At the New York times, an article on a show exhibiting modern interpretations of Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms.”
These are posters depicting subjects such as bird pooping “democracy” onto the earth and an obese person with the caption “this is abuse of the freedom from want.”
I hate this kind of pseudo-ironic, self-absorbed, visual bloviation. Because the academic art establishment is just about entirely leftist, this kind of art almost always presents ideas of the political left. I’m very very independent politically, but I hate this kind of stuff regardless of whether I am in agreement with (or indifferent to) the ideas being expressed.1
Elliott Earls’s reinterpretation of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” practically screams. A little girl seems to be crying, her eye bruised, with an American flag in the background and two words framing her figure: “Liberty Weeps.” The color scheme is red, white and blue, but patriotic pride has been supplanted by sadness.
My reaction to anything like this is one of visceral contempt. Art like this likes to pretend that it is “dangerous.” Yet none of the “artists” participating have any fear of having the government take any interest in this work. They aren’t going to be carried away in the night and never seen again, as an artist expressing “inappropriate” ideas might have been in Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or nowadays in a place like North Korea. (This is particularly well illustrated by the picture by Chip Kidd, depicting a burnt U.S. flag and the caption, “Freedom of Speech”—made with the full understanding that no one will ever consider censoring it.) No one who might affect their careers is going to refuse to hire them, because anyone who might hire a political artist is going to at least pretend to like this kind of crap. Instead of having their careers destroyed by bravely “speaking truth to power,” these mediocre hacks get written up in the New York Times. They are expressing entirely mainstream ideas, better expressed in other ways. This work adds nothing to discourse on freedom in modern society. Yet these artists, and the writer of the article, indicate surprise and disappointment that the show doesn’t garner much attention. People just walk by and ignore it. They are demonstrating not a dislike of art, but a disinterest in vapid garbage. Good for them.
I would hate any picture that depicts George Bush looking into a mirror and seeing Adolph Hitler. I would hate any picture that depicts Barak Obama as a hand puppet of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It doesn’t matter what the politics are. Such pictures are banal, idiotic rubbish. They require no thought or creativity. If you seen one, you can think of all possible variations on the theme in about five minutes. They are political cartoons—bad political cartoons. They are not art.2 They are not even interesting.
Do you agree? Disagree? Are there kinds of political art that are good? If so, what distinguishes good from bad? Feel free to comment.
Note: there’s not going to be any discussion of politics here; just the badness (or not, if you want to disagree with me) of this clumsy approach to political art. Any explicitly political comments will be deleted. If you want to discuss politics, you won’t have any trouble finding places on the web for that.
1 I might respect an artist slightly more if he or she were demonstrating a little bit of chutzpah by making non-leftist art and presenting it to the leftist art establishment. But not much.
2 I don’t mean to imply that a cartoon or illustration cannot be art. It is only to say that this specific kind of cartoon, by and large, is nowhere near to being art.