It seems to me that Congress and the administration have lost their way in their efforts to rethink federal support for the arts. This might, then, be a good moment to recall the humane and thoughtful remarks of President Kennedy at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College on Oct. 26, 1963.
He said: "The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover's quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. ... If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. . . . In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope."
Our current leaders could do worse than to heed these words, and be guided by their generosity of spirit.
The writer is director of the Folger Shakespeare Library.