In a letter published July 24, Werner Gundersheimer, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, injected more irrelevant arguments into the debate over the funding of "obscene" art by the National Endowment for the Arts. He quoted a lengthy excerpt from an address by former president John F. Kennedy concerning the role of the artist: "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." Beautiful words, penetrating message. But irrelevant.
The debate is not over whether the artist should be valued in society or should be granted the freedom to produce whatever his heart and soul inspires. Agreement is nearly unanimous on this point. Rather the debate is over whether the people of the United States must fund these expressions of individuality. If we are to continue to support the National Endowment for the Arts, should we permit the administrators of the endowment to reject grant applications based upon subject matter? This is the relevant question.
Any organization that receives federal funds is subject to federal regulation or must adhere to federal standards. It puzzles me as to why the endowment should be treated any differently. Artists must be permitted to express their contempt for the government, for society and for the values upon which that society is founded. It does not seem reasonable, however, that the government should pay for such criticism. I believe that anyone who wishes to photograph a crucifix in a jar of his urine should be permitted to do so. Anyone who desires to photograph two men or three or four men for that matter engaging in sexual acts should feel free. But why do we have to pay for it? Artists should understand that there are and, by right, ought to be restrictions upon their work when they accept federal funds. The people of this country must accept the fact that artists have the right to assault their values, their notions of patriotism and their religious beliefs. But must we masochistically finance these assaults? Never.
Mr. Gundersheimer and others who have positions similar to his should stop artificially and deceptively framing the issue in terms of artistic freedom or First Amendment rights. The issue is public financing, and on that issue, they must surely lose. RUSS DAY Washington