I read something recently in a magazine that my brother, Jim, shared with me. As we approach and observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this article laid out a supposition that the Reformation had unintended consequences that "injured the church's life and witness, continuing to this day." There were two paragraphs in particular that stood out to me, and in light of the current administration's budget that would cut the National Endowment of the Arts completely, I felt these two paragraphs explain a great deal.
I've always wondered why there is such a hesitancy to fund the arts more substantially in our country. I don't have any facts to back up my point, but my perception is that Europe does a much better job funding the arts. Japan and even China have a vibrant arts presence. Again, I do not have any data to state that those countries have an active government funding of the arts. But when I looked at what the 2016 United States budget for the NEA was, I did find that it was .012% OF THE ENTIRE FEDERAL BUDGET!1 The actual dollar amount was $148 million. That's an M folks, not a B.
So, why is there such a backlash, nearly a hatred for arts funding? Granted, I do believe that it is the responsibility of the patrons of the arts (which includes me) to support them. I support them because I believe in them and their value. Like the great British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, I believe the arts are vital to our very survival. But why do we as Americans feel this antagonism for supporting the arts, while we'll subsidize athletic teams wanting to build billion-dollar stadiums? When reading this article, and the specific paragraphs, I now understand:
Rejecting Art and Beauty
The Reformation bred a mistrust of aesthetics. This is particularly true of those branches following Calvin, and certainly Zwingli. One sees it most in architecture and worship style. Reformed church building shunned art, rejecting the "idolatry" they saw practiced in the unreformed church. Walls were blank. The focus was on the pulpit, to hear the words of the Word. The emphasis, here again, was on right articulation of doctrine. "Smells and bells" were dismissively forgotten.
In some ways, protecting the church from the influence of art and aesthetics derived from a strong division between the spiritual and the material worlds. The appendix to "The Westminster Directory of Public Worship" even declares, "no place is capable of any holiness." This reflexive desire to keep matter and spirit detached from one another continues to infect much of Protestant thinking. The more recent movements toward liturgical renewal, including even sensory-saturated worship, as well as the recovery of liturgical arts and dance within mainline and even evangelical congregations, can be understood as finally rejecting the Reformation's war on aesthetics.2
I found this to be extremely revelatory. Our national spiritual heritage was even more anti-aesthetic than this author states, because the Pilgrims came over to the north american continent to escape the religious persecution they were subjected to in England. They believed that anything that could give one pleasure, such as the arts, sex, or even expressive (liturgical) worship, were the works of Satan. We have in our national DNA, you might say, a fear or even a paranoid fear of the arts and artistic expression: it is born of the Calvinistic ideas of asceticism, or the rejection of anything that might bring pleasure. And, even after nearly three centuries, we cannot seem to shake it.
It is my hope that there is an awakening in the arts community on a national scale, but an awakening as well in those that are patrons that enjoy the arts, but do not contribute of their time or money. Therefore, if we loose the NEA funding, the loss will be mitigated by those who believe in the arts and their value.