Art and Politics

Art and Politics


Last November I was interviewed by a New Haven journalist about my solo exhibition “Phantasms” at the City Gallery. The work in the show had been inspired by the sculptures of Nikki de Saint Phalle – with the intention to “entertain and amuse.” I spoke about my desire to provide a pleasant distraction from the sadness of Covid. I talked about my skepticism about political art. I have always believed that art audiences are already likely to be in agreement with liberal leaning artists and do not require guidance from artists. I also believe it is presumptuous of artists to create statements that don’t necessarily pertain to their own experiences and are often heavy-handed. I acknowledged that there are powerful artworks that have had a huge effect on political viewpoints such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin or “Guernica” but there were very few in number.

However, the encounter has since prompted me to pay more attention to art of a political nature. I have become less dismissive of it, and this attentiveness has changed my view.

Looking back at art history I was able to call to mind many more examples of the political nature of art, both in its subjects and its style such as the change from classical painting to romantic, or abstract art’s turn from representational. These all reflected societal changes in thinking, and there are numerous examples of depictions of historical events, such as executions and revolutions, that clearly or subtly express the artist’s political intent.The works of Daumier, Kollwitz, Goya and Richter are but a few.

That is why so many artists have said that all art is political. Toni Morrison pronounced; “All good art is political. There is none that isn’t, and the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo’”.  Lin Manuel Miranda also said “All art is political. In tense, fractious times – like our current moment – all art is political.” These statements bring to mind the works I just mentioned that always have a strong impact on me.

There are so many contemporary artists who also make strong statements about the world. Our own NEW member, Donna Hamil Talman reveals the prevalence of pollutants in our waters and draws viewers into participation in an environmentally conscious projects.

Donna Hamil TalmanFrutti di Mare, encaustic & ink monotype on Japanese Kozo paper, 26′ x 24″, display 16′ x 8″ This piece incorporates plastic fish netting gathered on beaches which pollutes the ocean.

I believe that the art we create has a message, intentional or not. I will no longer be dismissive of the statements we make. In making art, we convey our humanity. Which cannot help but be political.

Ruth Sack

December 28, 2022

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