Should public money be spent on art?

This is a debate that’s been hotting up here in Britain after an appeal was launched to keep two 16th century paintings on public display, and they want to the government to help. I’m interested to know how this debate plays out where you are – does your government spend enough on art and culture — or too much?

The two Titian masterpieces in question here could fetch more than half a billion dollars at open auction — but their owner says he’d prefer to sell them to the nation for a knockdown price.

And of course there are other examples. What about ambitious public art installations like the Angel of the North which many Britons hated the idea of at first, but now they can’t imagine the landscape without it?

Do you think too much money is squandered on projects that a lot of you don’t want to see? I’d be very curious to hear.

18 Responses to “Should public money be spent on art?”

  1. 1 Brett
    August 29, 2008 at 12:51

    Public art like a statue in a square? Sure. If the money can’t be better spent elsewhere.

  2. 2 steve
    August 29, 2008 at 13:34

    So many steves here, but here’s my view. Sure, why not? We have public art museums here in DC. They are free admission, and I believe the museum owns some of it not most of the works of art. My local library has some artwork. It’s nice to look at. The same people who would be opposed to buying art becuase someone is starving somewhere are the same people opposed to the space program, etc.

  3. 3 Erin
    August 29, 2008 at 13:56

    In Cleveland, there is a tax on cigarettes that goes to the Cleveland Orchestra. I’m not a smoker, and the orchestra is amazing, but I am not sure that smokers need to be the ones supporting it. And it is certainly NOT free to go to an orchestra concert.

  4. 4 Bob in Queensland
    August 29, 2008 at 14:01

    Is that “art” or “the arts”?

    Either way my answer is “yes”. Patronage, both private and public, has been a source of funding for the arts throughout history and the world would be a poorer, more sterile place without it.

    Of course I have a vested interest. I supplement my pension with some freelance work at a publicly subsidised theatre.

  5. 5 Kelsie in Houston
    August 29, 2008 at 14:28

    Yes, absolutely. The enrichment of the public through the arts is a very worthwhile government endeavor (much more worthwhile, than, for example, spending trillions of public dollars on a war no one supports). The BBC Proms is probably the ultimate example of a society’s willingness to finance public corporations who support the arts–so I think government support for the arts is something people want…in Europe, anyway. Obviously we here in the States do not have anything remotely similar to the Proms (or the BBC).

  6. 6 roebert
    August 29, 2008 at 16:11

    Definitely yes. Much more public money should be spent not only on the preservation and exhibition of historical art treasures, but there should also be funded programs to keep bona fide artists working today.

    No point going into the ‘ok, so what is art?’ debate. If zillions can be spent on military mischief, a few K’s here and there should certainly be allocated to preserving art, sustaining artists, and encouraging public interest in all the art forms.

    In South Africa there is a culture ministry which throws a few rands (our greenbacks) at the arts here and there, as long as the art form being financed is not eurocentric; you know, not ‘white’…no classical concerts, no opera, no ballet…oh,and, Wyndham Lewis’ controversial portrait of T.S. Eliot (over which Augustus John resigned from the Royal Academy-because the RA rejected it) no longer hangs proudly in the Durban Art Gallery; designated to the storerooms to make room on the walls for other non-eurocentric things.

    My point? Let’s not finance art for political ends, or to make a cultural-ethnic statement. That is really backward, man.

  7. August 29, 2008 at 16:15

    Yes, yes, yes 100% yes!

  8. 8 Lauren
    August 29, 2008 at 17:52

    Yes, I think that public money should be spent on art, but I think that more should go to the arts (i.e. education) than public works of art. I only say this because it seems that there is less of an interest and appreciation of art, classical music, etc because of little or no exposure to the arts in schools. What good is a free museum or statue in the park if a majority of people don’t care? Art is supposed to enrich the lives of all people, but it seems like only a fraction of the people really benefit.

  9. 9 Vijay
    August 29, 2008 at 18:17

    Well it depends on how it is spent,too often money spent on art Is for the middle and upper classes(tax breaks,subsidies and special programmes)
    Re: the UK,I would zero fund the Arts Council, stop all tax loop holes related to art ownership,allow art sales to any foreign buyer and have more art education in the public sector from nursery school till A levels .

  10. 10 Scott (M)
    August 29, 2008 at 21:37

    Hum. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. But I have to say, I love that it is.

    We have the question of—what is art? The old-masters? Contemporary art also? That has no historical value. What about antiquities or museums in general?

    You could equate the aesthetic value of art (as important to fund) to the funding of national parks or parks in general. Although some parks have an environmental value in addition to aesthetics. The government funds other things on aesthetic value alone, landscaping and upkeep of public space—these aren’t always kept at a functional minimum.

    I think art is funded, because it is allegedly for the public ‘good.’ It seems like it would be hard or impossible to prove that it does the public ‘good,’ or art is a ‘good’ that couldn’t be done by other things.

  11. 11 Shakhoor Rehman
    August 30, 2008 at 11:25

    Of course it should appreciating art is an essential component to be a fully functioning human being.

  12. 12 Nofal Elias
    September 1, 2008 at 08:26

    I love Art but …………..
    The correct way to budget your house hold is to take your monthly income and then allocate money to all your montly out going expenditures. Any money left over would put in saving or treat yourself for luxury event.
    Unfortunatly, the goverment does the oppisite, they would allocate money to be spent and then they will try to find the money to meet them. Any shortfall will have to either increase taxes or borrow the money or both.
    One good example of bad managment, I was on 12 months waiting list for a knee operation, eventually I was offerd to have done in a private hospital in Birmingham costing NHS will over 4 times more.
    Any monkey can manage the economy if money is not an object.

  13. October 2, 2008 at 14:16

    I think that public money should be spent on art, but it should be a clearly defined budget that is small in comparison to security, hospitals, industry, agriculture, education and so on. The decision on whether to buy these two classic art pieces would have to be made by experts in discussion with the authorities and government. Whether it is possible or not would depend on how much is in the budegt and whether this is the best use of it. This is a pragmatic approach, but it has to be, to keep a just balance within a national budget. Mr Woollett. Kent. UK

  14. 14 Andrew Davies
    December 4, 2008 at 12:38

    In a country where thousands of people are destitute, homeless and where socio-economic dysfunction of all kinds is rife, can we truly justify spending public money on this ‘luxury’ that is Fine Art?
    As an art student and part time community worker, I find it increasingly difficult reconciling spending public money on new Art Gallery projects with the deprivation and poverty found in communities like the one in which I work.
    I propose to debate the ethical questions related to spending public money on Fine Art galleries as the main theme of my dissertation and would be most grateful for any comments

    • 15 Sarah Greenbaum
      December 24, 2009 at 09:29

      to be honest, i don’t think the amount money that the government spent on the pulic arts will be the way to solve the poverty or any social issues neither, such as homeless, crime, education, health care and so forth. the serious question is how the goveronment spent our public tax money to benefit the majority of people without fraud. whatever the money we paid or donated should be used under highly supervised. However, i believe that the poverty and community infrastructure should be supported by both the goverment and private orgnization in the area of job training, finacial supports, health care, mental consultant and other service, not only the money that should be allocated on the arts.

  15. 16 Arezoo
    May 9, 2009 at 22:13

    It is not fair to allocate a huge sum of public money on meaningless artworks while millions of people are suffering from poverty and starvation!!Goverments should prioritise funding based on public needs!

  16. February 5, 2010 at 19:22

    I have never seen anything classified as art, that I would say is a need, or is furthering mankind in any way. Art is not going to go away because public money isn’t spent on it. People that label themselves as artist seem to be some of the biggest dregs and leaches on society and constantly mislabel what they do and create as valueable. Great artist will always create art, If people are living without their “needs” being met, let’s spend the money there first. I’m all for calling whatever the bum is doing under the bridge “artwork” and giving him a job and a home if he wants for doing it. He can even call himself an artist if he likes, but I know he’s better than that. I happen to love art, and am part of a brotherhood who has donated almost $100,000 of materals cost for artwork we have created and given to the community, often just printing musem qualty artworks and leaving them in public places. We love it, and you’ll never get us to stop. Or even admit something came from us. We often get called vandals and criminals for leaving expensive paper in public. Sometime the artwork is merely a photo-realistic representation of what you can see standing there. Which may indeed be offensive, but the offensive landscape needs to go with the offensive art… If it is indeed important, then it will certainly be funded by donations from the puibic. Sell that old ass painting and move snuffy into his new gallery. I’ll even put a replica of the old artwork back up that is identical to the original in double bind tests. No charge.

  17. 18 Andrea Challis
    March 13, 2010 at 15:31

    It really upsets me that we have people who need more money for basic healthcare needs but we still have the money to spend on art. I believe that money spent on art should come from the individual who wants the art. Government money should be spent on the things that are essential – healthcare, social services, better care for the elderly. If people want to make art or see art they should have to pay separately to do so, it should not be paid for or subsidised out of the public purse. While we have people dying because teh drugs they need cost too much we should be spending nothing on art. and don’t get me started about military spending………

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