Does art have something to prove beyond being good, whatever that may (or may not) mean for you? Should it? On a basic level when we are exposed to such institutionalised insanity and unstableness I would say, probably for the first time in my life, that there is at least a little responsibility to be political in some guise or form: whether by way of identity politics incorporating issues of gender, race and sexuality or the repression of dictatorial political and religious overstepping – or just taking a position on social media or making a cool sign and marching somewhere (you are spoiled for choice now). But to each their own, otherwise there is the risk of a knee-jerk reflex for uniformity, which itself is coercive… and boring.
The profound physical and mental displacement emanating from Trump’s capricious, inhumane and unlawful travel ban is bound to be the next stomping ground for artists. The populist push has been instigated by global threats to economic sustenance and security and a growing disenfranchisement worldwide. I fear what is next; I trust I am not alone, and art could, and will, help us all to assimilate the resultant chaos. Yet my feelings remain that the commercial art world (which is most) is impervious to being swayed by protest art; you can safely generalise that they lean left socially, and (far) right fiscally. Besides, a lot of overtly political or conceptual art necessitates an instruction manual, which is beyond the transcendent visual experience I’m after.
Art as an agent of change, a soft cultural capital, cannot be underestimated and is now impregnated (it may not be able to get an abortion in the US soon) with as much significance as it ever has been. Okay, so I’ve come full circle, but if you can’t contradict yourself – who can you? For better or worse, the floodgates have been opened for proactive art that will verge on a new form of performance provocations! The reaction of the world will be to wholeheartedly embrace this coming new art form, the feel-good factor in fractious times to come. And of course, historically, every time artists have set out to make difficult, unwieldy, seemingly immaterial fodder in the name of art, the marketplace has sucked it right up. That won’t change.
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This essay originally appeared in Hunger 12, Stand For Something, out now