Federal funding for the arts and humanities often comes under attack, notably from conservative quarters when a particular artistic expression is considered to be objectionable. Cut the NEH and NEA (national endowments for the humanities and arts), Paul Ryan says, and we can save a whopping $335 million a year (slightly more than the cost of one F-35 jet fighter for the Marine Corps).
What are the humanities and the arts, after all? Why should the government fund them? Can’t we let the marketplace rule? Won’t good art find an audience (and patrons) without the government getting involved?
Art and the humanities? Well, they are what make us human. Art and music and dance and theater, but also our history, literature, languages, poetry, and so on. Art and the humanities teach us about the human condition — what it means to be human. So, in a way, religion is also part of the arts and humanities in the secular sense of the history of various belief systems, what they teach us about morality and ethics, as well as their iconography, music, and so on.
As a personal aside, I’m sure my first true artistic/humanistic experience came in my local Catholic church. The splendor of light streaming through stained glass windows, the intricacy of the architecture, the majesty of the altar, the beauty of the music: all of this and more represented an artistic and humanistic experience that resonated with me, putting me in touch with something larger than myself. I’ve felt similar majesty being out in the cathedral of nature, gazing out at the Continental Divide at 12,000 feet as clouds raced overhead after a long hike in the Colorado Rockies.
Nurturing and protecting the arts, humanities, and nature too is fundamental to being human. We should be stewards of beauty in all its forms. And certainly government must have a role in funding the arts and humanities as well as protecting the planet.
Unfortunately, the American political scene is oligarchical and driven by venality and greed. So nowadays what you see in education is an obsessive push for STEM, for competitiveness vis-a-vis various foreign countries, for workforce development, as if education can be reduced simply to job/vocational training. Arts and humanities? Humbug!
I have nothing against science, technology, engineering, and math. I majored in mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, loved calculus and differential equations, took several courses in physics and chemistry, and eventually got advanced degrees in the history of science and technology. Science is great and wonderful; technology is fascinating and much needed. Vocational training is important too.
But there’s more to life than getting a job.
Oligarchical powers don’t like to fund the arts and humanities. They’d rather fund business and industry in the name of competitiveness (and profit!). But there’s more to life than building things, crunching numbers, and working for the man. We have souls, if you will (there’s the Catholic in me), and our souls need to be nurtured by ideas and ideals, by beauty, by the angels of our better natures as represented by the arts and humanities.
So please act to save the arts and humanities, especially in our schools. They enrich our lives in ways you simply can’t measure with dollar signs. And please act to preserve nature and our planet as well, whether you see it as God’s creation or as spaceship Earth — or both.