A Brief “Arts” Rant

A friend recently e-mailed this copy of a cartoon by “Mr. Fish,” originally published in Spy magazine. As you can tell by the worn and stained edges, the clipping is one he’s held on to for many years. My friend, himself a successful artist, failed to mention what it was about the image that attracted such devotion, and I didn’t ask because such things are subjective; he has his reasons for thinking it brilliant and I have mine.

I think this cartoon deserves that label for many reasons, but I’ll mention only one that I consider to be the most important. You see, I’m very “anti” when it comes to government giving “arts” grants to individuals under any circumstances.

Community arts groups are another matter, I have no problem with that — give them some of our tax money so long as they faithfully serve a wide population of citizens, especially poor kids. But if you’re a person who has unilaterally decided that you deserve to earn your living making self-indulgent images of whatever kind (drawn, painted, constructed, written), I suggest that you kindly keep your day job until the objective market agrees that your subjective productions are worth paying for, without the help of public money.

Of course, in my opinion, Mr. Fish said all of this and much more — and said it better — in his brilliant cartoon.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.


10 Responses to Granted

  1. Jacquie Roland says:

    Oh, Jim… what were we, separated at birth?
    I agree with you wholeheartedly . . . which will make me quite unappreciated by the folks on my block. Community grants ARE another thing entirely, but it used to make me absolutely NUTZOID to see individuals given grants, which quite often they used to p*** on the very people who GAVE them the grant, by deliberately creating really outrageous, unacceptable work. Then they spent the rest of their time screaming “. . . discrimination! Censorship!” My response was always the same . . . “if you want to do what YOU want to do . . . no matter HOW outrageous . . . don’t take the money.” Simple. It amazes me how many people don’t seem to understand that. – sigh – I’m going to mount the Mr. Fish cartoon in my studio.

  2. Jim says:

    I’m getting some interesting comments on this post, but most of them off the record via e-mail. Thanks for having the courage to stand up in public on such a touchy “arty” subject on the blog, Jacquie. You have always had a brave heart.

  3. tom chalkley says:

    Jim, I have ALWAYS felt this way; when government subsidizes artists it BUYS THEM OFF. Of course, I’m a sometime commercial artist — a whore, if you will — and I’d rather gov’t money go to art than to bombs, but the community-arts programs satisfy both my complaints. As long as artists are doing self-indulgent, navel-gazing, socially irrelevant art, government is happy to keep them busy. I despise artists who think they are special creations. Electricians — THEY are special!
    BTW: Do you send cartoons to Parade mag? They’re using freelancers and your stuff is excellent. TC

  4. Jim says:

    Another brave soul! Great comment, Tom, and much appreciated by Yours Truly. As for me and Parade Magazine, I’d love to sell (out) to them but gave up submitting cartoons directly to publications some years back. I just got tired of running back and forth to the post office. (And not selling all that many no matter how often I ran back and forth.) Now I simply upload my cartoons to in London and let them take care of the marketing. Of course they get 50%, but there’s usually enough most months to pay my utilities.

  5. Rick Parker says:

    That’s exactly the kind of artwork which does not need to be subsidized by the taxpayers. Funny and well-drawn too!

  6. Juia Cates says:

    Hi, Jim. That’s a funny cartoon – even the line quality is funny somehow. I have such mixed feelings about pretty much every part of the art world, including the grant awarding part of the pie. I was just turned down recently for really silly reasons for an individual grant I applied for, but I had mixed feelings about even applying for it. I worked at the National Gallery of Art in D.C. for six years, and got quite an education in the seamy underbelly of the art world. And then in some of the good parts too; the unnoticed gems in the permanent collections and truly interesting, dedicated staff. But the grant-making and gallery scenes are definitely not meritocracies, that’s for sure, and truly full of self-love as the cartoon indicates. Rant on, doodle on. Have a good week.

  7. Jim says:

    Thank you for sharing you personal experience with the grant-making/gallery scene, Julia. And I liked your comment (appreciation for) the “funny” line quality of the Mr. Fish cartoon. Some years back I gave a presentation at the University of Baltimore titled “The Postmodern Cartoon,” and in it one of the things I talked about was the trend to gag cartoons that used artfully “crude” line work on purpose; that is, the cartoonist’s using that style were rebelling against much of the slick academically well-drawn stuff that had gone before. And then there were others, of course (like Yours Truly), who just couldn’t draw very well and became sort of low-level postmodern by accident.

  8. Susan Middaugh says:

    I have a different point of view. The Maryland State Arts Council awards individual grants that are modest. Most are $1,000 or $3,000; the rare one is $6,000. To receive one, you need to submit completed work. A playwright, for example, submits a script, say, for a full-length play. In my opinion, these grants acknowledge that an individual has demonstrated talent and offer encouragement to keep going. Businesses receive tax breaks or tax incentives to do something or other. Why not give artists a break too?

  9. Jim says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful and reasoned comment, Susan. I’m all for giving individual artists “encouragement” as long as what they’re producing creates jobs or other tangible benefits for the wider community. For instance, I can imagine giving a $6,000 grant to a cartoonist teaching kids how to use simple shapes to draw cartoons. Wait a minute, I did that for 15 years and never once asked the government for help. Oh well, I guess it’s too late. Hmmmmm — wonder if they hand out retroactive grants?

  10. […] Next week I’ll start volunteering for the Tacoma Public Schools as a Grant Writer- this made me laugh. […]

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