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Maybe “crisis” isn’t the right word. Maybe most people don’t see out current situation as a crisis. I certainly do, but perhaps I’m just a radical of some kind.

I’ve always had a strong interest in art as a catalyst for social change and felt some obligation as an artist to use whatever talents I have to support the causes I believe in. If you had read my posts on Ben Shahn and Dorothea Lange, you might have gotten the impression that I feel a lack of social consciousness in the Art World  today. Artists with agendas like Shahn and Lange don’t seem to me to be as visible as they once were. This could be a perception issue since I’ve only experienced America since 1957 and only really paid attention to these things for about the past 10 years or so.

My interest in this topic is piqued yet again by a couple of things. First is this post on the Huffington Post website from G.Roger Denson, the same G. Roger Denson I criticized awhile back for his observations on Facebook/Gustave Courbet controversy,(if  you want to call it that – I don’t know how much attention it got beyond that one article and my post). I’m anxiously awaiting  his follow-up posts on the art of The Left because this first one was so interesting. I’m curious to find out what he might have to say on current leftist art, however he might choose to define it.

Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States. (Frida Kahlo -1932)

The second is the outpouring of creativity falling on the head of the now-infamous pepper spraying cop, the fascist from University of California – Davis who casually pepper-sprayed a group of harmless protesting hippies and assured himself an induction into the Stupidity Hall of Fame should one ever be built.

Pepper Spraying Cop Does Matisse (Anonymous - 2011)

Back in the 1930s, when Frida Kahlo was painting that self-portrait, there seemed to be a lot of politically-driven art around. It was overt. It was in your face. And it was a part of the mainstream art of the time. Deigo Rivera was celebrating labor in huge murals on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Art. Ben Shahn was memorializing the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, executed for murder. This was pre-World War Two, pre-McCarthyism, pre-Cold War. It was an era when political dissent was tolerated a little better in this country, before we demanded conformity and ostracized those who fell outside the muddled middle of American society.

I’m sure there are artists doing intelligent work with a political edge to it these days, but we don’t see much of it. Art today is about money. The art world accepts causes as a matter of obligation and elevates a few representative artists here and there, but things like war, poverty, greed, starvation, and disease make for uncomfortable conversation at cocktail parties and who needs that?

The internet gives us these spontaneous flashes of creative brilliance like the pepper spraying cop. It’s powerful stuff, but how lasting will the impression be?  Will we quickly move on to something because of our short attention span? How will the history of art, written mostly by isolated academics and rich people, view our time 50 or 100 years in the future?


One Comment

  1. Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a
    quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your blog
    posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that
    cover the same topics? Thanks!

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