The House Oversight Committee’s investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings has dragged all aspects of the president’s son into the foreground – including his artwork. Accordingly, a facet of right-wing culture that typically goes undiscussed and unacknowledged has been dragged into the foreground – the right wing’s scorn of art.
The right-wing attitude toward art remains undiscussed and unacknowledged – it’s just kind of there, default and persistent, their implicit understanding that art is just kind of stupid. That Hunter Biden is an artist is held out, wordlessly, as an example of why Hunter Biden is ridiculous.
Am I going too far?
Am I speaking too generally in claiming the U.S. right-wing populace holds art in collective contempt? I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty clear. And I think it’s a regrettable attitude.
Where Does the Contempt Come From?
My impression is that the right’s emphasis on practicality and function and pulling one’s own weight are at the heart of their collective scorn for art. Art is not practical or functional. To the conservative mind, artists do not pull their own weight within society. If art ceased to exist, society would continue to function just fine, whereas the same could not be said of plumbers and farmers and construction workers. Conservatives are the party for the father telling his son not to major in pottery, but instead to focus on something practical like engineering or business.
I can appreciate the conservative perspective to a point. Certain jobs and roles are absolutely vital to society. Many of the people who carry them out go unheralded, such as nurses, plumbers, farmers, auto mechanics, and so on, which suggests many Americans have diluted and distorted values. But I can’t follow the conservative perspective as it extends to the collective scorn I’ve sensed towards art. Conservatives have a tendency to turn their nose up at art and the artist – who is often associated with the left, which has embraced art and the artist, perhaps pushing conservatives to serve up a spiteful counterpoint.
Art Is Important
When I try to consider a society without art, a society where everyone picked the major their conservative, straight-laced father recommended, I find myself thinking about Soviet Europe — mid-century Romania or Bulgaria with gray-brown winter skies and squared-off, concrete buildings. Stray dogs running through the streets. Chernobyl. Stalingrad. Siberia.
Not that the Soviets didn’t have some art; they did. But it certainly wasn’t a central focus of their society. The point isn’t the Soviets, though. The point is that in America, many of us have leisure time, disposable income, and local museums to reference – meaning that life in America is pretty decent, and the creation of art by private citizens reflects that decency. Accordingly, the creation of art should not be scorned, but celebrated as proof that the American experiment is going pretty well.
And whether you appreciate the end result — whether you like what Hunter Biden actually makes in his garage — can’t we appreciate that the alternative, with zero artistic end result at all, is far worse? So instead of indulging in the implicit right-wing mockery of Hunter Biden for taking the time to paint, remember that the alternative ain’t pretty and it ain’t American. It’s gray and it’s cold and it’s concrete.
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Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.