Political Art And Other Horrors

So a buddy of mine send me a link to this news article t’other day. Like so many political things these days, I don’t know whether to laugh at the ludicrousness of it all, cry at…well, the ludicrousness of it all, or just invest in a large placard that says “These People Do Not Represent Me” to wear whenever I leave the house.

This will not be a rant about abortion, but about art, so bear with me for a paragraph or two.

Saying that I am pro-choice is like saying that the sea is a bit damp, but the older I get, the less I feel like arguing about it. I’m past the angry youthful days when I secretly dreamed of forcibly implanting fetuses in all the top male pro-life activists just to see if they’d practice what they preach–my husband James pointed out that such an act was in fact a direct violation of the Geneva Convention, which forced me to actually look up the Geneva Convention, something that should not be required of anyone before breakfast. He was right, too. Damnit. So I cling to the moral high ground, such as it is, and take guilty pleasure in books by Sheri S. Tepper, and every now and then I wonder if my current stance on the matter is a morally advanced one, or whether I’ve just been beaten down by ennui.

My intent here is not to debate abortion because I don’t believe it’s a topic TO debate–what happens in my innards is my own business and no one else’s, particularly not any government’s, and I’ll extend the rest of the world the same courtesy. Your innards, your business. The contents of my reproductive anatomy are no more a subject for general debate then, say, the contents of my digestive anatomy, and believe me, you don’t want to spend any time discussing that. (Trust me.) And, in any event, I have in all my life seen exactly ONE case of learned debate changing a mind about the topic, which I think was a statistical fluke and not likely to be repeated. So it’s not worth it.

That said, the real heart of the matter is that things like this make me want to do political art. I read things like this and get twitchy urges to make posters, in that sort’ve Angry Eastern European, post WW2 style, replete with catchy bumper-sticker style slogans and eye-searing primary colors. And while I know how I feel about abortion, I don’t really know how I feel about political art–I’ve seen some magnificent stuff done along those lines, I greatly admire artists like Pseudo-Manitou who do it well, and at the same time, whenever I see art that requires a message in order to be worthwhile, my hands itch for the sledgehammer.

Art should look cool. Everything else is secondary. If I had a religion, that would be inscribed on the stone tablets. And yet…and yet…I don’t know. I loathe artists who’s work is only a vehicle for their particular axe to grind, and I am contemptous of art that is “obvious”, where the message is so blazingly obvious that it’s the visual equivalent of a Rush song. There are paintings that I’ve done myself where I’ve curled my lip up at how obvious I was being, and felt as if I was insulting my viewer’s intelligence–“Ooo, look, it’s a fairy shooting up on heroin! Here, why don’t I just hand you a sheet of paper that says “I.V. Drugs Are Bad For You.” (God, I hate that painting.)

And then I read news articles like that and wonder if the vast majority of humanity is so incredibly thick that only the artistic equivalent of a two-by-four between the eyes is gonna get through. And if I have some kind of moral obligation as an artist who actually believes in things, since I don’t volunteer, donate money in great quantity, or really, do anything other than mutter to myself, to do make art reflecting that belief. And then I wonder if anybody, anywhere, has ever had their mind changed about an issue by a painting. Because I never have, and I don’t know if I should be delighted that art COULD change someone’s mind, or sad that something as trivial as who’s got the best graphic designer could sway the minds of men.

Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” but he failed to mention what to do when you were stuck at both ends of the spectrum.

Man, this livejournal stuff is cathartic.

And that’s my rant.

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