I write an art blog. I write about my own art, art in practice and art practices, art history, and other artists but, for me, the biggest story right now is politics and it has been in the forefront of my thoughts for several months. The election, political parties, politicians, and a host of symbolic references to America wormed their way into my already psychologically and emotionally nuanced artwork sometime over the summer. So when I started thinking about today’s blog I thought about art and politics as a unit and basically those two topics have already been interconnected for so long that there is a ton of history involved. Before monotheistic religions gained almost world-wide popularity human beings were polytheistic and if you’ve read any mythology at all you know gathering 3 or more gods together pretty much guarantees drama and politics. Kings and Popes played politics as well as countries, Lords and Ladies, merchants, and the Medici. By the time of the French Revolution, about 2,000 years after Classical statuary, politics and art were so well connected that artwork could even be used as a propaganda tool.
The author Toni Morrison once said, “All good art is political.” I think that is a very bold statement and if only considering Morrison’s work I could agree. However, I don’t think it holds true universally. You can have good art that is apolitical. For example, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is an expression of emotion, psychological state, and identity with not a single political theory or opinion anywhere while for artists in totalitarian regimes, like Ai Weiwei, virtually any creative act is considered political even if it involves only coffee mug stains on a paper napkin.
For me, all good art has a message. It can be a personal message or a political one but it needs to exist. Although it might be that the most noticeable messages are the ones that address public concerns and political issues as opposed to personal affairs. In any case, the message of a piece can be funny but I don’t concern myself with pretty at all. It can sidle up next to me to deliver a sucker punch or damn near decapitates me with it’s bloody scythe. Basically, if I don’t feel a kind of automatic simpatico with the artist then the artwork should bite me on the arm to get my attention. Whereas if a picture is just attractive it holds virtually no appeal. Show me a Thomas Kincade painting and I can literally feel my eyes glaze over as if I am entering a kind of self-induced coma. I can count on one hand the landscape artists whose work I enjoy and while I can appreciate the technical merit of floral still life paintings I don’t really ‘like’ them because there is not, typically, a message I can see, hear, or feel. Certainly nothing that gnaws on my limbs demanding attention.
A couple of days ago I participated in the Women’s March by joining with approximately 12,000 other people on the state’s Capitol grounds to march around and hear speeches. Twelve thousand people in a red city located in a red county in the middle of a red state. I have created 3 separate politically influenced pieces since then so in 4 years I might be able to say “All my art is political.” I’ll leave the value judgement to the citizenry.