Addendum to an essay for Tablet
"Rather, claiming everything human is political is an underestimation of the human."
The fact that interesting phenomena and subtle truths exist outside the scope of progressive politics is offensive to many who adhere to such politics. The political marketing of Alice Neel as you describe it at Tablet is not just easier, it's connected to an assumption that the art is good because the artist's politics are good. We're going to keep seeing insipid presentations of great art and overblown presentations of insipid art so long as that assumption holds.
Thank you once again for a ringing defense of the esthetic and the realm of the imagination.
The whole ALL ART IS POLITICAL sloganeering is another weird offshoot of fundamentalist Protestantism, where the vita contemplativa reeks of blasphemy because God is always watching and if you're not constantly singing his praises and following his commandments, you are dancing with the devil.
And as the post-60s New Left Social Justice religion is another offshoot of Protestantism (with a Marxist twist), it becomes almost impossible for a professional liberal artist such as Lin Miranda etc to check his sacred beliefs at the door.
People baptized in the post-60s dispensation have all been programmed to believe that any moment not dedicated to the Long March on the Right Side of History is suspicious, possibly reactionary, and so they've solved this dilemma by mixing the personal, the creative and the political into a single bland therapeutic mush combining personal, ethnic and tribal narcissism into the same uniform equation: I am my art and my art is me, and as politics and the question of "Justice" is the central dilemma of existence, I will be a walking billboard for my political beliefs, whether it's on the canvas or at the grocery store.
This shows once again how all faiths and fundamentalisms are uncomfortable with (and suspicious toward) works of the imagination, as the best works of art come in ambiguous shades of gray and provide many more questions than answers, while the tribal brain craves certitude and self-righteousness.
The popular works of our age of propaganda, crafted to flatter the egos and tap the wallets of the NYT/NPR/PBS upscale liberal class, may be caring and compassionate and devoted to a good cause, and they may go down as smooth as a comic book where Good defeats Evil (again!) to teach us all a valuable heart-warming lesson, but as works of art they are all mostly stillborn and will most likely die well before their creators do.
"Artworks sold as politically radical allow the purchasing public to indulge their concerns in the bloodless realm of abstraction. Along with a ticket to one of Miranda’s productions, they buy the lie that to attend is the height of civic responsibility."
damn good read
This was outstanding, Alice.
You have done justice to a wickedly complex topic. What art is for continues to be a confusing topic of conversation, especially among artists! Thank you.
"indulge their concerns" captures this topic so well! The article brought me back to Mark Lombardi's art. I've always admired it for its political function as well as strange beauty.
I have just found my way to your Substack, and I appreciate your forceful arguments and your delightful use of the gut microbiome! Fortunately, the balloon of high theory has lost some helium by now in my area of academic literary studies (not all; only some). I don’t know if the same is true in (other areas of) art.