Is full frontal nudity offensive? For some people, the answer is yes. Should the government withdraw funding from cultural endeavors, such as the Israel Festival, that contain nudity or other elements which some people find offensive? My answer is an emphatic, all caps, NO!
Art is the ultimate celebration of humanity, it’s the mystery of creation, an open space for questioning and learning, a means of communication beyond words, a shared collective experience, a vibrant repository of memory, a catalyst for empathy. Don’t want to see people dancing naked onstage? Don’t go to that show. But it would be a grave mistake to limit the possibilities of art by allowing the government to intervene in the content of those artistic and cultural projects it funds.
Artistic and commercial considerations may sometimes converge, but as most artists know, they usually don’t. Government support for the arts fosters a diverse cultural scene in which art can flourish, regardless of its potential for profit. Dictating the content of the arts by withholding funding from those deemed inappropriate results in cookie cutter art parroting the current regime’s propaganda.
Art that takes place in the public space, whether a city square, bus stop, or school, must take into consideration the cultural norms and legal limits of that environment. However, art that takes place in what might be considered a modified private space (in other words, a theatre or other venue where people choose to enter), should have the right to freedom of expression. When we begin to set limits on art, where are the limits to those limits? Who determines those limits? Is it whoever is currently the possessor of political power? We’ve seen how that strategy has played out in other cultures, and the results are not pretty, to say the least.
Should governments support art? Yes! (see above paragraph on the splendors and benefits of art) Should government dictate content or determine funding according to content rather than quality? No. Why? Because art is about transcending boundaries, imagining the impossible and making it come to life. It’s about trying to know and understand ourselves more profoundly, even the messy parts.
A culture that places limits on artistic and scientific inquiry, that is resistant to change and hostile to diversity, is one that will stagnate and herald its own extinction. The country I want to live in, is one that allows and encourages open discourse, and a respect for others, including artists.