Commentary: Political Art

There was a point when I was heavily involved on Facebook, skirmishing with the conformist drones of the art world. When someone posted a call for liberal agenda art, this was my response:

Too much of contemporary art tries to use sociology as a short cut to significance. Propaganda is feeble art no matter what cause it supports. Art is about a deeper experience than a debate about public policies. What makes Guernica powerful is not a specific protest but the universal depiction of the human condition. So what I am going to do is go as deep into my art as possible and be true to my vision. Separate from my art is the discussion of how our cultural elites have created a corrupted and doomed system that I am determined to see dismantled.

Propaganda visual art is preaching to the choir. It lets everybody who already agrees with it feel righteous for a moment without really taking any substantive action. It does not work as outreach-a painting will not persuade anyone to change their opinion on a complex issue. Art is ineffective as a tool of debate, because that is not the level it communicates on. Emphasizing politics has been part of the general decline of the art establishment over the last few decades, where context and theory have taken the place of powerful work that succeeds on its own terms. If someone feels passionate on a cause and pours it into their work, then that may be honest, but if politics is all it’s about, it’s limiting and will be ultimately less successful as art. The easier it is to explain what a piece is about the weaker it is as art, and political art is all about delivering simple messages. There is a lot of work to be done out there, but if people really want to make institutional changes art is not the way to make it happen. It takes other kind of work.