You may be familiar with the controversy currently raging over the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA's) recent conference call with representatives from the Obama administration. The topic: how to enlist "artists" in the fight for health care reform.
Certainly this is a problematic topic, both for artists and the meaning of art. But it is not a new one, and I'm somewhat baffled by the outcry over this particular manifestation of an age-old issue. Commissions -- and frequently state-sponsored commissions -- of works of art have characterized every age, from the Greek and Roman eras to the present day. And governments have employed artists for their own ends since time immemorial. Jacques-Louis David's paintings of the emperor Napoleon glorified and mythologized a tyrant, and they were paintings that were frequently commissioned by Napoleon himself. A significant number of the architectural wonders of Europe were commissioned by governments. In the modern era, we remember with horror the propaganda generated by Goebbels and the Nazis, and the stylized Russian worker posters of Stalin's totalitarian regime. But we overlook the film reels of our gallant boys in World War II, and we tend to think of the massive temples and obelisks scattered around Washington D.C. as national monuments, not propaganda.
It would help if we could define the terms, and not simply label any politcally-motivated art we don't like as "propaganda." Sometimes other people call these things "masterpieces."
I can't imagine that attempts to promote the Obama administration's push for health care reform would result in worthwhile or good art, but I'm willing to give it a shot. To the tune of "Blowin' in the Wind":
How many trips to the emergency room
Can the uninsured make 'til they're denied?
Yes, and how many $462 prescriptions can one man fill
Before all his savings have dried
The answer, my friend, is health care reform
The answer is health care reform
That will be $2,000,000.00, please. Please?