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All art is political; differing ways to respond

February 19, 2018

"There are always flowers for those who want to see them." Henri Matisse


As I attend shows, consider exhibits and yes, read artist statements it often seems like visual acumen takes second to the lengthy political explanations. Here are some examples:


"My work explores the obstacles facing women of color and their sexuality while also coping with mental illness".

"This show seeks to show how social media distorts communications and the connections with ourselves and the world around us"

"I desire in my practice, to address the multitudinal oppressive facets of the gun lobby and it's adherents."


Friends, in light of the many issues facing us as a people and a nation, I am not dismissing the need to "explore, show, or address" issues. We artists are passionate expressive folks and it is not surprising that we love the podium. We want to say something.


What I wonder is whether these statements are more intended to validate our art then actually impact change, or even excuse  sloppy craftsmanship.




These two famous artists both lived in violent and fearful times.


Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (December 1869 – November 1954) lived through two World Wars. During the second, he chose to stay in France during the Nazi occupation, even though he had opportunity to flee. His oeuvre does not include guns, hand grenades or blood-soaked soldiers. The French lovingly claim this giant in modern art as their own in part because he stayed  during the occupation and continued to paint. In his eighties he created a new art language with his paper-cut collages


Marc Zakharovich Chagall (June 1887 – March 1985) was a Russian-French artist of Jewish origin who not only lived through two world wars but also survived the anti-semitism of Russia and Europe. He barely escaped the Nazi occupation of Paris by immigrating to USA, arriving in New York in June 1941. Chagall did make paintings during WWII of crucifixions and barren concentrations camps, but his fame is for his mystical and colorful depictions of Jewish life, of celebrations of music and biblical themes. His last years as an artist are marked by innovative artistry as he was commissioned to create huge stained glass paintings. At a dedication ceremony in 1962 of 12 Jerusalem Windows, Chagall stated;


"Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light. To read the Bible is to perceive a certain light."


Two very different artists responded to their times by making beautiful, universal work. They did speak at different times about the political climates of their day. However, their practice, their paintings and collages and stained glass windows concentrated on hope, light, and beauty. Skillful, beautiful work is political.






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