Over at Public Discourse, Matthew J. Milliner has written one of the best brief articles on conservatism and the arts that I have read in some time:
To familiarize oneself with contemporary conservative ideas and publications often means choosing culture wars over culture. Conservatives are practiced in lionizing the classics and lamenting the decline of Western culture, but should one wish to fully engage the culture of our time, a Leftward drift is difficult to resist. For example, the editor of a successful journal devoted to religion and the arts, Image, recently announced his need to “walk away from the conservative movement,” for he found the “imposed abstractions” of contemporary conservatism less than conducive to the sponsorship of poetry, art and fiction. While I take issue with his decision, I admit it is understandable, for the arts and contemporary conservatism don’t quite go hand in hand. There are, of course, exceptions. The New Criterion has, since 1982, been devoted to challenging the fact that “the Left defined the only possible standard of enlightenment in matters having to do with art and culture.” But, to my knowledge, The New Criterion never aimed to be the sole enterprise in this regard. As the arts rarely attain more than token coverage in conservative journals and forums, The New Criterion—passionately despised by the Left when not ignored—often seems to go it alone.
Conservatism’s less than energized attention to the arts is, to be sure, understandable. Sifting the wheat from the endless fields of present-day cultural chaff is a herculean chore, and appears a luxury considering the urgent issues that rightly occupy the conservative mind. Does one really expect a honed pro-life advocate to put down her pen mid-argument to embark on a pleasant afternoon gallery stroll? Likewise, should a disciplined poet, lost in contemplative gaze, interrupt a potentially fruitful reverie for a primer on the current state of bioethics? Perhaps not, but should conservatism wish to retain its current adherents and attract new ones, attention to the arts may not be a choice, but a mandate—for patronage of culture, rightfully pursued, recalls for conservatives just what it is they hope to defend.