Politics as Art – It’s OK If You Hate It

My own opinion as to the place of politics in art is that it has its place but, more often then not, it reduces aesthetics to mere rhetoric and diminishes the universal relevance of artwork to a narrow form of preaching to the choir. Much political art also serves as a forum for the kind of ultra-narrowcasting that, in a supersaturated cultural environment, can find no other place of expression than an art gallery. Political art also supplies occasional cultural shocks to the body politic. I suppose there’s some value in that.These explanations can help us comprehend some of the more outrageous and just plain silly things that are done by artists in the interest of making some sort of political point. One of the more ridiculous recent political art statements came from British bad-boy, Mark McGowan, who last month turned on a faucet in a London art gallery with the intention that it be left running for a year. Read more on this artwork here and here. The point of the piece – just in case you see it as pointless – was to underscore the observation that, in the artist’s words, “Water’s quite cheap. I think that’s why people waste it so much.”Mmm-k…I’m pleased to report that McGowan, under pressure from the public utility, has turned off the tap. You can catch up on the details here. The stainless-steel sink that was used for the piece is for sale at a bit over twenty-five hundred dollars and the artist intends to repeat his performance. That collectors are lining up to purchase and fund the piece says more about the fact that it has gained some notoriety in the press than it does about its aesthetic value.*The 2004 US Presidential election – and elections around the world – have made us painfully aware of the political persuasions of the free-world’s artistic communities from Hollywood to Bollywood. The predominantly left-leaning views of artists should not come as a surprise to anyone who takes a moment to reflect upon what types of people generally end up in the arts. The relationship of artists to society is problematic at best. It should not shock us to see evidence that social alienation, childish idealism, establishment-directed anger, rebelliousness, hatred of authority, and a remarkable absence of pragmatism characterize the contemporary art and entertainment scene. What should alarm us, however, is the fact that in a culture increasingly pervaded by the messages of media celebrities, we’re being influenced to an inordinate degree by the persuasions of a traditionally marginal group. It alarms me – and I’ve been an artist for my entire life. I simply became disillusioned with my artistic friends who held on to the political immaturity that was their birthright, perhaps, as youths and who carried it forward as a torch throughout their adulthood. I’m as alienated by the art and artists who fall into this category as are many of my readers. Just thought I should mention that. If this helps you sleep better after hearing about the latest antics of a supposedly significant artist – then I’m pleased I could help. *Image: Artist Mark McGowan (Associated Press)

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