Over the past sixteen years I’ve been online, I’ve noticed all sorts of different memes attributed to Sir Winston Churchill pop up on the internet, but, only recently, very recently, had I noticed this quaint little “arts funding” Churchill meme appear.
Immediately, I thought, “Winston Churchill said this, eh? During World War II, even? Color me skeptical.”.
Hence, thirty seconds into a Google Search, I’d found enough information to throw this little counter-meme together in response:
“In January 2017, a popular story about Winston Churchill reappeared in meme form after reports that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to cut funding to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.
The anecdote goes as follows: The prime minister was once asked to cut funding for art programs in order to support the war effort. Churchill refused, according to the story, and said that preserving the arts was the only reason that the war was worthwhile.
Churchill’s exact quote varies depending on where you encounter the story (a hint at its apocryphal nature), but when it became a meme, Churchill’s purported response was a short question: Then what are we fighting for?
However, there is no record of Churchill saying this. Historian Richard Langworth addressed this rumor in a 2009 blog post, claiming that the quote actually originated in the Village Voice the year before:
“This alleged quotation was raised some few years ago in the Village Voice and is all over the web, but it is not among Churchill’s 15 million published words in speeches, papers, letters, articles or books.”
A spokesman for the International Churchill Society confirmed to us that the quote was fake, but added that Churchill did express a similar sentiment about the importance of the arts in 1938:
“I’ve seen [this quote] all over the place, but it’s quite bogus.
Not that Churchill lacked interest in the arts–in 1938 he uttered the following:
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
But this was, of course, before Britain was engaged in a war for national survival.”
And, now, with regards to the entire government-funded arts brouhaha…
I’ve never understood the concept of government-funded art. The conventional wisdom, especially nowadays, seems to be that, ‘if you take the government’s money, then you have to follow the government’s rules’…unless you’re producing federally funded art, apparently, particularly if the art in question is biting the Republican hand that’s
financing feeding it. Then it’s ‘freedom of speech’ this, and ‘artistic expression’ that, and blah, blah, blah.
Now, I say this as an amateur who’s dabbled, over the course of nearly forty years, in writing, acting, photography, painting…on a few occasions for paying customers, but mostly produced on my own dime and time…
…but, if you call yourself an artist, yet you’re incapable of, or unwilling to engage in, artistic expression unless Uncle Sam blesses you with a handout of taxpayer earnings…
…if you’re unwilling to express your artistic inclinations during your periods of free time between shifts at a regular paying job– y’know, because you’ve deigned to enter the workforce, as so many of us ‘artistic types’ have…
…then, I dare say, you haven’t earned the right to call yourself an artist.
You don’t quit doing it just because someone, whom you have nothing but contempt for, decides the money could be spent wiser in other places.
You should express yourself artistically because you love doing it.
Because it’s who you are.
Not because some politician or bureaucrat pats you on the head and slips a few coins in your pocket.
If the withdrawal of those few taxpayer-provided coins is all it takes for you to pull the plug on your “art”, then, I repeat, you’re not an artist. You’re a spineless hack trolling for validation from the very people you routinely dismiss with such self-aggrandizing bumper stickers as:
Talk about fuel for self-loathing.
The very notion of taxpayer-funded art– as opposed to privately patronized art, art-for-art’s-sake, or, heaven forbid, commercially viable art– has always rubbed me wrong.
Most of us independently creative artistic types have gotten along just fine all these years without it.
Learn to do the same. It’s better for your soul.