We got this email from John last week, and he gave us permission to share it with you. It’s a fascinating perspective from a conservative-leaning artist (YES! They exist!).
I don’t participate in discussion threads but I wanted to respond to
your post about NEA funding.
I’m an artist and I don’t support the NEA; I’m happy to see it defunded.
When I was just beginning to pursue an artistic career I realized that
there were basically two types of galleries; those that presented
self-taught artists, and those that presented “fine art.” The
distinction seemed to be that Fine Artists had some sort of artistic
training with degrees and produced more “lofty” works with
“contemporary” themes and approaches, while self-taught artists had no
training but had a good story of hardship and seemed to produce works
with limited technical skill.
I was told by Fine Art galleries that they couldn’t market my work
because I had no degrees or associations, and by Self-Taught galleries
that my work was “too refined” and they couldn’t market my work
because I had “no story.”
I then began pursuing grants but, as a straight white male, there was
very little for me to apply for. I have no animosity towards anyone of
any color with any predilections (provided they don’t impose them on
others, but in those cases it’s the imposition that irks me), but it
struck me as odd to be left outside the grant application process.
There were grants for “artists of color,” artists with AIDS, feminist
artists, artists with disabilities. etc… There were very few that
would even include straight while males with no disabilities or
illnesses. I guess because my poverty stricken and inner city livin’
self had some of that privilege I’ve so often heard about.
For a while it bothered me because I felt that art should speak for
itself and I was disappointed that my opportunities were being
limited, but after a while I saw the art world as nothing more than a
marketing machine complete with galleries and curators who collected
artists they could use to cultivate hype to generate sales, and
critics who present themselves as wise because they “get it” while
establishing themselves as arbiters of cultural value, and also grant
organizations who are able to pick and choose which art is considered
valid by providing exclusive funds.
The NEA is nothing more than a cultural filter which provides
incentives for artists to shape their work into specific boxes through
which they convey specific messages. This can only limit expression
and it fosters conformist mediocrity.
It was almost 30 years ago when I started selling my work
professionally and I’m still somewhat of an outsider, but my approach
to the work I do has evolved and the fact that I’ve been forced to
find ways to market my work has helped me improve in quite a wide
range of areas. Had I been given grants and been presented by
galleries and hailed by critics I may have more money in the bank, but
my work wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying and I’d have learned so much
I’m a better artist and a more well-rounded person because of the fact
that my efforts have evolved outside the systematized art world. I can
also say that my work and my successes are my own.
One of the things that bothers me about “progressives” is that they so
often proclaim themselves to be more artistic than conservatives and
that they’re an elite breed of cultural paragons. There are plenty of
artists with conservative views, but they have to lay low because of
the way in which those same progressives react when conservatives
“come out” about their political views. Any negative reactions are
supported by mass media which adds to the threat against conservative
It’s no fun to be shamed and have your work trashed just because you
have differing views. As I said earlier, I think art should speak for
When you have cultural forces in play that seek to funnel any artistic
work through a specific filter, be it through negative reinforcement
though personal and professional public chastisement or through
positive reinforcement through “official” channels, you are
essentially destroying the culture and influencing the type of work
that’s produced. You not only wind up with narrow ranges of
expression, you also encourage opportunists to game the system which
results in much of the so-called “art” that’s prevalent today.
If anything is naturally reflective of human evolution, it’s art. It
may be written, painted, sculpted, performed, or simply discussed
(philosophy has elements of creative inspiration just as any
traditional form of art) but, if it arrives naturally and it’s allowed
to come forth openly, it can reveal quite a bit about the current
state of humanity and help us grow as a species within whatever
community we reside.
There should be less filters and more freedom, and the work should be
able to sustain itself. The reason I love the internet is that it
allows artists of any type and from any place with any beliefs to
present their work directly to the world without infiltration or
If someone wants to support art, let them support it, rather than have
a taxpayer funded bureaucracy controlled by people with specific
preferences pick and choose who progresses and who does not.
This issue is similar to all other such issues; let the free market
decide and keep the government out of it.
Thanks for what you do!
When I responded to him to ask for his permission to post his letter, I wrote:
I love your message so much and would love your permission to share it with our readers!! What type of art do you do? Are there photos or a link to your work? In exchange for your permission to share your letter, I’d be happy to link to your work as well and get more eyes on it.
“No story” they told you? I beg to differ. 😄
And happily, he shared more information, including a link to his work, if you’d like to see it!
I’d be honored to have what I wrote posted at COTR, but I’ve been
going back and forth on whether or not to associate my work with my
political views because the idea of getting embroiled in someone
else’s attack mode bothers me. Some of that “chilling effect” we hear
so much about these days.
I was in my teens during the 80’s and look back fondly on the
discussions we used to have; groups of people with any number of
perspectives seemed to be able to agree to disagree and we would all
have our perspectives broadened through those discussions.
I listen to the dialogues that occur (or never get to occur) these
days and it really makes me sad.
What I see more than anything is degradation, loss of potential, and
To some extent, I’m trying to maintain what I had back in the day even
though the world seems to have lost it. I go through life treating
people the way we tended to treat each other back then even though not
many people do that anymore. The idea is to not let the negativity of
others change the positive things about myself. Probably not the best
approach in terms of dealing with reality, but I keep thinking that
eventually the world will come around so we can all be cordial again.
I suppose I don’t mind being public all that much and it’d be nice to
have a perspective like mine known. You’ll probably find some irony in
my work because my main line of products are coloring books. I choose
to make them because, as I grew away from galleries, I wanted to
create something more relatable than a piece on a wall and which would
be accessible to everyone equally. With coloring books, my work
becomes more than it was when I created it and there are infinite ways
for each individual to invest their own creativity into it.
I also make jewelry, but that’s just for fun these days because the
pieces I make are somewhat unusual and, even though my work has been
featured in books and magazines, it never sold well enough to make a
I choose to pursue these modes of creation because they’re more
personal, and I also figured that coloring books and jewelry are the
end result of any artists work; struggle to build a career, then die,
be proclaimed some sort of heroic master, galleries and collectors
profit, then your work comes out as jewelry and coloring books. I just
went directly to the end result with a goal to create works
specifically for those mediums.
Here is my website: http://WIKarts.com
I’m also attaching a portion of one of my ink drawings which was
edited for my youtube channel. The actual piece is much larger and
it’s been scaled up quite a bit, but it’s the most recent piece I
The ink drawing he referenced is at the top of this post. Pretty cool, huh?
Anyway, I thought his take was pretty unique for the creative world, and felt it was worth sharing with y’all.