Free Trade & Fine Art

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Free Trade & Fine Art

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Sergej,

Thank you for writing. I agree with you that there are a lot of charlatans and fools need to be driven out of the arts, but I can't agree with the open letter on a number of points:

1. Government Funding for the Arts: I am completely opposed of all government funding of the arts. Government funding means government control, and that is the opposite of artistic freedom. Furthermore, I believe that a lot of the degeneration in art has arisen from exactly this kind of funding mechanism that ties artistic funding and institutional support not to merit, but to political pull.

2. "Cultural Diversity": Enforcing cultural diversity means imposing on artists limits on their creativity. If an artist wants to create art that is traditional for his racial, geographical, or ethnic origins that's great, but if they want to adopt the artistic tools and practices of people far away (as Sumi Jo, one of your signatories has done for example) that's great too. And if they want to set out in some new direction and abandon traditional ways of working that's fine too. The idea of having governments enforce this kind of "cultural diversity" is an attempt to freeze artistic development and stifle the work of artists that I cannot support. In a free market artistic practices that don't make artists and their customers happy will tend to die out, and practices that are genuinely good will find gigantic markets outside the regions where they were developed. On the whole I think that's the best way for things to be, and certainly far better than turning the arts into some kind of historical zoo where traditional kinds of art are frozen in place and preserved forever as your letter recommends.

3. The Homogenization of Culture by Corporations: To the extent that people have common preferences this is an inevitable consequence of human freedom and global commerce and communication, and I think, a positive development. It will tend to give people all over the world more of a common cultural frame of reference and make international understanding a little bit easier. To the extent that different cultural groups will tend to have different artistic preferences, the only way that globalization can have the negative impacts that you have described is if the preferences of individuals are superseded by government control over the arts, which I also oppose. Otherwise, people will tend to get the best art in the world as they interpret it, and not some impoverished subset provided for them by cultural mandarins. Free trade and free markets are good for artists, good for artists, and good for the arts in general.

4. Preserving the Cultures of Indigenous People: I don't believe that people should be forced to live as historical museum exhibits. If they think it would be better to live their lives to live in more pleasant and modern ways, who are you to stop them? If you are so interested in preserving primitive ways of life then by all means feel free to go live that way yourself, but don't call for the government to force other people to live that way.

5. Trade Policies: The letter mentions trade negotiations that will bring about a global monoculture, but without saying exactly what those policies are. My sense is that you are talking about policies that make global trade free, rather than policies that enforce some kind of global standards. I don't think that either enforcing uniformity or enforcing diversity are acceptable policies. The right answer is global free trade where people can make their own decisions for themselves rather than being forced into someone else's cookie cutter view of what they should create or consume.

The way to clean up the arts is not by imposing a system of government controls on the arts, but by freeing the artists and their audiences to create and consume as they wish. Art that is of little value to anyone under such a scheme will fall away and art that is treasured by people will be preserved and strengthened under a system of free trade.

--Brian