January 29, 2005


The conservationist: Under the direction of Bruce Cole, the once-radical National Endowment for the Humanities has returned to the role of preserving America's heritage (Gene Edward Veith, 1/22/05, World)

The National Endowment for the Humanities began in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiative. Proponents saw it as a parallel effort to the National Science Foundation, established in 1950 under President Truman. Just as the government funded scientific research in the national interest, it would fund projects in the humanities (that is, history, literature, language, philosophy, and the like).

Over its 40 years of existence, the NEH has helped pay for archeological digs at Jamestown and other important historical sites, accurate editions of the works of classic American authors, museum exhibitions such as "Treasures of Tutankhamen," and documentary films such as Ken Burns's Civil War series. In addition to these relatively popular projects, NEH gives grants to support professors' research projects and academic seminars, which some critics label "welfare for college professors."

The most intense controversy over the NEH came as the academic world became more and more radicalized. Taxpayers sometimes had to foot the bill as researchers set about deconstructing the traditional humanities and constructing new approaches grounded in gender, race, and multiculturalism.

Under Ronald Reagan, William Bennett headed the NEH and brought its focus back to the conservation of American culture. Lynne Cheney, who served under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, succeeded Mr. Bennett and was even more aggressive in using the NEH to challenge current academic trends.

When Democrats returned to power, however,the NEH turned liberal again. The "National Conversation on Diversity" initiative funneled grant money to liberal activist groups such as the National Council on Aging and the American Bar Association. Then the NEH released educational standards for teaching history that left out George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison. Instead, it presented what historian Richard Jenson called "a highly negative image of American history as basically the story of how heroic women and minorities resisted oppressive white males."

The history standards were so extreme that the Senate, in a bipartisan stand, voted 99-1 to repudiate them. Mrs. Cheney, the endowment's former director, called for its abolition.

But with Republicans back in power and the agency under new leadership, those days seem long gone. The overall NEH budget is back up, to $162 million for 2005, with strong GOP support. And overall, under the Republican administration, the NEH is funding culture in a distinctly conservative direction. Not conservative politically, so much—­politicizing the humanities is what the academic liberals do—but in the sense of "conserving" America's history and great ideas and trying to transmit them to future generations.

President Bush's NEH director, Bruce Cole, has the specific goal of combating what he calls America's "amnesia" about its own history.

Nothing scares the libertarians more than the fact that, especiually as regards the social welfare net, President Bush's conservative reforms will redeem government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2005 8:57 AM

Government doesn't belong in the arts business. That is something for the private sector. When the Democrats take over again, NEH will go back to being a fruit farm.

Posted by: Bart at January 29, 2005 12:54 PM

Art has always been a function of government.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2005 1:04 PM

When that has been the case, it has only been due to the fact that the local potentate could loot the public treasury to his heart's content. The freeloading artist is a stock comic figure since Classical times. The only appropriate forum for art is the free market. If it is crap, no one will buy it. If it is good, people will.

The existence of 2 billion cable and satellite channels has obviated the need for a PBS or NPR.

Posted by: Bart at January 29, 2005 5:17 PM

It has always been the case.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2005 5:54 PM

OJ, genocide has always been 'the case' too. That does not make it right or moral.

Posted by: Bart at January 29, 2005 6:17 PM

Who was the 1 who voted against the 99?

Posted by: RC at January 29, 2005 7:14 PM


The comparison of art to genocide seems excessive.

Posted by: oj at January 29, 2005 9:33 PM

Bart? Excessive? Naaah.

Posted by: joe shropshire at January 29, 2005 11:59 PM


The comparison was not between art and genocide. I was simply responding to your rather stupid assertion that government has always been involved in the art biz, and that therefore it should continue to be so involved. I merely was pointing out that there are other things government has done lots of in the past and that the fact that it did so does not mean it was correct to do so.

There remains no good reason in an affluent free society like ours for art to receive public subsidy. Let the artists make a living like everyone else.

Posted by: Bart at January 30, 2005 10:07 AM

The decline of art tracks precisely to the privatization of art. Art, like genocide, is best done by government.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2005 6:24 PM

Nonsense. The preservation of really bad forms of art like modern classical music is solely the result of government largesse.

You are mistaking popular culture for high culture. What passes for high culture has gotten worse, but then what can you do after Mozart?

It is not the free market that pays Andres Serrano to dip crucifixes in urine or Chris Ofili to cover the Virgin Mary with cow dung. If you go to any suburban mall with an art store, the people buy reproductions of the old art not anything by Jackson Pollock. Only the pretentious would do that. And artists have always, at least since the days of Aristophanes, traded on the notion that 'only the truly sophisticated understand their work.'

The free market has also created new forms of art like movies which are fabulous in their own right.

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 10:48 AM

Yes, they buy the work of the Masters, products of Church and State support.

Posted by: oj at January 31, 2005 11:07 AM

And Rembrandts, Steens, Hals, along with the Impressionists all of whom most certainly were not.

In the Middle Ages, only the Church and State had money and people who knew something about culture. Today, it is quite different. Any state subsidy of the arts today merely takes money from the taxpayer and gives it to the confidence tricksters of the art world. Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Christo and Ofili are the inevitable results of state subsidy of the arts where there need be none. The artists who can really do art, get paid by the private sector, leaving the dregs to get subsidized by the State. And these 5th rate clowns, who would be confused by a color-by-numbers paint set, suck up to the arts establishment, which is little more than a coterie of dowagers with too much time on their hands and the nancyboys who flatter them.

OJ, I know good from bad art, and I'm pretty sure you do to, as does pretty much anyone with a halfway decent education and more curiosity than a snail. We do not need government to make those decisions for us, and it merely adds insult to injury when they take our hard-earned money and give it to the Serranos and the Mapplethorpes.

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 11:56 AM

Rembrandt was. The Impressionists are an excellent example. They painted personalist crap which was bought by individuals. It marked the end of great art.

Posted by: oj at January 31, 2005 12:30 PM

You don't appreciate the Impressionists, however, I do. There is nothing like going to Paris and seeing Monet's Water Lilies. It's the single most intense artistic experience I've ever had. I first saw them when I was 14 and it's never left me. My guess is that you aren't much for Pontillism either, and that Expressionism probably disgusts you. As 1871-1940 is probably my favorite period of Continental history to study, you can well imagine how much I disagree.

More to the point, your claim that the public sector should fund art is based upon the notion that all good art comes from this funding. I'm just curious as to what one piece of art, music, literature,etc. you can point to that was created as a result of public funding in the last half-century, i.e. since the nation's private sector became both affluent enough and informed enough to make intelligent artistic decisions, which remotely compares to what was produced in the past. Just one, that's all I'm asking. (Ken Burns doesn't count because he makes fictitious films with egregious basic errors and claims them to be fact)

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 12:54 PM


Yes, but the Impressionists are still abstract crap and hastened the decline of art.

The National Cathedral is a great artwork, much of it done this half century. great ends produce great art. The individual can not be a great end.

Posted by: oj at January 31, 2005 1:11 PM

Public funding? And the cathedrals at Strasbourg, Koln or Chartres it ain't.

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 1:26 PM

Yes, the standards are exceedingly high for the artworks funded by Church and State.

Posted by: oj at January 31, 2005 3:13 PM

But the Washington National Cathedral was privately funded.

The Middle Ages are long gone and the cathedral at Strasbourg, as truly magnificent as it is, belongs to another age. I will admit to never feeling the presence of the Lord as much as I did there.

However, again given the way that decisions concerning what art gets funded, aren't we infinitely better off allowing the private sector to do the funding than the public sector? The public sector in 2005 gives us Ofili, Serrano and Mapplethorpe. The private sector in 2005 gives us Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, Shakespeare in over 100 languages and millions of reproductions of the Great Masters.

The Arts Funding Scam merely shovels money from the taxpayer to the gay community and those who love them. Is that an appropriate government function?

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 3:33 PM

When liberals ran the State badly they funded bad art. When the State was run well it gave us the King James Bible and the like and today gives us Shakespeare performances.

The Cathedral is a State institution:


Posted by: oj at January 31, 2005 3:40 PM