The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is a way for the federal government to sponsor a public need for art. However, inevitable conflicts arise in a nation betwixt between the simultaneous pursuit of individual self-interest and public interest. This analysis examines the debate surrounding the public funding for the arts through NEA. The justifications of Margaret Wyszomitrski, Michael Kammen, and Laurence Jarvik provide the basis for my analysis and review.
To begin, I strongly believe that the arts serve a public purpose and not surprisingly, I struggle with Jarvik's argument and justifications for the elimination of the NEA. Because the arts serve private interests and a public needs, public funding for the arts is necessary and proper for the American public. It is through serving the public need that I believe that the NEA is a legitimate and necessary governmental program.
Kammen and Wyszomitrski argue that culture and art is a necessity rather than a luxury. Wyszomitrski justifies this understanding by articulating five basic and implicit public needs addressed by the arts in her analysis. They are: furthering the quest of security, fostering community, contributing to prosperity, improving the quality and conditions of life, and cultivating democracy. Her justifications for governmental role in the arts, including their funding, are based in Alexis de Tocqueville's doctrine of "enlightened self-interest." This doctrine holds that holds that it is "to the individual advantage of each to work in the good of all" and to strive to find "those points where private advantage does meet and coincide with the general interest" (Wyszomitrski, 53). Both Kammen and Wyszomitrski use Tocqueville's idea to legitimize the NEA as a necessary governmental funding for the arts due to the undeniable presence of coincidences between public and privates interests in the arts. However, these mutual interests are often obscure and implicit and some, including Jarvik, do not have a clear understanding about the effects of public funding for the arts. This is due, in part, to ever-changing interests and values of the American people. I believe that much debate surrounding the NEA and its effect on art, artists and the American public, not just in dollars, is due the ambivalent needs of the American public and the government's fragmented understanding of such needs with regard art. As a result, a public policy regarding art funding (NEA) is very difficult to define and its public acceptance is difficult to evaluate.
With regard to Jarvik's argument that the NEA "disturbs the US tradition of limited to government," it is in my opinion that people are always going to disagree about how limited government should be. After reading Kammen's paper however, we see that this disagreement, especially surrounding the arts, increases due to this ambivalent nature of the value of art to both the artist and the public. Some people may want patriotic art during war...