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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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Actually, yes, the vasty majority of humanity really IS that thick. I pal around with a hyper-intelligent, and opinionated woman who thinks that it should be obvious, what the right course of action is, f you think about it. Hell I even got her to side with my opinion strongly on the issue of owning guns and the second amendment, when All I did was hand her a bunch of literaure, and web linksto legal arguements, and THEN I handedher the revolver at the range. she's very much in agreement with your stance on Reproductive rights, and is very well read. Hell I can give you a link to her web page if you want.

Howevereverytime we go out to eat,she, her sweety, Me, and one of their roomates, she does two things that usually start some form of conversation overthe meal. One is to read the headlines in the newstand as she walks into the restaurant, and the second is watching other people drive.she will then go on for 20 minutes about how she can't believe how stupid "XYZ" folks are. And then wegive her more examples of friends and more likely coworkersthat are even more stupid, andshe gets a littledepressed, then changesthe subject. Yes, the posters are needed,because not only are people stupid, but the great majority do not read very well. simple words.simple phrases.

PSeudomanitou is a very skilled propagandists, and once I figured it out, I really can't look at his work much any more. (I agree with few, of his positions, and well, I don't visit VCL anymore, because ofthe lack of quality and preponderance of Pr0n. Life's too short, you know?) I will do propaganda at some point (Service oriented Christmas cards), but I try to make it obvious in stle and treatment that it is propagada, and leave the rest of the art to tell trivial stories about a barbarian Lupine in Justinian's Court, or some other technical exploration.Pseudo, however is hooked on design and message, and it's mostly all he does. He does it well, though, butIthink agood chunk of that,is that it's his job to do it well. Ah well.

I appreciate the historical propagada art,as they had some real effective talents working for them at the time. The British "Safety" ones in the surreality wouldstick inyour mind creepily, and their effect was undeniable,and probably did keep folks from doing stupid things, like trying to see what's inside a Hand Grenade when they had a screw driver, and were bored. see, posters are good art for the sheeple. :-)


What a coincidence- I just commented on this in a stream of uncontrolled thought I posted a while ago:
"Propaganda is thought of as evil- but it’s only evil if it is used for selfish reasons or to mis-inform. Seriously though, the people who cause the problems are the ones who just don’t know the answers; they don’t know the answers because they are not interested in knowing them; propaganda makes ideas commercial- makes them interesting; so propaganda makes answers interesting enough to educate those problem makers who normally don’t care enough to learn the answers."

...I'll stand by that for now, though I'm sure that logic is flawed. But, you are all right- propaganda rarely changes peoples minds. At best- it only re-enforces existing concepts or educates those who know nothing about the topic at hand.

I believe that education is the solution to most problems facing society as a whole anyway, so I don't see the wisdom in fighting set opinions either; unless they are opinions developed from extreme ignorance (like racism). Anyway...

I'd say that out of 216 posts so far- only 27 could be considered political propaganda- and I am being very generous (I'd actually say only 10, but that's me). I'll admit- if you are referring to the artwork that comes from my personal statements on the human condition and other such nonsense- then the number is much greater (majority actually).

But if you wish to see my art- and still avoid such propaganda- I'd suggest sticking to the worktradesandfavors, and sketches sections of my archive. They are often without the full social commentary. Also, to avoid the VCL- you can check my Livejournal every now and then since I now post direct links to the images I post.

I know how this sounds, but I am not being sarcastic- I'm being accommodating. You promised a critique of my work long ago- and while I don't intend to actually hold you to that knowing what I now know, I still would like some of your opinions on my technique. I receive so very little instructional commentary that it is very depressing and a little scary. So far, Leona has been my only source for the past eight months.

Not a problem if you stll want a critique, it's easily done. I will take your advice on the trades and favors, but I will admit that there is a certain lack of experience on the "design' side I must admit to, as My(brief) major in college was industrial design, rather than design illustration, or Graphic design, which you excell at. Coments wilbe in Email uness otherwise prefered. I'm happy to do it, if asked.


I don't think I know anyone who isn't polarized on the issue, so yes, arguing about it is very much an exercise in futility.
After reading that article, my faith in humanity (well, Georgians) dropped dangerously low. What's even more frightening, though, are the troglodytes that will creep out of their trailers to support it. But hey, I wouldn't be surprised if said cretins are more easily swayed by small words and bright colors than rational argument. The latter doesn't work too well with these folks.

...small words and bright colors?... Ouch.

*much love* Ack, no, I wasn't referring to your stuff, Pseudo. I was referring to ads and posters used by either side on a controversial issue, that ignore the nuances of an issue and rely on catchphrases.

Heh- okay, it's almost like getting a warning of what I should avoid becoming.

As for that certain state- did anyone see the Daily Show episode where John showed a clip of a senator candidate near Georgia?- it showed this 70 year old man with his wife holding rifles talking about taking "aim" on the special interest groups and getting things done "right" in office. He and his wife then proceeded to shoot skeet with their 12 gauge shotguns. THAT- was the democratic candidate. The republican one was too "scary" for the Daily show to air according to John...
Values are just different there.

For your work, you're most often commenting on the human condition. There's nothing to argue, really, just an opinion. With big, thorny issues, it's a tough call. Is it ethical to ignore nuances that you know exist when presenting a side to the public?

"Is it ethical to ignore nuances that you know exist when presenting a side to the public?"

I don't know if it's that simple...
Is it ethical to present a one sided opinion? Well- in America (and possibly Canada) it is. No matter how one sided the display, people are free to agree or disagree as well as make their own counter presentations. Such a thing only stops being ethical when someone is presenting false information.
Is it right to -educate- people who are unaware of the facts by teaching them only one side of the story?- Well, that is what many of our history text books from school did and still do- and I for one am very unhappy with my education. I don't believe that is ethical at all since it disallows people to formally make their own opinion on any related subject.

So... where do the two differ?- I don't really know. It must depend on the individual situation.

As for me and what I do: presenting a one sided statement while ignoring the subtle points- is it ethical?- depends on what side of the argument you stand on. But- persuasion, in a simple, absolute sense of logic- no... it is not actually ethical. My art is selfish anyway. I do it because I like doing it. My hope is that some of what I do is understood to be either a statement of just my opinion, a questioning of existing situations, or a call to action for those who might be concerned enough to educate themselves. It doesn’t always turn out that way, and it can be said that I am one of the “bad guys” in those cases. I’m still going to do what I do though. Just because I don’t always do this right doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try; just so long as I take responsibility for the outcome.

I’m sorry- I feel like I am polluting Ursula’s Livejournal with a subject that she originally commented on wanting to avoid...

Oh, no, pollute away. All I wanted to avoid was people screaming slogans back and forth in the "Keep your laws off my body!" "Abortion is Murder!" genre--thoughtful commentary on the nature of propaganda and persuasion in art is a good thing, so far as I'm concerned.

My feeling on whether or not it's ethical to present only one side of an argument in art, say, is that it's perfectly fine--it's not as if you're giving someone a test on your paintings at the end of the week and grading them points off if they don't conform to your opinion. Nobody needs to absorb the meaning of your art in order to get a diploma. And there's also the simple matter of practicality--to use the current example, it's far easier to do a poster that says something pithy about choice than one featuring a fifty page treatise that carefully analyzes both sides of the situation and attempts to draw a rational moral conclusion.

Artistic stylization and simplification is all about stripping down the subject to a few key lines or shapes that still express the basic nature of the subject. And that's fine. Few people are going to argue that it's unethical to draw a cartoon wolf because you don't show all the possible aspects of wolfness--it's up to people to go and look at a real wolf and read about wolves if they want to know more about it. It's the simplicity of it that delivers the impact. And if that's okay, then I guess I feel that it's fine to do that to a political or ethical debate as well, for artistic purposes--to hone it down to a few key words in order to have the maximum punch and say what you want to say, and it's up to people to go and find out more about it for themselves. We don't worry that very stupid people will assume all wolves are in fact cartoons because of our drawings--why worry that those same people will assume a political argument is a single slogan because of them?

I'm coming into this rather late, but I haven't had electricity since Tuesday. (This is as good as my excuses ever get, so I'm trying to get as much mileage out of it as possible.)

Few people are going to argue that it's unethical to draw a cartoon wolf because you don't show all the possible aspects of wolfness--it's up to people to go and look at a real wolf and read about wolves if they want to know more about it. It's the simplicity of it that delivers the impact. And if that's okay, then I guess I feel that it's fine to do that to a political or ethical debate as well, for artistic purposes--to hone it down to a few key words in order to have the maximum punch and say what you want to say, and it's up to people to go and find out more about it for themselves.

I agree, up to a point. The problem is that wolves and political issues are very different beasts. Someone who is not educated on all aspects of wolfness is not extraordinarily dangerous to anyone but itself, particularly if it hasn't got a wolf on hand to be dangerous with. Someone who isn't educated on all aspects of a political issue has the potential to be very dangerous, and the potential to be very dangerous to a whole lot of people if it picks its time and place well.

Also, for some reason people don't seem to feel as much need to educate themselves on issues as on wolves, which is a problem, because no amount of social heirarchy or playing with ravens is going to make a wolf as complex and as necessitating-of-study as some of the political issues we've got floating around. Or maybe it's just that they are less inclined to assume that they know everything there is to know about wolves after reading a single pamphlet on the subject; or that even a non-expert has a few good pieces of information about wolves, and will be able to spot it when an artist exaggerates a detail to make a point. (I'm thinking particularly of some of the anti-drug propaganda that's been running recently in the US, apparently for the purpose of encouraging young potheads to buy only domestic marijuana.)

I won't go so far as to call misinforming by propaganda unethical, but it is certainly bloody annoying. Punch is an excellent way to get people's attention, but it needs some substance behind it because most people will not go out and find that substance for themselves.

Re: "Is it ethical to present a one sided opinion?"

I know this thread is probably 'dead and gone' by days... I could check the date but I ams lazy at.... 2:40 am. I also wasn't going to respond except for two reasons: 1) This is something I recently covered in one of my classes and 2) Ursula said, "Spam away" so I figure she won't mind *too* much by me saying something even belatedly...

*ahem* Mass Communication major. Just took "Communication Theory". Hated that class, but it apparently was worth it for a little (to quote my dad), "Cocktail hour discussion".

Anyway, the answer to the question is, erm.. well, it doesn't have a defined answer, of course, but according to the theories we were taught, giving a one-sided message is perfect if your audience either (a) already agrees with you anyway or (b) Is un/under educated. (IE: Homer J. Simpson). Two sided messages, however, are great for if you're approaching people who: (a) hold no opinion, (b) are highly-educated, (c) both a&b, (d) don't agree, but it isn't a rabid, "NO" sort of answer. (See also: Innoculation Theory.)

Obviously, for advertising purposes, you're most likely to use a one-sided message. Unless, of course, you're trying to get people to switch brands. In which case you'd use messages with a 'two-sided' sort of thing. Like staged taste-tests, for example.

Why do I always seem to write things like this at hours past midnight? I'm pretty sure that despite the lateness of the hour, I explained it as I learned it.

I believe you have a story book inside you- probably several. I think it is these "books" that you draw your inspiration and reasons to illustrate (that- or your dreams). That's what you do, I'm sure everyone agrees that you are extremely good at it, and I also agree that what I do is not for everyone.

Picking up a cause does not mean you have to fight everyone who disagrees in order to make it feel like truth in your heart. Presenting a personal ideal to others does not automatically mean you are snatching up a torch and picket sign. The line between propaganda and sharing is a little blurred sometimes- but those who know you will be able to see your expression for what it is. Even still- many of us don't want to risk upsetting the majority of others either by disagreeing, or by mis-communicating. Propaganda and miscommunication are fucking harsh together...

But, seeing political morals applied to create a law for an ideal that few of us understand, follow, believe in- or believe that the politician believes in can be frustrating. I would want to respond in some way too if I thought I had the necessary gender to fully understand the topic. If you want to do something to illustrate some statement of purpose or reasoning- I'd suggest you cook it up in story form and use your talent to create an image that tells that story. It's what you do best.

Anyway... that's my only solution to avoid creating something outright like propaganda.

Art should look cool. Everything else is secondary.

I know of an art teacher that claims that pictures become art when they reveal truth, and the rest isn't art. I suppose he would disagree with you here. If it's just pretty - well, it's as good as eye fodder. The problem then becomes which version of truth is the right version of truth.. I believe that's what Pseudo is talking about here. Expressing his version of truth. If a Nazi painted a picture of a German soldier killing someone who is not blonde haired, saying "This is fun, you should try it too" - no matter how pretty the painting is, it wouldn't be truth unless someone accepted it as such. Perhaps there's a difference in forms of art. Art to convince and art as a form of expressing your own truth. (Oh, and then there's pretty stuff)

Recently I have been feeling that sting. I must admit that Chris Goodwin and Pseudo have inspired me to put meaning back into my work. I was making too much of the pretty stuff. But then again, I'm still learning - mastering the finer points of anatomy and such. I recently offended some people through a piece openly displaying a woman using her sexuality as power. Maybe it opened some eyes a little wider. That is expressing my truth - drawing what I observe and hold to be true.

As humans, we like to share what is inside of us. We share our truths.

It's a topic I've been thinking a lot about..

Anyways - Ursula V and Pseudo!! Wow! Mind if I add you guys to my friends list?

Leah B

Heavens...I feel a bit like I randomly dropped a verbal net in the water, and came back a few hours later to find a coupla whales on the line. Thank you, all, for sharing your thoughts!

That said, I still don't know how I feel about it--I think perhaps that I'm a fairly shallow individual on many levels, because PseudoManitou's stuff appeals to me largely because the designs are gorgeous. Period. Whether something is propaganda or not--or even truth or not!--I'm perhaps not qualified to judge. I just like cool art. But that's okay. I don't have to come up with the Grand Unified Field Theory of Ethical Aesthetics tonight, or face a firing squad on the morrow. Sooner or later, I'll check back and discover that my opinion has precipitated from the roiling sludge of my subconscious, and that'll be good.

And to cite Leahkitty's example, if Nazi propaganda was well done, I am a sufficiently aesthetically ruthless individual that I could say "Goddamn, that's great use of color, line weight and lighting. I disagree very strongly with your idea, and I hope that nobody impressionable will see this, but hot damn, that's well rendered." Wagner's operas were still magnificent, even if Wagner was a racist weirdo.

So I don't know. The suggestion about finding a story in it and illustrating that is a very good one, and strikes to the heart of the matter--although one hasn't come to me yet, and I think maybe that not forcing one is the key to doing it gracefully. So I might do something political about the nature of abortion. I might not.

Possibly, I may just have some cheesecake and hot chocolate and call it good for now.

(Oh, and feel free, Leahkitty--you can never have too many friends, right? Particularly if you're shopping for a kidney...)

You've just reminded me of a political piece on abortion that I've had in my head for some years now, though personally, all "political" means to me is "having to do with the presentation of strong opinions". I'm not going to set out to educate or persuade... I'm just going to transfer an image from my mind to the physical world which my audience may or may not be told is indicative of my opinion on the matter. I like being open and blunt, though, so I likely will say "yeah, this is what I feel". There's enough secrecy and dishonesty in the world, even for the sake of diplomacy (which is really only about saving one's ego anyway), that I'd rather be seen as a political loudmouth just because I actually say what I think. Y'know? (/tangent)

But... (and I'm sure no one needs to tell you this) you should do what you feel like doing. If you are unable to justify propaganda in your work, then that's your choice, and any true lover of artistry would wish you well. The same goes for the other route.

As you say, peace!

--Amoux (ARJensen)

(Deleted comment)
Nah, I know exactly who you are! The other agitator for more primates! Any friend of the tamarin is a friend of mine!(Plus I've been known to work under a pen name from time to time when doin' furry pin-up art, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have done a commission for you under said pen name. ) Add away, by all means...

I know that you said you don't want to start a debate with this, but I have to argue on one point. I ADORE the heroin fairy. :)

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