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March 20, 2007


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Mr. Lessenberry's conflation of "Nazi art" and the celebratory banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln declaring "Mission Accomplished," leaves a lot to be desired in terms of literary art. Never mind that the "mission" of the Lincoln (a nuclear carrier with a crew the size of a small city and carrying as much firepower as all but a vey few nations on earth) actually HAD been accomplished and its tour of the Gulf region was concluding, as it returned to port in California.

No, let's go back to the notion of state-sponsored art. Because that is the great problem with art. Nazi art, Soviet art, you name it. State-sponsored art is almost always suspect. No matter what side you are on, state-sponsored art is going to be tainted somehwere along the line. If you are Andres Serrano and you want to put your jar of urine containing a crucifix in an art show sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, there is going to be as much trouble as if you were a Soviet, told to write a symphony honoring the glorious revolution of the proletariat, or if you were Albert Speer, told to design a stadium honoring the Aryan race.

Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Mozart, Twain, Rothko; none of them got NEA grants. What they thrived on, and what all great art thrives on, was freedom.

I'm not sure if there is anyone in the United States today who presents any kind of a serious or meaningful threat to art and free expression. If we wanted to find the real threats to free expression in today's world, we'd do best to look at the enemies of America. Start with the Islamofacsists who declared a fatwah against novelist Salman Rushdie. And also the terrorist who killed filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. And don't forget those who would impose shrariyah-law prior restraints on things like political cartooning.

We'd also look farther afield, to the murderous Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, whose visions of literature and journalism seem to closely parallel a Hitler/Mussolini/Stalinist vision.

And we'd look to North Korea. That is, if we could, where art seems to consist of statues of the Great Leader and the Glorious Leader and whatever leader comes next. Gold-plated whenever possible. One good missile can buy a lot of gold-plating.

Now there, we have some real enemies of art. Persons, and regimes, and freedom-hating philosophies against whom the art world might just want to join the fight.

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