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America's 'Only Real Art'

September 14, 1985

I am outraged by Fleming's article. He urges cutting aid to the arts from the federal budget because the majority of Americans seem to care for nothing but what he himself calls "inexcusably bad art."

The majority don't seem to care for "real" drama, painting, music, or poetry. In Fleming's view, only "snobs" care for "highbrow" art. In spite of those epithets, he concedes that many people will still "listen to old music and read old poets," will stick to "the tried-and-true, the classics." That last sentence seems to me to refute his own assertion that only the snobs care for "real art."

Fleming follows these remarks by admitting such cultural starvation is sad "because art is the most effective means that we have of coming to grips with our experience." The artists he would cut off from funding are the people trying hardest to interpret the experiences of modern life. Fleming would cut such artists off because he believes they have killed real art by their pride in "their isolation and alienation from everything that the rest of us perceive as normal, wholesome or American."

Where is his proof of this pride? Given the attitudes he describes, how can any artist survive who does not remove him/herself at least partially from the day-to-day cultural climate? If artists never experienced any art but TV and pop music, where would they learn the skills and develop the maturity of perception to create good art?

And the audiences for good art are there--most of them need to be shown that they will not be snobs just because they enjoy "real" art. How many thousands of fans has Mozart gained because of "Amadeus?" People who thought they'd hate classical music have come to love it. I have taught poetry to many students who entered the class expecting to hate it, and left realizing that they could enjoy it, could be touched deeply by the words of artists who have closely examined human life.

Funding for the arts has two purposes: One, helping those among us who are artists to develop gifts that will bring beauty and insight into our world, will, in Fleming's words, help us to come to grips with our experience; two, educating audiences so they can appreciate "real art" as well as popular art, so they too can come to grips with experience. What person would not profit from stretching his intellectual and aesthetic tastes beyond the ordinary and the easy? As Robert Browning, one of our "old poets," put it: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"


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