Would art sink without money? Put differently, what is the role of resources in supporting artistic endeavor and the place of art in society?
Artists must be able to make ends meet in order to pursue—and continue to pursue over time—their artistic endeavors. In that sense resources are essential for them. But where should those resources come from? It is crucial, in providing support for artists, always to preserve the independence of artists and the radical potential of art. Ideally support will be available from many different sources for artists, not controlled by any one specific source, in such a way that artists are able to preserve their autonomy. I study the creative development of individuals engaged in creative endeavors. Looking back through history it is simply amazing to me how often great innovators—in art and many other fields as well—have survived outside any system that might impinge upon their freedom, to pursue their own creative interests and paths. They have survived with second jobs, and by means of family support. They have received support from individual patrons who believed in them and their work. They have found a way and followed their own way of life, leaving them remarkably free in their work. My belief, rooted in this history, is that support for individual artists should follow this model, be a loose patchwork—not centralized, not controlled by a few large organizations or constituencies. This is not a perfect way, and some people who might be able to contribute a great deal artistically, are surely left out. But it is a vital way—by which I mean it preserves the vitality, the freedom, of the artist's endeavor.
What is the role of organizations in providing support for artists? I think this is an important question lurking behind the original question. Funding through an organization brings the funded artists "inside" a system—the system being the organization and, more broadly, the social system that supports the organization, that it is embedded in. Without great care this kind of funding will end up undermining the radical, revolutionizing potential of art, the autonomy of artists. Funding criteria will be established. Artists wanting money will inevitably find themselves thinking about these criteria, which is distracting and may tempt them to temporize. Further, a funding organization has its own needs, principally to survive and possibly to grow and exercise power and influence, within a larger organizational environment, and these will influence the criteria it sets, again potentially—and almost surely in certain instances—going against funding more radical art. Funding through large-scale organizations is undoubtedly fine as one part of a large, loose patchwork of funding sources— but it should not be the sole or dominant source. We do see large-scale funding in medicine and the sciences. It seems more necessary in some fields due to very high costs of research; also, the nature of what is revolutionary may be different—although in these fields too, truly revolutionary work has historically in many cases, surprisingly many, been done by individuals outside a formal funding structure, or at least a tight structure.
Is it hypocritical for me to say this, being a professor, thus funded by an organization? I have found a way in my career to achieve financial support and—ultimately—to pursue a quite independent line of creative work. My point is that each individual finds his or her own way of navigating in the world. This is itself a creative activity—and the creative ways in which an individual does it may well be linked to his or her creativity in his/her work.
In contrast with my concerns about large-scale systems funding of individual artists, I see two important ways in which large-scale resource provision is valuable for the flourishing of art. One is in providing training: resources are crucial for institutions that provide the training that artists need. Despite the fact that many of the great French impressionists and post-impressionists rebelled against the formal training they received—which was very much within the "system"—the training they received was surely crucial in providing them a base from which to create and break free in their own creative endeavors. We need resources, on a large scale, to provide basic training in many fields (though not necessarily all).
The other is in disseminating art and promoting the appreciation of art in society. This can itself become politicized, as we know from debates of recent years—an effort to force certain tastes on members of the society, possibly as a way to control their ideas in various domains. But it seems to me exposure to art, at a basic level, in a great variety of forms and fields and from different eras and cultures, is invaluable and generally for the good.
—Jonathan Feinstein, Professor, Yale School of Management. He is completing a book, The Nature of Creative Development. For more information about his work, visit www.jonathanfeinstein.com.