Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Art and Politics: An Angry Response

Earlier this week I received an email from a person who was upset about an interview that I posted several months ago. He was angry because the artist in question made some statements about how he supported the Republican party and conservative values. The email stated that I should not have allowed this artist to push his 'conservative agenda' on the readership of the blog and that as an artist I should do what I can to "fight the good fight"-- meaning that he thinks I should be one-sided in the views that are projected on this blog so that specific views can be championed. That is something I simply will not do... I try to be as neutral as I can and I allow people to speak their mind.

The person went as far as to say that I should be fired for having allowed it and that he considers it a 'crime against free thinking people'. I found his response interesting because anyone familiar with the Myartspace Blog and the Art Space Talk series of interviews knows that politics are mentioned in the majority of the interviews and that a wide range of political and social views can be found. There is something here for everyone.

I think this issue runs deep-- especially due to the political climate of today. The problem is that so many people think in absolutes. Both liberals and conservatives are guilty of this. This attitude leaves little room for discussion and or for exploring alternatives. The negative aspect of such thinking is 10-fold when people start to expect that every artist should adhere to a specific political opinion. This kind of goes back to the artist stereotypes that I mentioned in my last post--- it seems that some people assume that every artist should be liberal and embrace the Democrat party. What say you?

Based on this email I have a few questions I would like to ask. For privacy feel free to answer anonymous:

1.) Does your opinion about a work of art change when you discover the political views of the artist who created it?

2.) If you are a conservative should you keep your political affiliation secret from your artworld related peers?

3.) Do you agree that the political thoughts of an artist can help or hamper his or her success in the artworld and the impression that curators, collectors, and other artists have of the artist?

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

13 comments:

Arabella said...

Can't believe you got an email like that. Wow what a SHOCK, an artist who isn't a liberal.

I was once a liberal, and then turned into a conservative Libertarian, but in the end I just keep my mouth shut; I'm never win over that guy who sent me emails with George Bush made to look like a chimp for years and years, what's the point? When people do ask or get into a political discussion where they grill me for not being on the left since I'm "creative", I just ask if they want an answer or an argument.

If anyone's view of an artwork can change due to political affiliation of the artist -- they're just a dick.

Balhatain said...

Arabella, I think a free-thinking individual is destined to change political views from time-to-time. Our political views should never be set in stone... they should be ever-changing and mature with us as times change. We should expect and accept the choice that people have to change their political foundation, so to speak.

David, thanks for the reply. I get 'hate' mail ever so often. I felt this one was of interest since it involved politics-- especially since we are all bombarded with political news this time of year. I've also been reading a lot of views about politics and art lately... and how they can clash professionally.

I thank you both for standing up for your views. Hopefully others will as well. One thing is for certain... politics can get ugly and when emotional responses are involved people can betray their own views.

David White-Crain said...

1.) Does your opinion about a work of art change when you discover the political views of the artist who created it?

Yes, but not in a better opinion or a lesser opinion, per se. Why would we read biographies if we didn’t want to know more about the person who made the art object — and this can apply to painting, photography, music, films, books.

In regards to your post, how is anyone who has any real understanding of the artistic process capable of saying Artist X should never be presented in a blog I read because he and I disagree. That is no different that the Christian Conservatives going after Mapplethorpe or the chocolate Jesus entitled “My Sweet Lord” a couple of years ago. Should a woman curator at MOMA take down all the Picassos because he was a brute? I have a friend who is a fairly well known film editor. He was raised very by parents who were politically very conservative, and he, as an adult, is also. He is afraid all the time that people will find out that he’s a Republican and, quite frankly, it will damage his career, that he will lose jobs that would feed his wife and children because someone found out that he voted for Bush in 2000. Denying work to someone solely because they are Republican is no different than denying work solely because someone is a Communist (ring any bells?) or because they are a Muslim or because they are gay.

The guy who ranted at you is certainly entitled to reject all art that is not made by Democrats — did he also suggest you could only choose Obama supporters, but should reject Hilary supporters? Or vice versa? What about artists who would be Republican if they were American, or if they had lived in this century? Should they be excluded, too. You see what I mean?

Would we even be having this discussion, would you have even made this post, if some super-conservative wrote in complaining about a liberal artist? Does this guy write to movie studios and demand they stop giving jobs to Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Sinese, Denzel Washington, Hal Holbrook, John Malkovich, and Clint Eastwood because they are all Republicans? Who is that ANY different than writing and demanding no jobs for Martin Sheen or The Clooney or Matt Damon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepard, Dustin Hoffman, etc., etc., etc.

It’s one thing to say, “I’m not going to buy this painting because I disagree so fundamentally with this artist.” It’s quite another to say, “That artist should not be allowed exposure to display his art because of his political convictions.”

That is Soviet mentality, Maoist mentality — and nothing less.

Of course our opinions may change when we know something about the artist. We may actually learn something about the work other than what our own head tells us.

I’m glad to have an opportunity to respond to your questions, but this guy — from what you say — is dangerously closed-minded and ridiculously childish. Need I even point out that John Wayne Gacy — the serial child murderer — was a very prominent Chicago Democrat, a very public supporter and fund-raiser for Jimmy Carter in 1976, until it was discovered that he had 33 adolescent boys buried in his yard?

2.) If you are a conservative should you keep your political affiliation secret from your artworld related peers?

NO.

Any true artist is going to have his/her political, religious, social, etc. views come through in some way in their art. To expect (let alone demand) any less is to censor an artist. A thinking American person not only has friends who are Democrats but also friends who are Republicans, and Socialists, and Libertarians, and Green Party, and also non-political because they are so freakin’ fed up with Nancy Pelosi being Bush’s lapdog and flat out refusing to do her job.

An artist who would try to hide those political affiliations, quite frankly, doesn’t respect me enough to know that I am intelligent enough to judge the art for the art ... and that I actually hope to know a bit about the artist so that I can better understand his or her work. And, he or she doesn't himself or herself.

You wrote:

The person went as far as to say that I should be fired for having allowed it and that he considers it a 'crime against free thinking people'.

Again, that is Soviet mentality, Maoist mentality — and nothing less. I suppose he doesn't mind gay people as long as they act straight in public, too.

This is your fucking blog. Print whatever the hell you want to print!

Would the artist in question be a better artist, would his body of work be greater art, if you simply cut a line or two and hid the fact that he's Republican? Would the artist in question be a better artist, would his body of work be greater art, if he pretended to be a Democrat in interviews?

3.) Do you agree that the political thoughts of an artist can help or hamper his or her success in the artworld and the impression that curators, collectors, and other artists have of the artist?

Absolutely. But as I said, it goes both ways. It goes both ways, but you can't have it both ways. Blacklisting an artist solely because they are Republican is no different than blacklisting an artist solely because they are a Democrat.

-----

Full disclosure:

I am a white gay male, 41 years old, an atheist, and someone who has always voted 95% Democratic but who has — as a result of the last couple of weeks and the FISA vote today — decided to play George Carlin in this election. I am also a painter and a photographer who would never dream of pretending not to be a pinko-commie-fag, nor would I ever dream of rejecting a painting of the Madonna and Child that I found beautiful and within my price range.

Anonymous said...

1.) Does your opinion about a work of art change when you discover the political views of the artist who created it?

for me, no it does not. I am not driven by the need to segregate my opinions about a piece based on any differences or likenesses. Though i do know people who are affected by, what is in the long run, flippant and transitory ideals.

2.) If you are a conservative should you keep your political affiliation secret from your artworld related peers?

Conservative artists are "guided" to hide such opinions, it is harder to get established when 95% of your peers black-list you due to your differing beliefs (i.e. poster who suggested censoring and restricting the speech and activities of those leaning on the republican side or a better example Greenberg). it is sad to know that the new hate mongers demand a set of principles and respect for themselves but refuse to afford such freedoms for others. the political line is the new terms of discrimination (all others are protected via special interest groups) I am for TOTAL equality and believe everyone has the right to freedoms set down by the social context in which they live, but we must remember that with those freedoms comes responsibility. If person "x" wants to censor than person "x" will be censored as well.

3.) Do you agree that the political thoughts of an artist can help or hamper his or her success in the artworld and the impression that curators, collectors, and other artists have of the artist?

I think i answered this earlier, but just in case: unfortunately, yes. only those deemed worthy of the elite ideals are granted recognition. Though others break through and are afforded the same respect. it just appears harder since an agenda is either not being pushed or it is getting pushed away. Again i have heard for too long that all art must push a social commentary that is determined by the current political underground of the art critics, curators, academics and historians, and if it differs it is junk and a false utopia of fairytales or if it does not address the ideals then it is a craft, unworthy of any artistic accomplishment "to be sold for $1.00 at the local dump"

J said...

Look at the news that is covered! Some art student uses bodily fluid in support of abortion and she ends up covered on all the media outlets. A group of artists have a show about ending what they see as the false war on terror and it is picked up by art blogs and art magazines everywhere. A mid career artist creates work supporting US activity in Iraq by showing the strength of our troops and it is not mentioned at all! That is how the media cookie breaks down. The media is liberal and that is the only reason why a lot of the big name curators are liberal. They go with the flow to get the press. Curators are whores for press! Conservatives have more power on the radio but the art galleries don't need them because they want attention from the TV stations and magazines.If the TV stations and magazines were more conservative the curators would end up showing work by people who share those views so they could nab that press. I read a couple of blogs written by NYC curators and they all flip flop on political issues depending on what is popular to say. This happens because many of our universities are liberal to the extreme and student journalists since the 60s have been subjected to those views and it all trickles down to everyone who wants to nab their attention. Most of the bigtime art collectors are also very liberal so the curators pander to their views also. It makes me sick because a master painting can gather dust while a used condom spraypainted silver can be the headliner of an exhibit article.

Tiffany Kennedy-Carroll said...

i love how this person mentioned this:"crime against free-thinkers." that's hilarious that such a person could consider themselves a free-thinker.

1. my opinion does not change of any work of art based on the artist's political views (that's ridiculous...) however, if the artists political views infringe upon the artwork to the point where the art is only a vehicle for that person's political views, then the works repel me. unless of course the work is good enough to stand apart from the artist's political agenda. somehow mediums like performance art are exempt from this; i am much more willing to accept political views through this medium. i don't know why...

2. hell no, no one should ever have to pretend they belong to another political group for fear of rejection. if your work is really good, it can surpass such judgement.

3. like i stated earlier, it can hamper their so-called success if that is the only thing they are using to make their work legitimate. art over agenda. and censorship sucks ass! the passing of senator jesse helms should only remind us of the destruction censorship brings (esp. in our politically turmoiled country).

Mark said...

Im a free-thinking republican artist. I love guns and american history. I keep my mouth shut about politics at art openings because I want to get laid.Most liberals are socialist communists who wont even listen to the other side. These people are not creative-they are ignorant!!!!!

TheGruche said...

I love the interviews because precisely because they often do show the details, subtleties and contradictions that make the artists unique individuals. I find it ironic the complainer would wish to silence you because you would not silence someone else's voice. We need more dialog in this world and less "talking points."

1.Yes, my opinion of a work of art changes when I learn anything of the artist because it places that work in a new context for me.

2. I personally do no hide my beliefs that may not be "art world approved," but I don't evangelize wherever I go, either. I always enjoy conversing with people that are interested in talking politics as long as they are interested in a real 2-way conversation. I find that most people I talk to would rather talk about anything other than politics, anyway.

3. Yes your views could hamper ascent of your career in the art world. So could your looks or your inability to kiss butt. Navigating the art world definitely political in its own way. Where does the money come from and who are the gate keepers in your town? Best to have great work, display a high degree of professionalism and not offend the gatekeepers!

Anonymous said...

There is a liberal agenda at the core of the mainstream art world. It has been going on since the 60s. People always want proof of people being booted from galleries because of their political views. I think the proof is in the people represented by those galleries. Most of them are very liberal and are involved with liberal rallies and the like. The funny thing is that the art world is not very liberal in how it functions. Female artists are not represented well and many artists find their careers over because of how old they are. So it is liberal and not liberal at the same time. Just like the Democrat party has token political figures the art world has token artists, token curators, and token exhibits. They might pander to hispanics one moment while pandering to the homosexual community the next. Very political and very oppressive. That is how I define the art world of today. But all of them are quick to accept payment from the wealthy elite.

Anonymous said...

There is a liberal agenda at the core of the mainstream art world. It has been going on since the 60s. People always want proof of people being booted from galleries because of their political views. I think the proof is in the people represented by those galleries. Most of them are very liberal and are involved with liberal rallies and the like. The funny thing is that the art world is not very liberal in how it functions. Female artists are not represented well and many artists find their careers over because of how old they are. So it is liberal and not liberal at the same time. Just like the Democrat party has token political figures the art world has token artists, token curators, and token exhibits. They might pander to hispanics one moment while pandering to the homosexual community the next. Very political and very oppressive. That is how I define the art world of today. But all of them are quick to accept payment from the wealthy elite.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I understand: It is a crime against free thinking people for thoughts to be expressed freely?

Marv said...

Here's an interesting feature that shows the views of the presidential candidates in regards to the arts in America:
http://www.artsology.com/obama_mccain.php

Anonymous said...

Basically this is an example of terrorism and Bolshevism. The Bolshevists ("big Party") after the Russian 1917 revolution made a point of getting on all committees and into the power bottlenecks, then used their positions to blackball or harass everyone who disagreed with them. When an opening occurred, they moved heaven and earth to get another Bolshevik selected. They eventually managed to take over committees in this way, and then the government, after which they silenced or executed any they deemed a threat. This writer just warned/threatened you. Now that you have exposed their methods, they know you for an Enemy of the People, and after the revolution you will be put up against a wall and shot.

I might be kidding, but ultimately there are those that are not. Thinking outside the party lines is not permitted. Whatever you think of Joe the Plumber or Sarah Palin, these methods are being used to silence or marginalize them, and you.


I am a fighter. Ex cop, ex pro boxer, martial arts school owner, etc. As a teenager, I thought Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were the best, as I got older I read Saul Alinsky (Obama's mentor's mentor) and realized the ultimate emptiness of these arguments and methods, which are at root the same as Stalin's, Pol Pot's, and Mao"s. I am smarter than most liberals and Bolsheviks, and older and more knowledgeable than the others, and the rest I can beat up.

It is necessary to stomp on these people in whatever venue they appear, otherwise they will take it over. Look at, for instance, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or the National Organization of Women, or the NAACP. These are all organizations that were started by idealists who were forced out by bolshevist tactics.

Your writer just tried it on you. We need to expose and mock this person and his ilk, and support you and each other, otherwise you will be silenced or willingly silence yourself. You have just taken the most important step to preserve your freedom.

While I consider myself a live-and-let live South Park Libertarian, in the face of the Bolsheviks we must all pretend to be hardcore Jacksonians.

The cost of standing up is ultimately less than the cost of not standing up. Congratulations on being a free man.

BTW nice blog.

-maddog