Art and Shitholes January 15, 2018 05:57

Laurie Lipton is an artist whose work I have enjoyed for years. I was originally attracted to her pencil drawings of people with skull heads (she was doing this kind of work long before the Day of the Dead craze took off). Her drawing called "Love Bite" of a happy mom-type about to bite into a baby's head as if it were an apple is one of my most favorite of hers. Her work is very detailed, photorealistic even, and much of it is on a grand scale. She's done plenty of art recently about the destructive effects of technology and on social isolation, so she is not one of those artists who is photorealist so that you can admire her technique. She has a social consciousness.

That's why I kind of had to laugh at some folks' distraught reaction to her recent work, "Post-Truth," which features a Trump head among many other things. She posted about it on her Facebook page as "Portrait of a Shithole," a detail of which is shown here. This thing is huge (or should I say "yuge") at 8 x 4 feet. I have been amazed at her ability to create such enormous pencil works, and the detail is awe-inspiring.

Re this work, some soreheads posting comments on it objected to art being anything but "beautiful," which apparently is the same thing as "decorative" to many people. 

Art can be beautiful and yes, decorative too. Heck, people have hung Jackson Pollack paintings to go with their sofa. I totally have enjoyed painting things that to my mind were about beauty in the form of a kind of spiritual stillness. In fact, the portrayal of that spiritual stillness is one of the things that I consider I can give to my society as an artist. I was very pleased when recently someone commented on a painting of mine saying he wished he could have it hanging in his office because of the way it made him feel.

Making that kind of art is something I can do, but I don't think it's the only thing art can do or what art is "about." Art is about our world, about us and our relationship to it. And that includes not only the spiritual aspect of our lives but our political and social aspects. Why should it NOT?

IMO, we need political art and art that is social commentary as much as we need art about spiritual stillness. Maybe more. Because the difference between art that is political and agitprop is that art has the capacity--the opportunity--to be subtle, to make us question, whereas agitprop is usually part of an echo chamber. 

For instance, the sorehead objecting to the depiction of a Trump head in Lipton's drawing of a huge machine pouring out smiley faces claimed that an equivalent would be if he depicted Hillary Clinton in a sex show with a donkey. I don't know, but to me, a Trump head is really a long way away from a sex show with a donkey. The Trump head is a small part of the huge machine depicted in this work, almost like a ventriloquist's dummy. The real focus of the work is not even Trump at all but our whole society that is fine with manufacturing "happiness" in the form of "likes." So there is a subtlety there that an image of Hillary Clinton having a sex with a donkey just lacks. Her having sex with a donkey is something that probably would go over well with the Trumpites. It's an echo chamber thing. It is never going to convince anyone that Clinton is bad. And I say that as someone who never supported her because of her actions, so it's not like I believe she is holy. 

It's as if the sorehead who objects to a Trump head in this work thinks that artists should not be allowed to depict presidents except in a sanctifying, "respectful" way.

That's not our job. That's a flunkey's job. Artists should not be flunkeys. We already have tons of those, and they make way more money than the vast majority of artists ever will.

Artists have other work to do. We are the professional outsiders of our society. We can take up the work of showing a perspective that is NOT mainstream, that does not laud the mediocre and the business-as-usual. That rejects conformity.  

Some of us make social commentary. Some of us make works about spiritual stillness. Some of us create shocking things. Others point us to the unnoticed, the tiny details of our lives, so that we might truly see them and be mindful.Those works can all include beauty, but that is not what they are about. 

Art is more than beauty. It is power--the power to affect the viewer in various, unexpected ways.