I applied for a $25K NEA grant to finish a book about fathers and sons. It takes place in Siberia, in Spain, and in Brooklyn. It’s been an ongoing project for a few years, and recently I’ve had an excellent string of acceptances of excerpts, placing eight since January first alone. I am grateful beyond words for the placement of the work, and I know it is primarily because I’ve touched on something personal—relationships between fathers and sons, across time and miles and often across prayer or memory, has a universal appeal.
I planned on using the NEA grant, if it had been accepted, to finish the work both in Spain this summer and in Brooklyn in the fall to wrap it all up.
Then….DJT. Maybe since he is axing support of the National Endowment of the Arts he will give me the money. He had a father who set him up well; has three sons who also are set up well. Maybe he would read what I have so far and it will touch him a little, especially now that Baron Trump is in New York while DJ is in DC. Maybe he would read some of my work and, after sending me a check for $25k to finish it, he would wonder how his own son was doing at the other end of the shuttle to New York. Maybe he will read a few of my pieces and wish he could sit at Baron’s bed while his son sleeps and whisper confessions to him. He might suddenly see his son as a sleeping confidant, while somewhere in Virginia this minor writer is trying to record a few thoughts about his own father, his own son, and the space between them.
Damn, I should be writing fantasy fiction.
As for realistic means like the soon-to-be drained-dry NEA, it appears as if all bets are on hold, and myself along with other hopefuls striving to get some good work done in a world without patrons any longer, will miss the cut by one president. When I heard the NEA was in his crosshairs, I kept hoping he thinks it means Newly Elected Assholes, and simple wants to extinguish the reference. Apparently the NEA, along with so many other arts and humanities groups that support artists, is taking money away from other endeavors of the newly elected Populist Movement.
Oh to have been born in the last century where wealthy patrons paid for the expenses of artists for no other reason than they understood the contribution artists make to the world. When I realized I had run into this wall, that there was yet another set back to finally getting this done, I went for a walk. And when I came home I didn’t throw my work away; I didn’t put it in boxes in the back of the closet, and sigh, saying, “Maybe some other time.” I didn’t open a new blank file and start on a new project about butterflies or an essay about feeding birds and drinking iced tea. I kept working; a little on Siberia, some on Spain, both about fathers and sons.
The journalists recently told to shut up in DC and NY did not rush out and apply for bartending jobs. Leftwing news shows didn’t start running reruns of “The Apprentice.” No, we kept doing what we do. This is where the arts differ from business: we don’t declare bankruptcy even when there is no money, we don’t shut the doors and try something else.
The history of the arts is the history of civilization; from the cave art in France to the sharp-witted drawings by Goya in Spain, to the underground French newspapers, we record what is going on in civilization so everyone knows. It is how we pass along truth whether about our democracy or our dads. Thomas Paine couldn’t get anyone to publish “Common Sense” which told this New World we had it in our power to start anew. When someone in Philadelphia took a chance, lives changed. Paine did not quit. The dissidents who were exiled to Siberia did not silence artists from Dostoevsky to the Decembrists. Solzhenitsyn is more remembered and influential than the men who sent him away. Trying to stop an artist from expression is like trying to stop a river from going downstream: the thought will be created and disseminated. It isn’t an option. We can’t be fired, sidelined, and certainly not silenced.
Something a businessman could never understand is that artists are not in it for the money. Money does come in handy to more efficiently get work done and published; I could use the $25K. But it isn’t a goal; the art is the goal. A businessman may build the most beautiful hotel in Washington DC, but it is a waste of money if no one stays there. But for artists the work must be produced whether or not anyone ever hears it because we know if it is worth its salt, eventually someone will experience it, sometimes not for quite some time. Orwell’s 1984 is more relevant now that when it was written in 1948, as is Common Sense. Artists live by that old Japanese saying, “Just because the message is not received, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth sending.”
I’ve been to Siberia, been to Spain, and, well, Brooklyn is in my blood. It will take me longer this way, but it isn’t like I have a choice. I’m still going to Spain this summer and Brooklyn next fall. I’m actually more motivated now. It might even be possible that if the NEA and NEH and other organizations which support artists are shut down, we will see an increase of some of the most inspired and subversive art to rip through society in a generation. And when this administration is past and the Republic has survived, it will be the artists that record these times; it will be the writers and filmmakers and musicians who will pass along to posterity what happened here. DJT can spin this however he wants, but I suggest anyone in the street can more easily name ten artists before they can name five businessmen.
I’ll get it done.
“There was a father who had a son. He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done. He came a long way just to explain. He kissed his boy while he lay sleeping then turned around and headed home again.”
One thought on “At Any Cost, Art”
I agree that the arts are a vital part of life. Just as food sustains us, so does art. I’m reminded of a Chinese proverb that I’ve read in different variations, one of which reads: If you have two pennies, spend one on bread to give you life, and one on a flower to give meaning to your life.