumption.
Artists may produce art because they are driven by their genius to express their vision. However, artists need to make a living, too, or they produce nothing. In every society, some artists have been supported in their efforts by public funds, through one mechanism or another. Sometimes it's by expending public funds to buy the work of known artists. Sometimes its by putting artists on government salary. Sometimes it's by commissioning pieces for public settings. Sometimes it's through underwriting the costs of training and dissemination. But all the same the public is paying for some artistic production through its taxes.
If you appreciate the arts, Liberty275, you will stop pretending that the private sector alone has or could support the arts.

Liberty275 6 years ago

I can accept your feudal governments and later kings as governments, but I don't believe they commissioned work for the consumption of their subjects.

"Liberty275, you will stop pretending that the private sector alone has or could support the arts."

I didn't say that. But that raises an interesting question. Why can it not?

voevoda 6 years ago

Liberty275, The evidence that governments commissioned works of art with a view to advertising themselves is obvious: they placed them or had them performed in places where the public could see them. You might "believe" otherwise, but the historical evidence is plain to see. Incidentally, your phrase "feudal government and later kings" indicate that your factual knowledge of European history is faulty. I recommend that you take a course in medieval and early modern history.

Liberty275 6 years ago

This is going to go two ways.

First, old argument. Where you find public artwork previous to the industrial age, not including greece or rome, it is almost always there to reinforce the religion of the reason. It isn't there as art, it is there as reminder of the church.

Here's a challenge to help you make your point: Find the earliest work of art that contains within it's world a public work of art that is secular and not just something like a sign on a business or somesuch. That will serve as a primary source and I'll accept it.

Different argument. I'm going to drop the argument. I'm going to do it based on quote. I think it is roman and has the words "bread and circus". While I doubt you can provide me evidence of static public art I can see a king or other ruler providing forms of entertainment like plays or singers to the public for no other reason than keeping them happy and the word "revolt" off their minds.

I don't know which argument I like best. The second would be an honorable concession, but I'd still like to see the first countered.

chootspa 6 years ago

Feh. You got me monologuing. By "their own historical sculptures" I mean those of the Afghani people. It's akin to the Egyptians blowing up the Sphinx. I suppose you could argue that many of the Taliban weren't true Afghanis and had instead immigrated, so it wasn't really "theirs," but that's not the argument you made. I also know they weren't the only culture to take potshots on the sculptures of their predecessors, but I didn't bring them up as examples.

The Egyptian pyramids were filled with artwork. Paintings. Sculptures. Art. The specific religious purpose is irrelevant, just as it is with the religious purpose of the Sistine Chapel. There's also tons of commissioned work done for the living. Just not as much of it survived. Gold star for you for knowing that there are also unrelated pyramid structures in South America, but I doubt my language confused you.

The Khmer Rouge killed lots of people for lots of different reasons. The people executed for being "enemies of the state" or violating the "moral code" included intellectuals, teachers, professionals, and artists. Yes, it mattered that they were artists. Here's an article about one such artist who managed to survive until yesterday. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/05/vann-nath-obituary

Liberty275 6 years ago

The Buddha predated both modern Afghanistan and Islam. No, you cannot call Islam older because it is a branch on the tree of Judaism. Don't even try.

"The Egyptian pyramids were filled with artwork."

No, they were filled with the objects and instructions needed by the dead god-king to pass into the afterlife. We regard them as art because we don't have practical use for their intended functions and they were beautifully crafted.

"Yes, it mattered that they were artists."

How many artists creating works praising The Khmer Rouge and promoting their political goals were killed?

chootspa 6 years ago

You're the only one who thinks you have some sort of gotcha point that Islam and Buddism are two different religions. Duh? Also noteworthy: Islam is not the ancient Egyptian polytheistic religion. Moving on in our snarky point-making brigade, changing the name of a country or the regime in power does not actually change the geographic location of said country or erase the history of the people who dwell there. Hence "their own history."

Sorry, I don't buy the whole "craft is useful, art is useless" idea, either. That's a rather classist view of art. They knew they crafted decorated and aesthetically pleasing objects. They even did so for an audience. Granted, they thought the audience would be dead while they viewed it, but still. Art.

Can you name some examples of artists creating works praising the Khmer Rouge and promoting their political goals? They didn't even build any permanent buildings during the regime.

Liberty275 6 years ago

It's pretty obvious the area with two of the largest Buddhas on the planet was once inhabited by Buddhists. On the day the sculpture was destroyed, it was destroyed by Muslims. The Muslims may have controlled the land, but it is no more their art than a Van Gogh would be my art if I had 15 million dollars and could buy one.

"They even did so for an audience. Granted, they thought the audience would be dead while they viewed it, but still. Art. "

That's pretty darn good. I'll concede the point because the novelty is too good not to like. Art for the dead. I wish I had come up with that. Did you learn that or did you have the insight on your own?

"They didn't even build any permanent buildings during the regime. "

You mentioned that the Khmer Rouge executed or otherwise killed artists. You were kind enough to post a link to the obituary of an artist that escaped execution. But you never gave a reason why he escaped. The article has the answer. He was spared because he was an artist and the regime needed one to do a portrait of Pol Pot. That he was an artist saved his life.

chootspa 6 years ago

Islam !=ethnicity. If you're Dutch and magically now own a Van Goh, it's still your history. Even if you've switched religions in the meantime. Denial doesn't erase the past.

That he was an artist was also what ended his life early, since he died of complications from the torture he suffered as a prisoner. What fine patrons of the arts they were.

Liberty275 6 years ago

"Dutch and magically now own a Van Goh, it's still your history"

It still isn't my art though. Anyway, the Buddhists were gone before Islam arrived. From what I find, some were killed by Huns and the rest became part of an empire out of present day India. The Arabs attacked but failed. Turkish Muslims took control but lost it to anarchy and the Mongols. the state was divided by two factions, one from persia and one from india After those factions lost control, the pashtuns took over, then the russians. The taliban followed.

There is far too many historical disconnects between the Buddhists and the Taliban for the Buddhas to be considered part of the Taliban's history, much less their art.

"That he was an artist was also what ended his life early"

Please. He died at 65 of kidney disease. Do tell how you kill a man 30 odd years later via kidney disease? It could have easily been cadmium pigments in his paint.

chootspa 6 years ago

See, that was where I was way back in, " I suppose you could argue that many of the Taliban weren't true Afghanis and had instead immigrated, so it wasn't really 'theirs,' but that's not the argument you made. "

Glad to see you caught up. Enjoy your day.

verity 6 years ago

I think the letter writer may have had his tongue in cheek, but he certainly did start an interesting conversation.

Fossick 6 years ago

I agree, though you have to admit that it's often difficult to distinguish between someone pretending to be ignorant to make a cheap political point, someone pretending to be ignorant to make an incorrect historical one, and someone not pretending at all.

verity 6 years ago

And I've still not made up my mind on this one.

yourworstnightmare 6 years ago

The trouble with privatization of government functions is that corporations then become the functional equivalent of the government.

Why is this bad? Because in a democracy, governmental functions are at least in part determined by democratic means (i.e. votes), and linked to the public interest.

Corporations have no responsibility to citizens or to the public interest.

Many think that European fascism of the 20th century was similar to this, to corporations and industry functioning as the government.

yourworstnightmare 6 years ago

"Changed the word to suit my views better."

At least you are honest about dodging the point of my post.

Koch, Halliburton, Exxon, Visa, B of A, BP.

Yes, these quaint little "firms" are responsive to the consumer and the public interest (rolls eyes)...

beatrice 6 years ago

Probably the most famous image of Kansas by a Kansas artist is John Steuart Curry's "Tragic Prelude." The mural is in the state capitol. It was paid for by the government. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Brown_Painting.JPG

Funny thing is, the waste that was just reported in Iraq in Afghanistan far exceeds the amount spent on the arts. Ignoring that but focusing on the arts is a clear sign of distorted priorities, in my opinion.

We don't need less art in our lives.

beatrice 6 years ago

I won't have a vote in the Republican primaries, so it doesn't matter if I supported him or not. He has to win over Republicans before he can try to convince others of the worth of his Libertarian views.

I think Paul has as much a chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2012 as did Dennis Kucinich among Democrats in 2008 -- Zero to none.

voevoda 6 years ago

Ron Paul has espoused so many crackpot positions on so many topics that it's impossible to take him to be a serious political voice.

Paul R Getto 6 years ago

We need to get over the notion that Muscular Sam's decisions have anything to do with budgets. He is driven by the ideology of the Family. Sam is somewhat subtle and pretty slick in his presentations. For a true flavor of what he is working on, read up on Doug Coe and what has driven the C-Street Cult and their wierd little jesus-businessman since the 1930's when they first began to fund union-busting in the great Northwest.

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