THIS will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I do get annoyed at artists who spend all their time complaining about funding.
Now, far be it from me to object to any artist getting any money any way she or he can think of, short of mugging. I have nothing but awed praise for anyone who refuses to be limited to the nights-weekends-vacation route and plunges into a full-time commitment to art. Go for the grants, wherever you find them, whatever they may be. Become as ruthless as you can in repossessing your own time. Fight every way you know how for the audience you need, the show space, the publicity, the recognition.
Leonardo didn't hesitate to live off this or that rich Italian family, painting society portraits like the Mona Lisa and inventing ingenious toys for courtiers' house parties. Michelangelo got a grant from the pope. Beethoven dedicated some of his greatest work to that nice Count Razumovsky who supported him for awhile (and for the price of a few breakfasts got his name inscribed forever in the pantheon of music: the classiest graffiti in history). And so on and so on. Almost every great artist you ever heard of took money wherever it was.
But there's something else. When the money stopped coming, or when the donors demanded too many compromises, or when no one bought the work, when not a soul in the known world cared anymore, or maybe never had, the great ones kept right on.
Frans Hals lived on the charity of the almshouse of Haarlem in 17th-century Holland. He had been the town drunk and now he was, in his eighties, feeble and utterly dependent on the almshouse governors. But he was still painting, and the governors ordered up (for three cartloads of peat) one of those group portraits the Dutch were so fond of, an official portrait to hang in the Great Hall, pompous and flattering.
Hals painted them, all right. But as he really saw them: one man a hiccuping red-nosed boozer with his hat on crooked, another so stupid he could barely keep his eyes open, others complacent and vain. It is a brilliant and deadly piece of characterization (not to mention the masterwork of an artist ahead of his time) and a reminder to us all that it is never too late to be brave.
What I am complaining about is the artists who stamp and shout and write letters to the paper because they didn't get a grant. The ones who howl that the fix is on, or the government is corrupt, or it's all whom you know. The people who blame the poor state of poetry or music or dance or whatever on the lack of "support," a euphemism for money.
For one thing, there are strings to that money. Subsidized art tends to be tame art. What government or corporation would have paid James Joyce to write "Ulysses"? For another, even if the fix is on and the government is corrupt, the real artists will keep working anyway, support or no support.
And most of all, there is no rule that says every single thing you made with your own little hands must be published and seen and admired. Artists do not have a right to be appreciated. In fact, the American landscape already is cluttered up with far too much insipid painting, precious poetry, indulgent filmmaking, coy acting, overwritten prose, derivative photography, effete playwriting, pompous composing and half-baked dancing--all of it humorless, unexamined, fatuous, much too long and resoundingly, hilariously bad, bad, bad, and it is high time some of these people went back to the office.