The Arts: Left vs. Right

In his article, William Safire And Art That’s Good for You, Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott argues that national debate on the arts in America has swung to the far right. The left, which extoled “confrontation and paradigm busting, that reveled in political provocation and performance art,” lost to the right, who “favored arts that were popular enough to be commercial,” and who viewed “art as affirmative and pretty.” Kennicott asserts that the “right-wing assault on the National Endowment for the Arts in the early 1990s - and the failed left-wing efforts to push back,” was a turning point in this battle over the arts.

Kennicott’s article is largely a critique of a talk given by conservative William Safire at the 19th annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy. The Hanks lecture is sponsored by Americans for the Arts, a nonpartisan organization that works at facilitating government funding for the arts - something the right-wing has been vociferously working against. That an organization like Americans for the Arts would provide a platform for Mr. Safire is a sure indication of just how far to the right the pendulum has swung. Kennicott wrote that Safire’s speech “all but said that the best hope for arts advocates is to line up behind the conservative consensus.” And what is that exactly?

Safire again and again used the word “classic” to describe the type of art he approves of - a description that actually means “essentially noncontroversial.” And there is the philosophical difference that separates conservative from avant-garde art.

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