Leiden Law Blog

Public Arts and Sciences: Still Not Enough

Public Arts and Sciences: Still Not Enough

I do not want art for a few

Just as I do not want education for a few

Or freedom for a few

This was the poetic text of a full page ad in major United Kingdom dailies, deploring the downfall of grand public funding for projects furthering "art for the masses". "Masses" is here to be taken in both the passive and active, but still the positive sense. Art education, open to all and ensuing anonymous artists' considerable daily existences, was paid for with public money. At the same time the general public was given the opportunity to enjoy art exhibitions of varying qualities for relatively small fees.

What purpose did, or still to some extent does, this serve? So many anonymous artists lead dreary existences, at least in the material sense. What is the fate of their works of art? The great majority are never publicly exhibited. Most of them are destroyed by the passage of time, abandonment or even intentional annihilation. No great losses are incurred in most cases it would seem.

What distinguishes crap from quality in modern art? As noted so many times before, "art" is created by "expert opinion" or fashion, far removed from any higher standards, if there ever were any. Why is Olafur Eliassion (a super artist indeed, not needing any public funding) so much greater than uncountable nobodies creating comparable objects in space and time? Who knows. What we do know is that it is mainly a matter of so often ephemeral status in "leading" artistic circles.

What is beyond doubt is arts' quantitatively exponential development if not explosion. In its wake all kinds of institutionalization have flourished, including institutions, journals and other paraphernalia dedicated to the legal aspects of art. Thus the Nederlands Juristenblad, our esteemed national legal weekly, recently printed several articles devoted to the public financing of art.

Thus art spawns legal science, or at least the semblance of it. This leads to still more articles in learned journals, not all of them reaching lofty heights in terms of scholarship or even science. So what are the standards here? Not much different from the standards distinguishing good from bad art one would think. What is regarded as fit to print depends on "leading legal circles" in large measure. Ever more products of legal thinking in a wider sense get printed, creating yet another analogy with the quantitative development of modern art:

Modern day universities are like Russian shoe factories. Such a factory produces hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes each year, without any regard to the question whether anybody would like or even need them. In the same fashion, universities in The Netherlands produce tens of thousands of scientific and scholarly articles each year, [...]

(according to Grahame Lock, back in 1992). What is all this scribbling good for? Who reads it? Does it change the world? Like so much modern art most of it quickly disappears as if it never existed at all. Still there may be as much enormous intellectual and expressive value, or even joy, in creative writing as there is in creating art. Even if products are often never really enjoyed or become simply irrelevant, both artistic and intellectual processes may lead to richer intellectual and even social existences beyond merely material exigencies of life.

Is this worth all the money spent on arts, sciences and scholarship? Why not spend the money on education or even freedom? Or simply on life saving? What we do know is that a great deal more real public money is spent on projects that are even sillier than arts and sciences. So we don't want art – and sciences – for the few after all.

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