Subsidies to the Arts: Cultivating Mediocrity

Cato Institute,
24 August 1990, USA

Bill Kauffman provides his views on the USA's 'culture wars' debates, arguing against government subsidy for the arts.
In his conclusion, Kauffman states:
'One of the angriest, most despairing broadsides against the NEA was leveled by the writer Richard Moore. His stinging critique, published in 1980, still pierces:

It isn't just that the money we give to artists is being wasted. It's doing positive harm. An arts bureaucracy has grown up in the last few years to formulate the applications, select the judges, and give the right sort of ballyhoo to the recipients. There is no other way for such a system to work. And there is no way to make such a system honest. But supposing that it is honest, it cripples nevertheless. Only mediocrity can destroy art. And in every bureaucracy, mediocrity luxuriates. Where do the judges come from? The writers' union, of course. The solid citizens of art who have enough of a reputation to be chosen and nothing better to do than such hackwork. And they will reward those who are like themselves. They will constitute a self-perpetuating and endlessly stultifying organization that will ensure the banishment of all true talent to madness and outer darkness. Precisely that, I suspect in the depths of my heart, is the true purpose of such a system: to stamp all creativity out of a society which has grown too brittle to endure it.

American artists do not need a ministry of culture. Our writers and painters and dramatists and musicians have flourished when government has ignored them. We don't want subsidy. We don't want censorship. We just want to be left alone.'
August 8, 1990 Policy Analysis no. 137