Art For Art’s Sake–Not For Tax Subsidies

The phrase “Art for art’s sake” was, at one time, a rallying cry in 19th Century France. The Romantics used it in the attempt to convey the idea that art has its own value and should be judged apart from any themes which it might touch upon, such as morality, religion, philosophy or POLITICS (emphasis explicitly added.)

Tell that to the “artists” in Jackson, Mississippi right now.

The City–which is currently broke if you keep up with the news–made the decision to defund the Greater Jackson Arts Council.

You would have thought the world had come to an end based on the reaction.

More than $136,000 has been doled out during the last fiscal year alone to the artists who have willingly accepted this tax money from a city that currently has a decimated infrastructure, water woes galore and a majority of streets unsafe to drive on due to negligence.

And, honestly–aesthetically–I would venture to guess that most of this “art” perpetuated by grants is so bad that it couldn’t get sold in a gallery or privately to a customer. Hence, the tax monies.

I’ve seen some of the–stuff–that some describe as art and all I can say is this: just because you create or make something it does not therefore then qualify as a true work of art. Far from it. Expression is great and fine–but just because somebody feels like splashing some paint haphazardly on a canvas does not a work of art make.

Then again, we live in a world where Allen Ginsberg and Maya Angelou were considered great poets. Marlowe, Shelley, Keats are long gone, indeed…

If you’re a good artist, you’ll find a buyer. If you’re not, or even if you’re good and struggling, you might just have to find a new hobby or passion. It’s that simple. I fancy myself a poet, playwright and novelist but I wouldn’t dare go to the government for a handout to fund my work. Hell, I just sent emails to friends to help finance my Aristotle book for youth and they came through.

That’s something that people who want to become artists for a career must come to terms with: have enough respect for yourself and your work that you will take it before the public for them to objectively appraise it and possibly support the efforts you have made.

As I have noted before, artists must consider themselves as businesspeople if they are to succeed in what they want to do–and if they’re good enough. Sure, the bohemians out there know the market is nasty, selling their work is lowly, that the spiritual transcends the material, etc. But that cash suddenly looks good when it comes in the form of a grant.

Why is that?

Why is money good when received by the government but somehow dirty when gained through business or a private transaction?

The arts–real art, original, transcendent art, art that appeals and speaks to people–will continue to survive, the wailing of the naysayers notwithstanding. Galleries, private receptions and the like will keep art flourishing in Jackson and elsewhere. As far as the bad art–and there’s an awful (pun intended) lot of that around here–well, if the people who produce it can’t find buyers then they should move along to something else.

Look at musicians today, many in their late 60’s and early 70’s, still touring night after night every year to earn a living. They do so WITHOUT subsidies and I respect them for it. They work damned hard for their living in a music market that has changed dramatically, unfortunately to their disadvantage.

But they don’t complain.

It reminds me of the saddest, most poignant scene in Ayn Rand’s classic novel, “The Fountanhead.” Peter Keating, the second-hander architect who had literally sponged off the heroic protagonist and his better, Howard Roark, finally realizes the futility of his ways and decides to paint, to embark on something he had a passion for once, before he reached unearned heights on top of Roark’s back.

After showing Roark one of his works, Howard silently shakes his head sadly, thus indicating to Keating that he did not have the necessary talent. It was a complete act of compassion because it was honest. If we only had such sincere Roark-types in Jackson today to shake their heads at some of the bizarre creations that are attempted to pass as art.

The City did what it had to do. It is in trouble. The talented young artists out there will find their way: their passion and talent will drive them as will others’ recognition of it.

As for the Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol wannabees?

Find a new line of work and quit complaining that you’re being cut off the public trough.



Jack Criss

Jack Criss

Publisher and Executive Editor at
Jack Criss is the Publisher and Executive Editor of and owner of Criss Public Relations. He is a 30 year veteran of the business publishing industry as well as a former talk radio host, lecturer and author of "Ready, Aim, Right!" (Quail Ridge Press, 2004) and the forthcoming "The Great Greek Philosopher: Aristotle For Young People" (DagKat Press, 2017) as well as a work of teen fiction, "Book Island" and the non-fiction title "SuperfloUS: When Mediocrity Is Enshrined And Civility Fades." He was born, raised and currently lives in Ridgeland, MS and is the proud father of Katie and Dagny.
Jack Criss
Jack Criss
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