I really love art. I see art as not only the sigh of the oppressed creature, but also the also the song of the ecstatic creature and everything in between. As an owner in Epic Productions I produce art. When I'm home and feel inspired I play piano, guitar and sing...this is art, at least to me it is and in the end that's all that really matters. As a lover of art I was alarmed when I read a FaceBook post about the axe falling on the VPA program at Keyano College. Especially alarming were the rumors of ill treatment towards those that lost their jobs. Long time staffers being given 15 minutes to clear out and then being escorted out by security certainly doesn't paint a very flattering picture of Keyano College administration.
Then came a response from Keyano that seems all kinds of reasonable and flatly denies the whole "15 minutes" rumors and frames the situation in a different light. More responses come from critics refuting Keyano's framing of the situation leaving in the wake all sorts of muddiness around the issue of the Arts in Fort McMurray and Keyano College's role. As an outsider (outside of the VPA circle) I am thouroughly confused about what the truth is. Proponents of the program are framing the situation in a way that villianizes Keyano and emphasizes the importance of the VPA program (culture is going to take a turn for the worse), and Keyano spokespeople are framing the situation in a completely different way. So who is right and who is wrong, or is that even a legitimate question?
Untangling the problem of 'The Arts' in Fort McMurray requires a bit of philosophy. I like to start with first principles, axioms that are internally consistent and irrefutable.
Axiom 1 - Self-ownership.
I own myself and as an extension those material things that I mix my physical labor with or acquire through free exchange. (ie. I whittle a statue and trade it for beans) Self-ownership and property acquisition at some level are how all biological organisms survive and flourish.
Axiom 2 - Non-aggression.
This follows from Axiom 1. If I own myself it is wrong for someone else to initiate force against me. If I take another human beings property or harm him, I diminish his ability to live and flourish.
These are universal axiom's, they apply to everybody. This means I do not have the right to take your property (money) away from you or harm you and therefore can neither delegate this right to another person. Individuals in government therefore do not have the right to take money or property from people for any reason, not even to fund the arts. The men in government cannot possibly have been delegated this right if no individual has this right to delegate to a representative. Violence is wrong, it is evil and anything funded by violence may be wonderful in the short term but is not sustainable in the long term and in fact corrupts the very problem it tries to solve.
We have this idea that abstractions like institutions, governments, corporations, are actual things...they are not, they are simply mental constructs that at one time may have helped us understand material reality but now more often than not interfere with our perception of reality. We can describe a group of people working towards a common purpose as Corporation X and it can be a useful abstraction that can help us communicate, but as soon as we ascribe agency to Corporation X like it is a person that has consciousness and a mind we have chosen an illusion over reality, we have elevated a mental abstraction over a flesh and blood human. If I say to a person who is one of the individuals comprising the group called Corporation X, "The Corporation does not approve of your work." What am I saying? I am saying the Corporation exists in material reality, it has a mind, I know what its mind is, and it disapproves! This is an extraordinary claim that used to be the purview of only the priestly class. Of course what I am really saying is that I disapprove and I want you to do things my way and I am invoking the power of the Corporation to try and control you, you are my human resource in the same way the desk is my non-human resource. Similarly, art is an abstraction that can either illuminate or distort reality.
Philosophical first principles quickly slice through the mud and recognize as illegitimate, any mental construct that sanctions the use of force against another flesh and blood human. These principles recognize that the only legitimate way to connect with fellow humans is through voluntary association, this is the heart of community, egalitarianism, charity, justice, order, free-enterprise, and I would argue proper art. Proper art should not separate us from the source of life but rather connect us to what is alive and enrich our life and so I see art that is produced at the expense of another persons life-force, no matter how miniscule or well intentioned, as a parasitic abomination. You might as well be forcibly extracting blood from a person and painting your canvas with it. The artist shouldn't call for forced blood donations and then distance himself from the crime by saying "I didn't commit the violence it was the enforcer that we all recognize as legitimate that took the blood."
The beginning of wisdom, according to an ancient Chinese proverb, is to call things by their true name. The euphemism "publicly funded" really means money taken from its proper owners under threat of violence (threat of imprisonment, or ultimately death if they resist imprisonment) and directed to a special interest groups preference. A "publicly funded" College ought not to exist from an ethical stand-point. Austrian economists like Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Walter Block explain very clearly why the cost of education is rising and becoming less accessible and it has everything to do with public funding, but, that is a lengthy article for another time. So using force is not only unethical it doesn't work. Ayn Rand makes a good point when she says that which is not ethical is not pragmatic either.
Degree's and formal education are becoming far less important to employers now. As the owner of a company that produces art I can tell you that I could care less what your University credentials are. Your work, attitude and expertise speak for itself. This is not only true of art "credentials" but of any degree really, including medicine or law. It matters not what credentials an institution bestows upon you it matters what value you can deliver to the customer: Can you cure my disease doc? Can you resolve my dispute esquire? Can you inspire me artist? Information is freely available to any motivated aspiring artist and this is how most people learn to create art. Institutionalizing beauty can only ruin it.
As an artist I am often my own customer, but other times I produce art for consumption by others. I know my art is valued by customers because they pay me for it, sometimes with money and sometimes with applause and sometimes with a personal word of appreciation. It is always a win-win proposition, I get something I value more than what I give up and so does my customer. If nobody values what I produce I am not entitled to have an enforcer (regardless of whether popular opinion thinks the enforcer has legitimacy) take money, applause or appreciation from the morons who don't get my art and don't know what's good for them. There are certainly times where I have produced bad art that has caused disconnection and has caused me to reflect and inquire and has been a source of personal growth and learning for me...this is how artists grow and art begins to move in the right direction towards connecting people with life.
So to me the question about who is right or wrong in this debate is a distraction. Both are right and neither is right. Keyano College, like any publicly funded institution, does not have the right to exist. It is a repugnant and corrupt idea that force is required to make society function, to obtain an education, and to produce art. Art is a natural byproduct of the human experience and will be produced regardless of whether force is applied or not. The most beautiful art is connected with the source of life and leads to truth and insight. As force is applied to culture the natural byproduct is art that disconnects us from the source of life and it becomes an expression of domination and self-indulgence. In my opinion this is why team sports (the art of the masses) are so popular, they are ritualized symbolic warfare that reflect the tribalism and domination memes that pervade our modern culture, a byproduct of the systemic violation of the non-aggression axiom. They are a distraction from noticing what is beautiful and important and life sustaining and they provide an opiate to numb the pain of cultural oppression. Like morphine for a toothache bad art relieves pain but doesn't cure the rot.
I don't want this blog to be taken as a moral lecture or a judgement on people enrolled or invested in the community college, I work for government and so can't credibly cast stones if I wanted to. I want this to be a call to artists to connect with the life source, to illuminate the path to truth and insight, to shake our dogmatic paradigm, to notice what is life affirming in their art and seek feedback. I want to call an end to the petitioning and lobbying for the use of violence to support the arts...please, let us put away the guns of government. This is a real opportunity for growth. There are many voluntary, peaceful and positive ways to keep the Arts as you prefer them alive and well. Artists are creative people and can think of a myriad of solutions and possible connections. I would be willing to lend my time and company resources to a mentoring and training apprenticeship to young artists and provide them with opportunities for employment and provide a voice and a medium for experienced artists to use. I can't be the only one who sees the possibilities here, there are plenty of resourceful people who are ready and willing to nurture art. Message me if you see the possibilities.