To the editor:
Friday’s “Arts demise” editorial touches on a complex issue. Visual arts, for example, produce a form of cognition. The things we see shape the way we think. Art history is full of surprising revolutions that fascinate viewers ,making them observe carefully and question previous authority (and sometimes passionately denounce those changes). Sixteenth century Italy’s pictorial expression changed the use of art in service to belief to naturalism and immediacy.
In our time the vitality of abstractionism (think of landscape painting from Turner to Twombly) has in common with Italian Renaissance painters the refusal to look back on an idealized past except with sarcasm. Instead it looks for the lines of continuity that connect us to our past while engaging us in the present. This helps assure our future regardless of how unstable or unlikely that future may appear.
Destroying this visual experience (unfunding works with a corrosive impact as surely as Savonarola’s public square art burnings) leaves a terribly narrowed and dull present with an erasure of human memory. We are left with the uniformity of a consumerized culture, influenced by novel goods and technologies, in submission to a mythic past that appeals to a static world of traditional ritual and art. At worst, it can reflect the impulses of zealots as was the fate Japanese art endured in the 1930s under an ultranationalist and militaristic state capitalism. That was just one of a multitude of unfortunate recent repressions from the ever-suspicious ideological eye.