Friday, September 26, 2008

Lenny mentioned tonight's panel on art and politics at the AAC, and asked this question:
Is all contemporary American political art on the left wing of the political spectrum? Is there such thing as right wing political art?

This was actually the topic of a discussion at last year's CAA conference in New York. That panel included The New Criterion's James Panero and artist Martha Rossler. Rossler made two competing claims, if I remember correctly (and I may not, at this point): That most of the contemporary art we actually get to see is enfranchised by large corporations, moneyed collectors, and institutions, and is, therefore, conservative; and that right-wing intellectuals at some point lost the war of ideas in the academy--hence the lack of overtly right-wing artistic expression; hence Republican distrust of elites and eggheads. (A seductive explanation, but also a serious overstatement.)

Panero, meanwhile, proved that yes, there is such a thing as right wing political art. As evidence, he drew on the favorite source for art historians and scholars the world over: ABC World News Tonight's "Person of the Week" segment. See below:


Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Whether Left or Right, Up or Down, images created for a particular purpose are not Artwork. They do not originate from Art. They are, in the truest sense of the word; propaganda.

11:07 AM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Whoa, an unreconstructed modernist!

11:44 AM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Sticks and stones. . . Jeffry.

Perhaps I should have added:
Propaganda; not that there's anything wrong with that.

Thanks for the pigeon hole.

12:10 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Hey, I just think that if you're going to go that whole formalist/art-as-art/art is strictly for disinterested contemplation route, you're actually taking an ideologically charged position--one that, yes, does relate to a definite period in recent art history. Now if that's not where you're coming from with this, then, yeah, I'm unfairly pigeon-holing you.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Never judge/label a blogger by his/her single statement.

As far as pigeonholing being fair or unfair, what does it matter? It's still pigeonholing.

Actually, now that I take a closer look at it, my comments were completely off topic. The original post was addressing the relative difference in quantity of different types of propaganda. My comment(outburst) was off the mark. Just a reaction to something that has been swirling around my studio in recent months. Mainly: What are my intentions in creating work and how do I rid myself of these. Does that still make me an unreconstructed modernist?

1:10 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Removing consious intention and/or recognizeable imagery from your work is an inherently modern strategy, no?

Hey, I ain't judging you. I'm responding to a strongly worded opinion.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

Hi Jeffry,

Tks for the shout...

I agree that the Rossler explanation is quite an overstatement...

When one sees political art in other nations, say Cuba or Iran, it is almost always anti-government in one way or another, so perhaps the main artery of political art in the current dialogue is to go against the current establishment. Thus it will be curious to see, if Obama wins, if political art still tends to focus on a adversarial role vs. the politicians in power and their policies.

I also think that it is a bit of a stretch to paint that NYC artist as a right wing conservative just because he paints flags.

It's the American flag, and the freedom to paint it should be not an issue that labels an artist as "conservative."

Otherwise we let the leftwing nuts and the rightwing nuts kidnap the flag.

Warm regards,


3:23 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Lenny: Good points. As for Lobaido being a conservative artist, I think you have to look at his earlier body of work, which is a lot more confrontational/angrier--things like throwing horse manure at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...


I will look him up...


4:19 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

I agree that "Removing conscious intention and/or recognizable imagery from work is an inherently modern strategy", but predominately in Western imagery. If we widen our viewpoint to include Islamic (Arabic) imagery it's not modern at all. They, as well as some African cultures, never had to rid themselves of recognizable imagery.

But anyway, I’m beginning to approve of the appellation.
Unreconstructed Modernist. Yes I like it.

5:21 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...


See? You just gotta own it! ;)

5:25 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

I saw that Jessica had one last dig at the AAC show in today's WaPo... what didja do to that gal?

7:12 PM  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Thanks for this post & comment thread. I will simply provide a set of comments from the "rich & famous" on the topic of how art connects with politics. I tend to agree with the first of Rosler's points, but not the second - since I teach at a University, I think she underestimates the contentiousness that still exists ... But I disagree with the notion that art & politics should never mix; and I am not alone ...

"The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." ~ George Orwell.


"Can it still be controversial to say that an apparently disengaged poetics may also speak a political language - of self-enclosed complacency, passivity, opportunism, false neutrality . . . ?" ~ Adrienne Rich


“Those who say that art should not propagate doctrines usually refer to doctrines that are opposed to their own.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges


"... hard and fast categories ... tend to be instruments used by the victors." ~ Václav Havel


"My position is that you cannot work towards peace being peaceful. If the peace is to be one where everybody’s quiet and doesn’t open up ... share what’s unspeakable ... offer unsolicited criticism ... defend others’ rights to speak and encourage discourse — that peace is worth nothing. It reminds me of the kind of peace that was secured in my old country under the Communist regime. That is the death of democracy. That might have consequences as bad as war—bloody war and conflict. So, to prevent the world from bloody conflict, we must sustain a certain kind of adversarial life in which we are struggling with our problems in public." ~ Krzysztof Wodiczko


"Apolitical art and artless politics are the fruit of a divide-and- conquer strategy that weakens both; art and politics ignite each other and need each other." ~ Rebecca Solnit


“I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and uncertain endings; an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.” ~ William Kentridge


"The function of art has always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness." ~ John Dewey

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"and that right-wing intellectuals at some point lost the war of ideas in the academy"

I wonder what Larry Summers would say to that? Well, er, I was just another casualty in the war of ideas, old boy.

What I'm interested in is what are you going to do when the mullahs say you are offending Allah? Can you give me an answer, please? I reckon that war of ideas will be a little bit, how shall I put it, more intense than the ones you are used to.

11:36 PM  

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