End government arts funding now!

So I proposed in my [review of Japanese Story](http://benhourigan.com/archives/2005/02/25/japanese-story/). [Adam Ford](http://www.labyrinth.net.au/~adamford/) [commented](http://benhourigan.com/archives/2005/02/25/japanese-story/#comment-85):

This is a joke, right?

No, Adam, it’s no joke. Here’s why I’d like to see an immediate end to government arts funding:

Taxation is a form of coercion (which under normal circumstances I view as always being wrong). The government uses the threat of force (eventual imprisonment if you don’t pay) to extort money from you. One may argue that taxation allows us to provide necessary services, and even socially beneficial services, but since the coercion is wrong the government should tax only when absolutely necessary, and as little as possible.

Art is a luxury. This doesn’t mean to say I’d want to live without it, but it’s not so absolutely necessary that the government should extort money from people to pay for it. The wrong involved in taxation, for me, outweighs the limited benefits of funding the arts.

Creative work should be for audiences, unless it’s just your own self-indulgent catharsis that you keep in a drawer/shed/etc. One of the good things about subjecting artists to market pressures is that it forces them to really think about what their audience wants. Some artists might want to do something crazy that most people will never enjoy or understand, or some piece of political propaganda or nation-building that a government body would be happier to fund than audiences would be to consume. Such artists don’t _have_ to rely on taxation to fund their life and work: James Joyce, for instance, enjoyed private patronage, and despite Bloomsday, I would classify _Ulysses_ as one of those crazy pieces of work that most people don’t get (I slogged through it, though, and actually enjoyed most of it). Even in a more populist vein, work that doesn’t have an obvious potential for commercialisation can still be funded by private patronage. This is what [Jason Kottke](http://www.kottke.org), who recently quit his job to blog full-time, [is banking on](http://www.kottke.org/05/02/kottke-micropatron).

If an artist can’t get audiences to fund their work, though, either by buying it or donating to it, they obviously have to find other ways of making a living, unless they’re a wealthy dilettante (man, I wish that was me—I’m just another tax-funded leech). Under no circumstances should creative workers imagine that they are entitled to this support from the government, nor that it has a duty to support us. I can’t blame anyone from taking the money that gets dished out (after all, I take my government scholarship): you’d be mad to turn it down, since if you do it’ll only go to someone less worthy and less principled. But this doesn’t mean that the money should get dished out in the first place. I once read a quote from Mark Twain where he advised aspiring authors to “write for three years, and if no-one pays you, give up,” or something to that effect. I think that’s good advice. Surely there are people out there who are wasting their time on artistic pursuits that they’re just no good at, and that no-one (not even hyper-sophisticated private patrons) is interested in. If they find working another job for a living robs them of the energy they need to create, then it can’t be helped. _Shôganai, ne,_ as they say in Japan.

Just to make things perfectly clear, it’s not just government arts funding that I’m opposed to. It’s funding for _all_ things that are clearly luxuries. That includes sports, public swimming pools and so on, street parties, Christmas decorations in the CBD, tourist information centres, museums, art galleries, and maybe, even, public libraries. Yes, public libraries. I am a mad, evil bastard.

It would break my heart to get rid of public libraries, but should I be driven to advocate their end, to be consistent? I think perhaps I should. I am confident that people would find ways to share books, probably using the internet and tools like [Delicious Library](http://www.delicious-monster.com/) or [BookCrossing](http://www.bookcrossing.com/) to build private book-sharing networks that aren’t built on a foundation of coercion.

End government arts funding now!

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.