You Took My Joy And I Want It Back

If you found yourself agreeing with the thesis of my post yesterday about claiming someone is selling out or is dumbing down art is an attempt to exclude those people in order to save Art, I have something else challenging to suggest.

We don’t get to dictate who is allowed to enjoy art.

While you might immediately agree that this should be so, remember there was an effort to organize an art strike during the recent presidential inauguration. Artists have disavowed works they sold to Ivanka Trump and asked her to remove their works from her apartment.

While I can appreciate the various motivations which move artists to make these statements, I don’t think it is constructive in the long run to be sending a message that art is for you as long as the art makers approve of you. In fact, as soon as I wrote that sentence I realized how much it sounded like the rationale people make when refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings.

This is not like being upset because a political campaign is using a song without permission.  They paid the asking price, and for the most part the work appears as the background of their lives as a statement of their taste rather than to imply tacit approval.

The bigger and long term issue is that there is a contradictory message in saying art is everywhere, everyone has the potential for creative expression and engages in it more often than they realized…and then put out a call for all that to be withdrawn in solidarity.

First of all, since everyone can access some type of creative expression on their phone, they are less likely to notice something is missing than they were when accessibility was tied to a physical place.

Second, if everyone can do it, then everyone has to participate in the art strike, which is damn difficult to pull off.  In these instances you can’t go around saying, Oh no, we are the real owners of real Art, not you, we are hiding it away and you should be concerned.

The constructive thing to do is encourage people to cultivate and employ the abilities they have in the service of expressing what they think about an issue rather than withholding access to something that has no relevance to the issue of concern.

Because lets face it, there are a lot of people out there who have no compunction about expressing their views emphatically and loudly. Investing energy into removing, rather than contributing a new or counter expression, seems counterproductive.

“Makers and Takers” slides too facilely off people’s tongues these days. Let it never be said artists are takers, creativity is all about making.

Ultimately, there can’t be advocacy for universal investment and ownership in creative expression by the individual, education system, foundations and government while also reserving the right to reclaim it all.

Post title is from the lyrics of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “You Took My Joy And I Want It Back”

  1. and we should remember that they are quite a number of artists who themselves are conservative etc–not all artists believe the same thing 🙂


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