Saturday, March 6, 2010

Part C: Replacing Brahms with Wayne and Underwood, or "Vox Populi, Take the Wheel"

Posted by Bruce Miller
If this is your first look at my three-part blog response to A. Barton Hinkle's Op/Ed piece, Picking Apart Arguments for Funding the Arts, published in Friday's (March 5) Times-Dispatch, you may want to scroll down and read Parts A and B first. I would provide a link to Hinkle's original dissection, but I can't locate Picking Apart ... on the Times-Dispatch website. I found the other two Op/Ed pieces that shared a page with Hinkle, but his piece isn't there, at least not as of this writing. If anyone can find it, please provide the web address in a comment. Thanks.

As he gleefully "picks apart" the statements of those of us who believe it would be unwise for Virginia to become the first state in the nation to eliminate its arts commission, as recommended by the Virginia House of Delegates, Hinkle states: "Some arts advocates also imply that the arts in Virginia will disappear without state support. There is no denying that some arts organizations will suffer and might even fold. But it is simply not true that closing the VCA would mean the end of drama, the end of symphony music, the end of gallery exhibits in the Old Dominion."

"Some with a soft spot for Brahms and Bryars, for Tallis and Telemann, may be inclined to snicker at the indulgence which confers the name of artist on the likes of Lil Wayne or Carrie Underwood. But a heart moved by pop music is moved no less because the music enjoys commercial success (all the more reason to doubt claims that shutting the VCA will leave Virginians stranded in a world bereft of uplift)."

So there it is. Hinkle is telling us that eliminating all arts funding from the state budget may bring about the demise of arts institutions that generations of Virginians have dedicated their lives to building. But so what? We'll always have pop culture. Seriously. Hinkle reassures by asserting his belief that there's no real difference between Brahms and Telemann, Lil Wayne and Carrie Underwood.

Are you scared yet?

"This touches on another difficulty," Hinkle continues, "namely the tension between artistic merit and latitudinarianism."

All right. I had to look it up too. Latitudinarianism means "holding or expressing broad or tolerant views, especially in religious matters."

In other words, in the gospel according to Hinkle (and you'll find the same in the playbook of many social conservatives), there is tension between artistic elitists (that's you and me, friends) and our pop culture brethren who express their "broad and tolerant" views by embracing rap music and American Idol.

Call me crazy, but I don't feel the tension.

I admit I'm not into rap, but some of my best friends are. I caught most episodes of Simon and Paula last season, and I've always thought Carrie Underwood was cute as a bug. The first time I heard her heartfelt rendition of Jesus Take the Wheel, it brought a tear to my eye. Seriously. I like that song a lot. As anyone will tell you, I'm as corny as Kansas in August, I cry unapologetically at Hallmark commercials, and I teach Sunday School to boot.

I also subscribe to a dogma that has been passed on to me by my parents and teachers from first grade forward. It's a firm belief, a way of living that I'm also trying to pass on to my own children. And that's where Hinkle nails me.

The dogma says this. There is a unique value to great art. Contemporary society has the wonderful opportunity (obligation?) to benefit from and enjoy the classic works of Beethoven, Rostand, Petipa and Benoist, as well as more contemporary masters like Bartók, Nottage, Bausch and Bearden. It is only through the preservation and presentation of great art from the past that we can truly discover, develop, celebrate and pass on to our children the great artists of our present.

The noble work of the nonprofit arts sector is not to dwell on or live in the past, but it is to offer and entertain new perspectives on great work, should that work be a product of the previous week or the previous century. If we don't, if we as a society rely solely on the more accessible delights of the popular and commercial, we will be failing our responsibility to our children and our heritage, to history and world culture.

That brings us to the core of the ideological argument.

"The demand by the anointed for continued favoritism," Hinkle proffers, "is not necessarily ennobled just because it is dolled up in gauzy sentiment." In other words, I can write these blogs till I'm blue in the face, but it doesn't matter. We can dress up our art all we want, friends, but we can't take it out to dinner.

And when we do dare to ask, plead for, demand our seat at the table, Hinkle suggests, the populists who think that Lil Wayne is all that and a bag of chips have every good reason to drive us back into our ivory towers and cut off the funding that allows us to survive.

A. Barton Hinkle is entitled to his opinion. So am I. It's time to take sides. Which side are you on?

During this statewide debate that will probably last the rest of my lifetime, if we allow ourselves to be overcome by fatique, fear or frustration, and throw our hands up and off the wheel, who's going to drive?

I leave you with the immortal words of one of Lil Wayne's biggest hits. Well, at least all the words up to the part where he begins using words I can't print on a family-friendly blog.

I said he's so sweet
Make her wanna lick the rapper
So I let her lick the rapper

Shawty said l-l-lick like a lollipop
She said l-l-lick like a lollipop
Shawty said l-l-lick like a lollipop
She said like a lollipop

Shawty wanna thug
Bottles in the club
Shawty wanna hump
And oh I like to touch ya lovely lady lumps
She wanna lick the rapper

--Bruce Miller

Photo Subjects (top to bottom): Carrie Underwood, Ludwig van Beethoven, Edmund Rostand, Marius Petipa, Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Bela Bartok, Lynn Nottage, Pina Bausch, Romare Bearden, Lil Wayne


Jody Strickler said...

Thank you for expressing so clearly and intelligently (and artistically) EXACTLY what I'm thinking and would wish to say if I had the forum. Yes, I will continue to make calls... Helps to have the inspiration of the "Buzz."

Anonymous said...

I know that in the past you have lightly touched upon the notion that your possible retirement is in the seeable future. While I and all of Richmond Theatre would be saddened to see that day come, might I suggest an activity for you to dabble with in your spare time. I make this suggestion in full and complete honesty:

The subject and content of your most recent blogs are deserving of a published book. There is clearly plenty of material as each day another arts organization folds it's tents. I seriously think your dead-on-the-mark words should have a wider audience. I want to record them and play them on a loud speaker hanging out of my window. I met with a friend today and suggested to him that anyone in elected offices who are giving consideration to cutting funding to the arts should be required to do the following before making their decision: For two months they may not listen to any form of music, watch television, read anything other than the newspaper, gaze upon any paintings or photographs, see a movie, or visit any museum.

Isn't it interesting that without the arts and artists we would not have Mount Rushmore, the National Anthem, Uncle Sam, the portraits of all the presidents, the Viet Nam Wall,(gasp) President Reagan, Richmond's own Monument Ave,.......
One could argue that even Besty Ross was performing some arts and crafts!!:)

Your powerful words point out that government needs the arts as much as we need the government. Art CAN BE "a luxery", but it can also be an educator, historian and preservationist.

Write a book, Bruce!!! You are examining a huge, important issue and are making some amazing points. More people need to hear them than just those who have read these terrific blog posts.

Anonymous said...

How appropriate that Lil' Wayne is now serving a one year jail sentence. Sadly, it's for a weapons conviction, not for writing completely stupid lyrics.