Saturday, December 20, 2008

Art + Politics = Press

The Cavity Search by Bruce Elliott

Do you remember the painting depicting Republican Vice President hopeful Sarah Palin in the nude during the 2008 election? You know-- the painting that grabbed the attention of national news coverage simply due to its subject? Remember? Well, the man behind the painting, Bruce Elliott, has decided to place another politician in an awkward situation. His subject-- Governor Rod Blagojevich from Illinois.

Elliott’s recent painting, which is already receiving press in Chicago, depicts a nervous Governor Rod Blagojevich (Democrat) with a prison jumpsuit pulled down to his knees. In the painting Blagojevich is positioned as if he is looking at the viewer as a guard stands near wearing a rubber glove. The painting, titled “The Cavity Search”, pokes fun at Blagojevich‘s potential future if he is found guilty of attempting to sell Barack Obama‘s former seat in Illinois. The Governor from Illinois is currently caught in the throws of scandal over the issue.

The artist has stated that he created the painting because the criminal complaint against Blagojevich “stunned” him. He has went on to say that he did it to appease individuals who criticized him for having painted Sarah Palin in the nude. I think it is safe to say that he painted it because he has found the golden ticket for gaining news coverage within the current political climate.

So what is the point in subjecting my readership to The Cavity Search? Simple. I find it disappointing that the mainstream media is so quick to latch on to works that focus on political figures or political scandals-- especially when said works would not be relevant otherwise. I don’t want to be too harsh on Bruce Elliott and his paintings, but I don’t find them to be overly skillful and I think the mainstream media is doing a huge disservice by throwing artworks like The Cavity Search into the spotlight.

Perhaps Bruce Elliott should take a lesson from Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic image of Obama titled HOPE which was 'inspired' by Alberto Korda's famed shot of revolutionary Che Guevara, and ‘reference’ a better image before creating his own work. Elliott could take it a step further and follow Shepard Fairey’s knack for infringing on the copyright of political artists from the past without giving credit where credit is due-- as Fairey did by exploiting the posters of Felix RenĂ© Mederos Pazos without permission from the Mederos estate. Or maybe, just maybe, the mainstream media can learn a few things about art-- and the artists behind the work-- before reporting on it.

Is this the ‘new art’ fueled by Obama’s campaign that so many of my peers have been writing about at length? We all know that Shepard Fairey’s image of Obama titled HOPE-- with a steady flow of media attention-- spearheaded this ‘revolution‘. All I can say is that the one good thing about revolutions is that they are normally short. Until that time I suppose artists like Bruce Elliott will continue to ride this wind of change-- and easy media.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

I don't think you are being as hard as you could be on the issue. I don't agree with all of your opinions but I do agree that the media is pushing some really shoddy art onto the public. There is a lack of reporting about these artists. Obama's people and the media found out every little detail of Joe the Plumber's life within 24 hours but they failed to mention much about Shepard the Artist. Information about Fairey's copyright infringment and a number of other allegations against his work is not hard to find. The media just wants to promote him in a positive way because everyone is starstruck over Obama. I wonder what the press will do when Fairey starts ripping Obama to pieces with his art. You know it will happen because his career is largely based on pointing out flaws of US leaders. If you go to the Obey website you will see that he is already unhappy with some of Obama's cabinet choices. I've not decided if Fairey is a one hit wonder or if he will continue to be a visual voice in American politics.

Anonymous said...

With Bush leaving office it will be rough for anyone who is a political artist. These kids have based most of their career on attacking Bush. Soon Bush will be irrelevant as a point of discussion visually. Everyone is starting to focus on Obama. All of the Obama inspired art at Art Basel sold. It makes sense that they have all latched on to Obama in a positive way. Making anti-Obama art would not sell. That is what political art is about today. What can you make that will sell. These kids don't want to tackle an unpopular message. There world will remain positive as long as Obama is praised.

Anonymous said...

The Blago painting has a good start compared to his Palin painting. I guess that is your point though. He is getting exposure for work that is not finished just because it features a corrupt politician. The political surge of art will die down once people get burned out on it. Once people decide who are the best guys like Bruce will move on to the next fad.

Anonymous said...

Back in art school I heard a teacher say that he knew how to get famous, he knew how to get rich, and he knew how to get good, but the three had nothing to do with each other. At any rate, Elliot is demonstrating how you get famous.

Anonymous said...

Turnabout is fair play(haha). Had complaints before about women being used as sex objects, with the Palin painting. We get the other side of it now(haha)

And no way in hell is Fairey a player in politics, no one knows who he is or gives a damn except jealous artist types. Who cares? He is a graphic artist, not a creative artist, and if breaking copyrights then should be made to pay, otherwise, its just a poster people. Yes, he is derivative, but waht isnt anymore? Its that or absolutely absurd master thesis type stuff, projects and silly installations that have nothing to do with creative art, all self absorbed and obsessive silliness.

Time to grow uip people, put down the childishness, start dealing with teh real world, its here whether you want it to be or not, the age of excess is over. Its back to WE, US, god and nature. Arts true calling, not pseudo intellectual gamesmanship. We dont have the time, money, energy or materials to waste anymore, time to get back to basics.

art collegia delenda est

Andrew Peterson said...

I don't remember that painting, but is there any chance anyone could point me in the direction of where I could find it?

Anonymous said...

Haha? Really? What Bruce Elliot is turning out is neither shocking nor tasteful, or even aesthetically good. As Americans and Artists, we have the freedom to put out there whatever we want, the hard part is actually producing something good. Elliot is clearly just catering to the mainstream media. Anyone who has seriously thought about what the media "reports" about knows this was no accomplishment. They care as much about Elliott as they do Blagojevich.

Balhatain said...

Kelly, I agree with you. That is why I say that the media is doing a disservice by reporting on art like this. His last painting was covered on major news networks as well. Unfortunately, some people think that if a work of art has big coverage it is 'good' art. Art appreciation in the US is not what it should be.

Anonymous said...

The problem is, the art world brought this upon itself. Its not the fault of media or regular folks who just want someting taht inspire one to live life intensely. True arts real aim.

Ar academies claim anything can be art, its in the eye of the beholder, and so wala! Naked politicians! Why not this, why is pickled critters, weird installations, sily projects more ar than this? At least its painting, which fo course does NOt instantly qualify it as Creative Art, or fine art, or applied arts. Its pop art, same as waht we see in galleries, belongs in the Sutckists actually.

If art is anything you want it to be, the Peter Pan Principlie, why Not this? But its also the manipulation of media by artistes, Raw Serrano, Piss Yeshua, balloon animals, clown noses and red pink extended ones on countless art student works(why?) Its the same as in Hollywood, if you are going to use the Media, the Media now will use you. Turnabouts fair play.

Until artist decide waht art is, and stop being wimps about it, PC, and gutless, this will continue to happen. Have an all out brawl about what creative art is, vs fine art vs pop art vs applied arts. You cant have it all ways, there are differences. Define whats what, and things will be much more focused and real, and mature. Kiddie art is rampant, why not naked politician kiddie art?

art collegia delenda est

Anonymous said...

I did a political caricature when the Blairs came out with thier "I'm Churchill" comments
had cherry blowing him off while he was asking her to call him "churchill"

Anonymous said...

Wow. You really seem to have it out for Shepard Fairey. Believe me, I'm not a fan of his by any stretch...but so much vitriol for one douchebag former street artist...seems a little harsh. Do you have any personal beef with this guy or something?

As far as this Bruce Elliott cat is concerned, his paintings aren't nearly as awful as some of the other shit that passes for art that has apppeared on this very blog, IMO.

josephbolstad said...

I have to second that last comment -- why bring Shepard Fairey into this? Not to be too harsh, but it seems like Fairey comes up every other post around here. I'm not defending him, I just get tired of hearing about him. I'd rather hear about somebody doing something interesting and amazing than hear about his copyright infringements for the fifth time.

Furthermore, insinuating that the Obama campaign is somehow to blame for "fueling" Elliot's bad paintings is really stretching things.

Balhatain said...

"Do you have any personal beef with this guy or something?"

No. I'm annoyed by the mainstream media because they are not covering every angle that they should concerning Shepard Fairey's story. It does not help that he dodges questions about it with the same tired replies.

At the same time, I'm annoyed by anyone who does not give credit where credit is do. It is an issue of fact and facing facts. If the mainstream media fails to discuss it I will. He has had the opportunity to set the record straight.

I've advocated for artists rights for over 13 years now. In that sense I feel obligated to discuss it. I would be standing against what I believe in if I did not. That is why it is an issue.

Balhatain said...


There are over 700 entries on the Myartspace Blog. Of that only a few mention Shepard Fairey. I write about all kinds of issues. Should I stop mentioning Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin as well?

Art law and copyright is an interesting topic that more artists need to be aware of. That is why I did a series on this blog about art law issue. If anything, Shepard Fairey is an example of just how badly someone can exploit the works of others. So he is a good example to use. It is something that needs to be done. Sorry.

You said, “Furthermore, insinuating that the Obama campaign is somehow to blame for "fueling" Elliot's bad paintings is really stretching things.”

That is not what I meant to suggest. If you read it again you will see that I'm pointing my finger at the media for reporting on stories like this at the drop of a hat.

Also, I’ve read several art blog posts lately that insinuate that Obama’s campaign has unlocked a new age of art. I keep reading about 'change' in the art community and so on. If that is true I have yet to see it. That was my point.

Now if you want to discuss my position on Obama and art we can. It does make me nervous that he raised the profile of a copyright infringer. It also makes me nervous that he is very open about his arts policy, but failed to answer question about his position on the orphan works bill-- which according to some is still gaining ground.

It is great that Obama supports the arts, but let us hope that he also supports the rights of artists and the protections we all deserve for our work.

Anonymous said...

Fairey is a non issue Brian, no one knows him or cares outside of the art world, and he really is just a designer, well, shouldnt say that as my wife is one, but much better. Just not a populist one.

And yes, you can stop talking about Hirst and Emin, make it a New Years resolution to start focusing on art that matters, not that there is alot of that at the moment, but will become a growing wave, as back to basics, the fundamentals of art and life is at hand.

something new will form, naturally, organically, to reflect teh world we are in, in a ture way, taking into consideration how we got here for a change, building on our past, but reflecting the truths of the moment, the basics that are the highest common denomintor of humanity, not the lowest for each subgroup as has been our way for the half century. Marketing ploys got us here, they must be ignored and overcome in this truly new millenium. It is always darkest before the dawn, and 2009 will be a mutha.

2010 the light will begin to glimmer. til then, back to basics. learn ones craft and how to use it to trigger emotions of truth in others, truths that cross economic, class, and racial lines. The marketing used those lines to maximize income from each subset, adn so we were divided, and left blind to reality. And now is how we are paying for our blinders, our willinginess to accept a lie.

No rush, truth comes in its own time, it cannot be forced. All else is false, frontin, making believe. enough of that. Truth and truth alone, veritas, patience and selflesness. New concepts for sure in art. Lets get to work

art collegia delenda est

josephbolstad said...

Thanks for the clarification, Brian.

Of course you have the right to write about whatever you like, that's not for any of us to decide. But some of us are loyal readers that care about and genuinely appreciate this blog, and we just want to offer an opinion regarding the direction not just this blog, but the discourse in general should take.

I would agree with you that the media jumps on these things without much consideration. Maybe that's why some of us here are so tired of hearing Fairey's name -- on this blog and elsewhere.

I would have to disagree with Donald when he says Fairey doesn't matter to anyone outside the art world. He's hugely popular and we shouldn't forget that.

In regards to Obama, he didn't answer about the orphan works bill, but is there any evidence that he is even aware of Fairey's various copyright infringements? I highly doubt that Obama's arts policy would be somehow pro-plagiarism, so I don't think there's much reason to be nervous about it. We should be glad he has an arts policy to begin with.

Anyhow, thanks for all your stimulating thoughts on these issues. Please continue to write about what you think is important.

Balhatain said...


Thanks for your kind words. I think Obama is probably aware. My understanding is that he is addicted to the internet so I'm certain he has Googled Shepard at one point or the other. Yes, I do like the fact that he is pro arts. I suppose when it comes down to the line it is up to all of us to protect the rights of artists. For some copyright is not an issue, but for me it is something we must fight for.

I've been working on several new articles and have three fresh interviews to post as well. Hopefully I will have the interviews up later tonight. By all means, if there is a topic or artist that you would like to see discussed on the blog feel free to make suggestions.


Shepard is very popular and has inspired the young generation in ways that very few artists have been able to accomplish. It is a two sided coin. On one side it is great that he has inspired the youth. On the other side it is bad because certain aspects of his practice, mainly the copyright issues, are not exactly what we want teens to embrace when they think about art and creating art.

Anonymous said...

So-called street artists like Shepard Fairey are tools of the power mongers in the US. His media driven art is nothing more than a bourgeoisie-sponsored rebellion. Honest rebellion does not involve lining pockets with wealth. Shepard Fairey is the lap dog of a President to be who is already proving himself to be a liar like Bush. He is smart though because he is already speaking out against Obama while his pockets get fatter. Young fools will continue to see him as a rebel. There is no revolution today there is only corporate sponsored ideas of revolution that come with a price tag. Political art does not fight politics today. It only enhances the image of political figures by destroying the image of others.The Chicago painter is playing both sides of the field. Where is the rebellion in that?