Dear Harold Henderson:
Writers are often mortified by the way in which other writers interpret their texts. So I resist even writing this, but it can’t be helped, the ideas are too important at this time to be misinterpreted. Your “translation” of my words boggles my imagination [The City File, January 26].
You quote from my essay in the small volume The Artist in Society: Rights, Roles, and Responsibilities, which I edited with Ann Wiens. The essay is actually the talk I gave at the conference of the same name one year and a half ago, where I begged artists, writers, intellectuals, to recognize that their relationship to the NEA had become a humiliating one, that instead of all of us bemoaning its inevitable loss, or waiting for the government to support artists, we should form an “Artists’ Trust,” an artist-funded arts organization. I suggested that the 330,000 people who registered on their taxes as artists in 1994 each contribute $100 to start a fund to support other artists. That was the main strategic message of the piece. But it is also a piece about the degree to which artists try to function as public intellectuals, to serve the public sphere and how it is this sense of community and place in society which is truly enriching to artists. From these ideas and from these sentences in which I say that even if the marketplace would support all artists, it would never “sustain most artists’ souls,” you get: “people won’t buy our stuff, so let’s get busy lobbying government agencies to do it with taxes.” This is truly the opposite and contrary to what I am saying, and saying quite clearly. Why do you think “sustaining artists’ souls” means paying their rent? Or that a “connection to something larger” means the government? But even if I were saying what you say I am saying, what would be wrong with that? Don’t you and the Reader itself believe in government subsidies to the arts? You’ve baffled me on all counts.
Dean of Faculty
School of the Art Institute of Chicago