Wednesday, February 23, 2005

More Observations on Art

Whew! Four comments on yesterday's post, ending a long comment drought of sorts. And those four didn't even include Professor Vic. To stoke the fires a little more, in this entry, I reveal personal details and incriminating pictures of those who challenged the Hatcher in their comments. I try not to make it a habit of responding to many comments, but it makes for an easy entry, and I have a feeling I'll be hospital bound for fatherdom once again later this evening. So here goes:

Let's start with Alessandra, a woman of obviously impeccable tastes, who posted the following:

excellent post! There was a similar post about another art funding irony at another blog, I've put a link to it here:

Lookee there, I actually have a reader outside of the involuntary subscribers who get my e-mail notifications (unless I've now scared her off). Hurray for me. It only took 9 months and at this rate, I'll have enough of a reader base to get a lucrative book contract by the year 15050. Check out the link, and add her to your favorites - I did. I'd link to her on the sight, but I still can't figure out how to do that.


From Incredible Dirigible, we have the following (without any commentary because this guy is clearly in the choir):

If homelessness, education, the environment, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, reparations for slavery, etc., are so badly in need of money, how come no Hollywood leftists suggests that arts funding be cut to subsidize these other crises?? >:-)


Now for those who need to be censored going forward. From Pat B., esteemed professor of Economics at Duke University, we have the following, with my comments inserted in italics:

Why shouldn’t art be allowed to offend the beliefs of the majority?

Art should be allowed to offend the beliefs of the majority - the issue is whether the majority should be compelled to pay for being offended. In addition, from a status-seeking perspective, those who target Christianity with their art think themselves these courageous free-thinkers, when in fact they are choosing a soft target, and more importantly the incentives created by the art world's celebration of such attacks are such that they are well rewarded for it. I'd think differently if such attacks came during the time of the Crusades, but where is the threat now? I'll tell you where - in the world of Islam - but you don't see any courageous artists crafting their "Piss Mohammed" exhibits.

Stirring the pot was the goal of many great artists and writers.

I think smoking the pot is a more worthwhile goal for an artist or a writer, and that oftentimes great artists had their careers go down hill when they turned from a goal of producing something beautiful and true to the more parochial goal of making a political statement. Granted, the statement is true in some cases, and perhaps it is a price that is paid for great art - but rarely is it paid by an unwilling public. Also, here, I think I am more focused upon the visual arts as opposed to fiction.

Museums generate positive spillovers to cities and there are reasonable economic arguments for subsidizing these institutions. Should these institutions then be subject to censorship as a condition of funding?

One person's censorship is another's stewardship. Once I am footing the bill for your speech, I have the option in a free society to ask you to say something different or, barring that, withhold my financial support. I am not censoring you. I'm just no longer advertising you.

I value living in a free society with free speech and am willing to put up with hearing opinions I don’t like from time to time. As someone with a bit of Libertarian bent, the less government has to do with the regulation of taste the better.

Isn't any subsidy of a museum, given the known preferences of the curator and staff of that museum, tantamount to regulating tastes?

Personally, I am annoyed at being surrounded by Baptists and fundamentalist Christians on a day to day basis. However, it is part of living in a free society that I must put up with occasionally being exposed to their opinions. I conjecture churches through tax breaks are subsidized at a much higher rate than the arts.

First, being tenured professor at Duke, why is your office located off-campus, or am I mistaken about the religious and political tendencies of the Duke faculty? Museums are tax exempt as well, so the comparative "tax" subsidization is only a matter of what the respective patrons of Churches and Museums are willing to donate; in theory if the private demand for both types of institutions were the same, we'd have equal implicit tax subsidies. When you then consider that Churches do not get any direct subsidies, museums receive a higher relative subsidy compared to the private demand. In addition, many churches are themselves architectural achievements. And now, for pictures from Pat's bachelor party ...

From PBryon, not a professor at Duke, but I am guessing the proud owner of one of those white suits with the hood that will protect him from all manner of biological warfare down the road:

"Imagine taxpayers having the gall to believe that they, rather than Bill and Hillary, should have a say as to how their money is spent."I love comments like this. Somehow, they only seem to work when its something you oppose. I'd love to see a popular vote on the prescription drug program at its now established cost levels, on presidential prayer breakfasts, travel back and forth to Crawford, or on any number of other issues.

Fair point, although Crawford is cheaper than Martha's Vineyard. On second thought, its not a fair point, because there is a big difference here. No one would suggest that you shouldn't vote for a candidate or support a policy that would take away the pork you think is unnecessary. But when it comes to art, all of a sudden the demand to do so is unfair censorship. Can we forever dispense with the asinine notion that pulling funding from a jack-ass is equivalent to censorship? Can we?

While I'm no big fan of all art, it is very subjective in what is good or isn't, and what is offensive or isn't. Just ask John Ashcroft and the big blue drapes behind him. I wonder if Alberto is going to lift the drapes or not.

You listen to too much liberal talk radio. The blue drapes over the nude statues at the Justice Department were not put up at the request of Ashcroft to hide the naughty bits of the statues; they were put up for the purposes of television - the all white backdrop was not conducive to good television during press conferences. That is a true story, but I am sure you have heard the recycled "isn't John Ashcroft a hopeless prude" meme (which may be true, but is not evidenced by the circumstances here). The poor television picture would otherwise distract people from listening to Ashcroft so that they could understand all of the civil liberties that he was taking away day by day. But he wanted you to hear them. During the Reno era, no one complained about the blurred picture.

And would you call Laura a housewife?

Not sure about the relevance here. But in any capacity, I'd prefer her to Hillary.


Blogger Professor Vic said...

Ok, I feel bad not posting on a record day. Two (I think) reasonably objective comments.

First, in regards to PByron's comment on the "housewife" item. If mentioning the term "housewife" is irrelevant in his comment, it must have been irrelevant in the original article as well. Furthermore, the original intent of the "housewife" comment was clearly to denigrate the importance of any comments of First Lady Hillary Clinton. That is fair enough as she had not been elected to any office at that time. Just remember for future posts, you have given up the right to assign any importance to anything said by First Lady Laura Bush as well, since as a non-elected private citizen, her ideas are equally irrelevant.

I would also like to defend my colleague Dr. Bajari regarding subsidization of churches vs. art. Churches are much more highly subsidized since nearly all funds given to a church are tax-deductible. The only income a church brings in that is not deductible would be profits from sales of goods and services, a small portion of total income for most churches.

At an art museum, most sources of income are not tax deductible including gift shop profits, admissions, some portion of annual memberships, and profits from auxilliary services (like weddings, parties, etc.)

For the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, only about 30% of annual operating costs are covered by gifts with another roughly 20% covered by endowment income (which could come either past gifts or past retained admissions, etc.) Thus at most half of the operating cost of the Art Institute is subsidized. Assuming a 30% marginal income tax rate this is a 15% subsidy. Add in the roughly 7% of the operating budget paid for by taxes and you are still well below the roughly 30% subsidy for churches.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your comments are fair enough. These things are matters of preferences and thus objective right and wrong answers are tough to come by.

However, I must agree with Prof Vic about the subsidization of churches. There is little difference between being tax exempt and a subsidy.

While I dislike many aspects of religion in general (particularly the strong, Fundamentalist/Baptist version in the South), I recognize that it might have benefits. I have to give much credit to those die hard Christians who do prison ministry, care for the poor, try to provide mentoring for youth etc.

However, if I was applying your standard, I should have a right to censor these churches over their most offensive actions/comments since they are on the public tit through their tax breaks (e.g. make them stop arguing that Creationism should be taught in public schools).

I do not think this restriction of their speech would be a good idea. Nor do I think that museums, which also provide externalities, should be censored.

What is the correct margin to determine when to subsidize or not? At some margin, it becomes ridiculous to subsidize any activity. I really don't know, but it is an interesting question. Perhaps I should have studied more Public Finance.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, the above post is by Pat B. Professor at Duke, but not very esteemed on some days.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

Let's start with Alessandra, a woman of obviously impeccable tastes...
Well, what can I say? Some of us just are just naturally most wonderful...

( :-) just having fun here)

At least the Christo thing was not ugly. It looks interesting. Actually it reminded me of something with a Chinese feel, colorful big banners blowing in the wind, something that does not belong to a high tech era.

If I remember correctly, art that looks good hasn't always been the case with Christo. But where does he get millions of personal dollars to put up curtains in Central Park?

And regarding the late hypocrite Van Gogh, he asked for it, IMHO. Not that his murder was right, but he just wanted to give a vicious kick to the Islamic people below the belt. They are not buddhists, is that news to anyone?

If he was soooo concerned about oppression of women, he could have started decrying all the sexual violence we have in the Western world. But that wasn't a bit of a problem for him. There are several Islamic women's groups working in the Middle East with oppression of women and they don't get killed. Do you know what he did in his little film? If you want to call your local Mafia don ugly, you do, but who's going to be surprised if you end up in the river? 2+2 = ?

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Jim O said...

"Stirring the pot was the goal of many great artists and writers.

I think smoking the pot is a more worthwhile goal for an artist or a writer,.."

I don't know whether it means that you win the argument, but at this point I was unable to pay any further attention to either point of view because I was laughing too hard.

I may disagree with some fine points of your arguments later, but for now, you win cause I can't breathe.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

"What is the correct margin to determine when to subsidize or not? At some margin, it becomes ridiculous to subsidize any activity. I really don't know, but it is an interesting question."

--Really good point, Professor Pat. Also, I too LOL at the "smoking the pot" comment, Hatch.

8:19 AM  

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