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Got Culture?

8:12 AM, Jan 31, 2014 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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It almost embarrasses me to restate for Mr. Gates's benefit what most civilized human beings already take to be self-evident, which is that art museums, like symphony orchestras and drama companies and dance troupes, make the world more beautiful, thereby making it a better place in which to live. Moreover, the voluntary contributions of rich people help to ensure the continued existence of these organizations, one of whose reasons for existing is to make it possible for people who aren't rich to enjoy the miracle that is art. If it weren't for museums, you wouldn't get to see any of the paintings of Rembrandt and Monet and Jackson Pollock (and, yes, Francis Bacon). Instead they'd be hanging in homes whose owners might possibly deign to open their doors to the public once a year. Maybe.

During that post-panel dinner, there was also a question over whether the arts could only thrive in a democracy. At first blush, that seemed to make sense, owing to freedom of expression. But as others pointed out, it is also worth noting that some of the greatest works of poetry, prose, and music came from artists under duress in totalitarian states—courageous and moving protests that just wouldn't happen in peaceful, democratic settings. (There was also the matter of arts flourishing under the reign of Elizabeth I, the ancien régime, and so on.)

So how important is culture? Check out the links to this post for the answer. And read/watch The Monuments Men—it may even be worth the risk of one's life.

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