Art & Politics?

stlukesguild

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Over on the Music boards... on the thread devoted to our current listening... Olive raised the issue of Art & Politics. Across the span of history, there have been a good many powerful works of visual art that have made a political statement. One only need look at Bosch, Bruegel, Rubens, Goya, J.L. David, Gericault, William Blake, Courbet, Daumier, Rouault, Picasso, Diego Rivera, Picasso, Kirchner, Beckmann, Grosz, Dix, Rosenquist, etc... But most of the political art of today I find rather lame: the insincere and ingenuous product of entitled multi-millionaire art stars. Of course, there are always exceptions. I find the political paintings of the Greek artist, Stelios Faitakis, to be quite powerful:

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Just last week I was musing over the manner in which music in the 1960s offered a powerful voice of outrage against the harsh political realities of the time:

The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Run Through the Jungle

Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth

The Doors: Riders on the Storm

Bob Dylan: Masters of War

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On?

But now? With all that's going on today? I've been waiting for the contemporary music that makes such a political statement.
 
I think that the song posted by Olive, March March by The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks) is quite good... a step in the right direction:

The Chicks: March March

A brutally fierce commentary can be found in Roger Waters' of Pink Floyd performance of Pigs (Three Different Ones) from the Animals LP recorded in Mexico City... the perfect venue at the start of our current political mess:

Roger Waters: Pigs (3 Different Ones)

Perhaps the most unexpected political statement in music can be found in with Taylor Swift's comment on LGBT rights:

Taylor Swift: You Need to Calm Down

So what are your thoughts on addressing today's political realities through art and music?
 
Good luck. All that music was dependent on the existence of the counterculture, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war and especially the draft. This was all before my generation grew up and got real. We couldn't hold out forever. A major difference between then and now is the voluntary splintering of race, ethnicity, and gender orientation into self-interested groups who appear to have little interest in forming a unified front against the powers that be, outside a few pockets of genial diversity like Madison, WI.

I for one do not give a damn if you're white, black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, or where you are on the so-called gender spectrum. There's only one question that matters-- are you a decent human being?
 
Nor is art supposed to be trivial…
 
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To some extent, all art is political, because artists are embedded in a particular sociopolitical context, and you cannot escape that. Even if you paint still life, your own and society's views will have an influence on what and how you paint.

I'm not sure how much point there is to try to deliberately use art to address political issues. I don't mind. If the art is good, then I enjoy the art, irrespective of whether it has a political message, or even what the message is. If the art is bad, I won't look at it twice, even if I agree with the message.

Here's my controversial question for the day: can we enjoy art that promotes the "wrong" politics? Seems we're okay with it as long as it's politics from long ago: when we look at a marvelously carved Roman bust of an emperor, we don't first and foremost think "brutal conqueror and murderer of Christians."

But what about contemporary art that seems Nazi or racist or promotes satanism or pedophilia or whatever? Judged by how the younger generation has been tearing down even old statues, it seems to me that for many people the politics takes precedence to the art. That may be why political art is mostly so bad - if you merely have to get the message "right", then why would you bother to make good art? :)

Anyway, it is often just one more bandwagon that someone jumped on. The Black Lives Matter movement seems like it may be such. But once again I don't mind. Beethoven jumped on the Napoleon bandwagon, and looked what transpired.

But there are limits, I think, to the extent to which artists can really influence events.

Incidentally, it is one of the themes of the film Goya's Ghosts, which is one reason I enjoyed the film more than the critics, who all seemed to think it was just one more hackneyed film about the dangers of authoritarian power.
 
I think you raise good questions about political messages and technical ability/aesthetics. I do think it's multilayered though. As for art having messages we don't agree with, and say with the example of Nazi or racist aspects to it, I for one can still appreciate the efforts of the art itself despite what I disagree with, but I don't like that it's promoted. I don't think it should be illegal. I just don't personally want it influencing the artistic or cultural landscape. Take the Helwein painting of ironicizing baby Hitler. I think most of that painting is awful in terms of his ability when I've seen him do so much better. However, I wouldn't necessarily like it if it were rendered any better either. It has a very distinct message despite any "irony" the artist intended. Pedophilia doesn't always have that message because any picture of a naked child can be interpreted one way or another. It always depends on how they are pictured, isn't it? Sometimes it's clear and sometimes it's not. Hitler is a pretty clear message.

Hip-hop music has a lot of influence on the cultural landscape, and it's been very politically charged. I can't think of any other music since the 70s that's really been so, other than punk and hop-hop. The new wave of punk is just a repeat of the old punk, and was really just called grunge and wasn't really a political commentary. What was their message? I can't see how important it was, but I liked it.

Visual artists today, I've heard, that they are expected to be responsible to make their work political. This isn't something I subscribe to. I have made some political work in the past, but I haven't in decades. I was younger then. I don't think it made any positive impact other one of my paintings getting spat on once.

But I do think there is a point in using art to address political issues. I think it brings about change because it influences the younger generations to be more aware of what is going on, especially via music. Movies invoke change. Books do. Why not paintings?
 
Nor is art supposed to be trivial…

I don't see Goya's Third of May, Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, Daumier's Rue Transnonain, Picasso's Guernica & Charnel House or many other works of political art to be "trivial". Neither do I find the political realities of today to be trivial or the least bit worthy of Art.
 
So what are your thoughts on addressing today's political realities through art
I liked the "Fearless Girl" opposing the Wall Street Bull in 2017.

To me, she's not only about "more women in leading jobs", as was the claim.
I see there a call for resistance of all (seemingly) weak and small (children, women, poor, underprivileged, blacks, weirdos, outsiders, you name it) against the aggressive power of the major masses. The whole eternal David vs Goliath thing.

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I'm not sure how much point there is to try to deliberately use art to address political issues.

I'm equally ambivalent.

I don't mind. If the art is good, then I enjoy the art, irrespective of whether it has a political message, or even what the message is. If the art is bad, I won't look at it twice, even if I agree with the message.

There's the rub. So much of the recent political art I have seen is just bad... I get the feeling that the artists are assuming that by championing a certain timely cause their art will be highly regarded... regardless of the merits of the actual Art.

Here's my controversial question for the day: can we enjoy art that promotes the "wrong" politics? Seems we're okay with it as long as it's politics from long ago: when we look at a marvelously carved Roman bust of an emperor, we don't first and foremost think "brutal conqueror and murderer of Christians."

This is becoming a more controversial issue today. We have the push to tear down and destroy statues that commemorate Confederate officers in the US. I am in full agreement with the efforts to remove these statues from such a context as to honor or venerate those individuals. Place them in a museum that addresses their deeds. But I draw the line at destroying them. That strikes me as being too close to the actions of the Taliban... destroying ancient Buddhist and Hindu sculpture because it does not suit their current beliefs. And then we have the fact that the mob in their righteous zeal to erase our Confederate racist past have also pulled down statues of George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and even early abolitionists. It quickly becomes a slippery slope.

The Puritanical desire to erase the past and appears holier than thou has carried over into the museums. There were efforts to take down Balthus paintings from the Met due to what was assumed to be the pedophile nature of the artist and some of his works. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art... a revered art school with a strong tradition of support for figurative realism and a fine art collection including paintings by Eakins, recently announced that they needed to reconsider the artworks in their collection that were created by, collected and owned by, or commissioned by individuals who may have been racists, slave-owners, or otherwise not met the ideal standard of ethical purity. Again... the slippery slope. Do we destroy the Roman busts of Caracalla and Commodus who were unquestionably murderous assholes? What of the notorious antisemite, Richard Wagner? But then again, Wagner was likely so more of an antisemite than Bach or a good many other artists and composers of his day. It seems to me there is a misconception that the proper goal of art is to ennoble the audience... to edify and educate us as to the appropriate beliefs and values... and that any art which fails to do so... or any artist who fails to meet the proper ethical/moral standards can and should be erased.

But what about contemporary art that seems Nazi or racist or promotes satanism or pedophilia or whatever? Judged by how the younger generation has been tearing down even old statues, it seems to me that for many people the politics takes precedence to the art. That may be why political art is mostly so bad - if you merely have to get the message "right", then why would you bother to make good art? :)

Exactly. Now we haven't been confronted by too many examples of art that promotes Nazi or Maoist or Stalinist ideas... and that is actually good. There is Leni Riefenstahl... and that's about all I can think of. If we look at art around the time of the French Revolution we get more of an equal quality on opposite sides of the political spectrum. We have powerful works in support of Napoleon and the Revolution... and we have equally powerful works taking an opposite view. Of course we have these paintings where the artist's grasp on reality is so bad they are almost good comedy:

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Anyway, it is often just one more bandwagon that someone jumped on. The Black Lives Matter movement seems like it may be such. But once again I don't mind. Beethoven jumped on the Napoleon bandwagon, and looked what transpired.

When the latest political movement... BLM or the "Me Too" movement produce an Eroica Symphony, I might pay attention to the art.:rolleyes:
 
Take the Helwein painting of ironicizing baby Hitler. I think most of that painting is awful in terms of his ability when I've seen him do so much better. However, I wouldn't necessarily like it if it were rendered any better either. It has a very distinct message despite any "irony" the artist intended.

I always had the feeling that Helnwein's intention was to mock the cult of Hitler and the Nazis... those whose thinking was warped enough to imagine Hitler as Christ. But I will admit I haven't read a great deal on Helnwein... his political views, etc... I will admit that he often does seem driven to shock purely to shock.
 
Re: Helnwein, he is a sarcastic person that does like to shock and likes people, or his viewers, to wonder what his views might be. Is he a supporter? Is he being ironic? He wants his commentary to be cryptic. As far as his real views, I obviously can't speak for him, but I do know a lot about him, as he was the mentor to my mentor of sorts and they are two of a kind. Hitler is a kind of idol of theirs, but not seriously, yet kind of.
 
Since I opened my big mouth.......

I think the arts that best capture the mood of any cultural moment (like this one) is usually film/video/photography or dance/music/performance because of it’s immediacy. Painting is like some old and plodding latecomer who doesn’t necessarily belong comfortably in these kinds of moments. But if it’s all you have as a “tool of expression” AND you want to say something political, you find a way to say what you want using paint.

Generally speaking, artists are pretty good at “observing.” And maybe we’re pretty good at tapping into feelings. Although politics can be just another topic that one decides to be interested in, or not, artists are still citizens of the world. They observe it. And they feel. We can CHOOSE to shut up and stay out of it, or find a way in. Or, we can CHOOSE to turn away from ugliness and unpleasantness and make only beautiful things, or swim in the disturbance. (And those aren’t the only two choices.)

I don’t think an artist has to believe their political art will “change the world” although ego is ego and you can’t stop that thought from forming inside somebody else’s head. I also think it can be done without an overt, broadcasted-style “message,” and can simply be a way to document or witness as if to say....This Important Thing Happened Here. In my mind, it’s another way to “leave a mark” which is just a different kind of mark than abstracts or portraits or landscapes would be. So, maybe the decision to make political art, or to not make political art, boils down to our own individual natures.

For me, I think holding onto a “political outlook” is kind of in my veins and has shaped most things about me. There have been “milestones” along the years that have forced me to think about, and read about, ideas around justice, power, sex, race, gender (and the subsequent blowback and backlash). As a result, I believe I can see/understand the scope of American politics pretty clearly, or at least how its “behaved itself” in my lifetime. (Guess I “woke up” when I was a kid). Now, I’m no political historian/scientist/expert so I don’t mean I understand every complexity of this country down to its granular level. I just mean I’ve managed to get a pretty good “bird’s eye view” and I trust what I know to be true. Or at least, it’s “truthy enough” for me to spout off with some degree of confidence.

When all I’ve been thinking about all these past years seem to be coming to a head today, what do I do? Shut up? Go away? Sit still? Be silent? Be nice? Or should I ignore it all and only paint the beauty around me? What “beauty” might that be? Painting is often the way I contain my anger and disgust with humans by filtering all these “thoughts and feelings about my observations” in some palatable way. I don’t think anybody could stand to hear or know what I REALLY think and feel. So humor is what makes it all go down, real nice and easy. It helped me to manage the outside stuff, but the inside stuff is always a whole other ball of wax.

So yeah, I’ll paint my way out of these 2020 times...somehow.
 
I'm just exhausted by the whole mess. But then, I've always taken a very dim view of human nature. It all boils down to tribalism. The tribe at the top of the hill wants to stay there and will do anything in its power to continue to do so. The tribes beneath have very legit grievances, but I don't think they would behave any differently if they were at the top.
 
Although politics can be just another topic that one decides to be interested in, or not, artists are still citizens of the world. They observe it. And they feel. We can CHOOSE to shut up and stay out of it, or find a way in. Or, we can CHOOSE to turn away from ugliness and unpleasantness and make only beautiful things...

I think we must recognize that artists exist as individuals beyond their profession or even their passion as artists. Artists are also fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, lovers, etc... Personally, I don't feel that painting today is a successful means of addressing political issues that concern me... nor do I even feel that I have the ability to do do so. Can we expect the landscape artist to drop his or her passion and start painting political paintings? Personally, there are many current political issues that concern me... but I feel I can better address these in other means than as a painter... perhaps first and foremost as a teacher?

I don’t think an artist has to believe their political art will “change the world” although ego is ego and you can’t stop that thought from forming inside somebody else’s head.

That is true enough. As artists, any aspect of human experience is valid for the creation of art and we surely don't expect that all which we create will change the world.

I also think it can be done without an overt, broadcasted-style “message,” and can simply be a way to document or witness as if to say....This Important Thing Happened Here. In my mind, it’s another way to “leave a mark” which is just a different kind of mark than abstracts or portraits or landscapes would be. So, maybe the decision to make political art, or to not make political art, boils down to our own individual natures.

(y)

When all I’ve been thinking about all these past years seem to be coming to a head today, what do I do? Shut up? Go away? Sit still? Be silent? Be nice? Or should I ignore it all and only paint the beauty around me? What “beauty” might that be? Painting is often the way I contain my anger and disgust with humans by filtering all these “thoughts and feelings about my observations” in some palatable way. I don’t think anybody could stand to hear or know what I REALLY think and feel. So humor is what makes it all go down, real nice and easy. It helped me to manage the outside stuff, but the inside stuff is always a whole other ball of wax.


It seems to me that humor: caricature, satire, mockery... has long been a means of confronting political realities and the political powers that be. This was true of Bosch and Breugel... of Daumier and Goya... of Beckmann, Dix & Grosz... and of Charlie Chaplin, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Doctor Strangelove... and even WALL-E. Perhaps humor is more than merely a spoon full of sugar. It also seems quite successful as a means of deflating the powers that be or drawing attention to the fact that the Emperor has no clothes.

So yeah, I’ll paint my way out of these 2020 times...somehow.

I think we'll all need luck with that.
 
Nor is art supposed to be trivial…

I don't see … many other works of political art to be trivial. Neither do I find the political realities of today to be trivial

I was saying art shouldn't be trivial. Just as art shouldn't be political.


(I suppose politics is trivial…)
 
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