Conservative in a Liberal’s World: What’s an Artist to Do?
Art is powerful. It has the potential to communicate with us at a subconscious, visceral level. Music was long considered to be an essential component of a well-rounded education, but the visual arts should not be discounted.
If I seem to be preaching to the choir, consider that when school budgets are tight, art and music programs have a tendency to be first on the chopping block, although it has been proven that the benefits of such programs can far exceed the obvious and immediate.
Enter the conservative artist. To choose this professional path is to be lonely. Consider a small sampling of the news that comes my way on a regular basis:
“The biggest change in this new “Company” would be the central character of Bobby. Whereas he has always been a straight man struggling with commitment issues and multiple girlfriends, he has been reconceived by Mr. Tiffany as a gay man with commitment issues and multiple boyfriends.”
“In fact, second violinist Chris Marchant says he has lost track of the number of times the all-male string quartet turned down offers to perform nude during their 2012 summer stint in Provincetown, Mass.”
“While he does not propose an explicit revision of Catholic teaching, his stance that “I am no one to judge” is in itself a significant departure…”
(Sigh. Alex, seriously?)
Now who’s stuck in the closet, desperate to get out?
My field attracts a disproportionately liberal crowd, for reasons I do not fully understand. This is not all bad; it can encompass a range of good, bad, and ugly. At one end, you have that sympathy for the oppressed and resentment of censorship (at least in theory) that leads one to observe that the Stalinist and Taliban regimes kept very tight control over music and musicians. At the other, you have rampant support for abortion, same-sex marriage mimicry, et cetera, all typically undergirded by the fallacy of modernism and strange definitions of progress – which you would think would be hard to maintain while making a living lagely, if not entirely, by playing excellent music of dead European men on technology that has remained essentially intact and barely improved-upon for centuries. For all the merits of new art, the merits of the old stuff are manifest.
With all this in mind, it still felt incredibly awkward to walk into a venue and see this:
The title of art is not illegitimate given the skill involved, but let’s call this what it is, based on the evident purpose: propaganda. Note the “choice” buzz language. At the bottom right are the words “Make clinics teen-friendly.” At the bottom left are what Bob Ross, may he rest in peace, might have called “happy little condoms” in candy pastel colors (how old are these ‘teens’ again?). And, while I am not one to glamorize or glorify teen pregnancy, I cannot help but notice that the words with negative connotations are exclusively on the side of the pregnant girl, while the positive words are exclusively on the side of the non-pregnant one. Take a look at the street signs and which way they are pointing.
While I was a little surprised by the audacity of the painting and its prominent display location, I can’t say I am surprised in general. Charter Oak Cultural Center also ran a photo exhibit on the theme of transgendered, homeless teenagers. I’ve seen the exhibit. The photos themselves are low-key. You know what they look like? People. People who are deserving of compassion and a place to call home. I get that. If that’s the point, then God bless the artist for pricking our collective conscience, as artists are always in a unique position to do. But, as usual, that isn’t the half of it. Here’s the line from the article wherein the train goes off the rails:
“There would be a tremendous benefit to society at large if we could expand the notion of what it means to be a man or a woman and move away from a binary expression of gender.”
Sorry if I don’t agree that what will really help these young people is somebody using their plight to advance trendy pseudoscience, as though the rest of us will just forget that persistent nuisance called reality. I happen to think that the pernicious ideology that would virtually obliterate sex differences would be incredibly destructive to them and to society at large. I would seem to be in good company with Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University. Commenting on the decision to stop ‘treatment’ by sex change operations, he said, “I concluded that Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness.”
In the exterior lobby of Charter Oak, there is a poster thanking donors to the Greater Hartford Arts Council. Because the GHAC receives financial support from the city of Hartford, which is listed in its Form 990 as a major contributor, it is probable that this and other projects are at least partially funded with tax dollars. Complaining is one option, but it can be difficult for conservatives within the field to merely complain because of the feeling that, somewhere along the line, we could unintentionally be shooting ourselves, our friends, and everyone else in the foot. That is quite a burden of guilt. We must increase our positive contributions to American culture and find ways to get around any establishment stonewalling we might encounter. I certainly haven’t got it all figured out and am open to ideas. For now, the most important advice I can offer to conservative artists is this: find each other and stick together. Also, go out on a limb — enter those competitions and shows. Take first steps toward that project idea you have nursed in the secrecy of your heart. Look for opportunities to grow and improve. To the conservative public, my advice is this: if you’re not already, be our patrons and champions to the extent you are able. Show us you understand and value our role in society, and we’ll never forget it.