May 13, 2019

"I'm grappling with how I feel about that subject and that material. I do grapple with things. I grapple with things personally, and racially, and politically. What does it mean to be me?"

Said Marc Bradford, quoted in a "60 Minutes" interview — presented at CBS News along with video of interviews with other artists. Excerpt:
Like Bradford, Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei thinks art should make a statement.

"I think every art, if it's relevant, is political," Ai told Holly Williams when she interviewed him for 60 Minutes in 2017.
Years ago, at a social event, I was talking with a woman who'd worked hard to acquire the ability to make distinctive and aesthetically pleasing bowls and vases and so forth. She said: "I'm still trying to figure out how to make them political." I said — in the sort of response I always imagined would make me a popular party guest — "But political art is the worst art."

ADDED: The subject Bradford says his abstract painting is about — what he's "grappling with" — is the Watts riots 1965.

ALSO: The woman who said "I'm still trying to figure out how to make them political" was absolutely not meaning to be humorous. She was utterly serious and sincere.

68 comments:

Rory said...

The overlapping of people who can create something that's esthetically pleasing and people who have something political to say that's worth hearing is a very small number.

rehajm said...

Offer to let people throw them at you...

Unknown said...

"But political art is the worst art."

This is so true. When you put your politics and what political statement you wish to convey above your artistic sensibility you are demeaning the art. If I learned tomorrow that DiVinci's Salvador Mundi was actually somehow about tariffs in Florence it would harm my impression of the painting. It wouldn't make it aesthetically worse, but it would cheapen it somehow.

Greg Hlatky said...

"I think every art, if it's relevant, is political,"

Just make sure it's the right kind of politics.

Nobody said...
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Nobody said...

“At some point, you’ve made enough bowls.”

I think art is the search for beauty, not cloying beauty, but real beauty. Her bowls were political, but they demonstrated that in her own life, she didn’t believe in the things she wanted to believe in, she believed in hard work and dedication and beauty. Her comment reminds me of one time on reddit there was a post from someone who wanted to develop a fetish because they sounded cool.

stevew said...

If the artist is trying to inject politics, or a political statement, into the art then they will fail more often than not. Given some level of abstraction the art, as consumed, is open to interpretation; there is no guarantee that the consumer will 'get' the political message. It's as likely to be missed entirely. I recall the story from a week or two ago about the artwork, a mural, in that California High School. Some saw it as a derogatory expression of historical oppression and exploitation and so worthy of destruction. Others saw it as documenting those events and worth keeping so as to remember the oppression and exploitation. The artist isn't around to tell us which political message was intended.

As for saying something political with a bowl, well that's just nonsense.

Shouting Thomas said...

There is a good reason for an artist to produce political art... self-promotion.

If you want to get your foot on the bottom ladder of the interview/personal appearance biz on radio and TV, political activism is the most reliable method.

The media sells controversy.

Works far better if you are a Democrat.

Fernandistein said...

Artists often don’t know what they’re talking about.

David Begley said...

I saw “Long Shot” last weekend. The political stuff didn’t work. Charlzie Theron was good.

Tom T. said...

"If I learned tomorrow that DiVinci's Salvador Mundi was actually somehow about tariffs in Florence it would harm my impression of the painting."

Phantom Menace was about tax policy. Okay, maybe that's a bad example.

Mr. Forward said...

It’s easy. If the bowl is empty, you’re a socialist.

Nobody said...

I think that all art is political, but not all art is Soviet propaganda Poster style political the way Hollywood and most movies have become.

tim maguire said...

"But political art is the worst art."

Sadly true. All art should be moving in some way and expressly political art can be powerful when done well (think Diego Rivera), but it so rarely is. In the vast majority of political art, the politics is tired, ignorant, simplistic, infantile.

And, perhaps appropriate since it's a vehicle for second-rate politics--the art is usually pretty second rate too.

But that's not the biggest problem with political art. The biggest problem with political art is that it pretends to be daring and edgy while actually being quite safe and pandering in the environment in which it is designed to be viewed.

In that, at least, Ai Weiwei distinguishes himself.

michaele said...

Hmm, the bowl artist could fill her vessels with shit and leave it to personal interpretation on what that means.

Jeff said...

The correct term for a political bowl is 'chamber pot'.

daskol said...

Explicitly political art, like the Soviet propaganda Nobody references above, can be pretty great to look at. But that's partly the frisson of the irony of hanging propaganda featuring buff, imposing "students" and their like from a movement that's defanged and defeated. I always spend some time examining the posters when I go to a certain friend's house where there's an excellent collection. Strange mixture of militant propaganda posters and "meaningless" very colorful photos of gigantic man-made objects taken from the air (granaries, shipping containers stacked in shipyards). Guy's got good taste.

Temujin said...

I'm so pedestrian, I still think that art should please in some way.

daskol said...

Tom Lehrer didn't think much of protest music.

Henry said...

One abstract artist who seems to have really dropped out of the history book A-list is Robert Motherwell.

Here is his Elegy to the Spanish Republic.

daskol said...

Ha:

Remember the war against Franco?
That's the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!

Henry said...

It's not really true that political art is the worst art.

Everything MIchelangelo produced was political.

Nobody said...

The correct term for a political bowl is 'chamber pot'.

My dad, from PA, had a joke he liked. “There are three towns named after General Pott in PA: Pottstown, Pottsvill, and Chambersburgh!

(Note, relies on distant memory and may contain erros.)

Fen said...

I still remember my first college paper that got a scathing review from teacher. It was about Shakespeare and I had titled it - don't laugh - A Method To His Madness. I thought I was so unique and clever, had no idea how amateurish and sophomoric it came off. The rest of the paper was worse.

I don't know the art world, but I assume critics have a term for that. And it's how artists come off when they try to mix with politics.

Remember when First Lady Hillary had the "epiphany" that a lifetime of wealth could still be empty? And she lectured to us from on high as if she had broken the code to the Meaning of Life? Like that.

Phil 314 said...

Definition “grapple”: engage in a close fight or struggle without weapons; wrestle.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

EDH said...

I watched this 60 Minutes segment last night and I liked the artist Marc Bradford. An interesting guys who came out of nowhere with a bold, hardworking approach to visual art uniquely rooted in humble beginnings in his Mom's beauty parlor. His statements were subtle and left much to the observer. And he made great use of color.

Funny, last night was the first time I watched 60 Minutes in a long time, and had HBO's Veep on in the background (also blogged by Althouse today).

60 Minutes also had a segment on U of Wisconsin Law School's project to connect perps and victims of crime.

What caught my attention was that The Veep show's dialogue would be too salty for some pirates.

Rob said...

Interestingly, Bradford described the Watts riot as the Waits riot, unlike Anderson Cooper whose voiceover a few moments earlier had described it as “civil unrest” occasioned by police brutality and the unjust treatment of blacks.

Nobody said...

First Lady Hillary had the "epiphany" that a lifetime of wealth could still be empty?

She never read Siddhartha?

mockturtle said...

Political art IS the worst art. Although La Marseillaise is catchy.

mockturtle said...

It’s easy. If the bowl is empty, you’re a socialist.

Well played, Mr. Forward!

Paco Wové said...
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Paco Wové said...

So – what are examples of good "political" art? (Political in quotes because it's a very broad category of definition; I'd be surprised if there was much consensus on whether good are was, in fact, "political".) Michelangelo's work was political in the sense that it was, among many other things, Counter-reformation propaganda; in a more secular vein, I'd also nominate much of Goya's body of work.

mtrobertslaw said...

If it's politics you want, write an essay.

hawkeyedjb said...

"But political art is the worst art."

No kidding. The Third Reich and the Soviet Union had lots of it. Political art is the worst art, and government art is the worst political art.

Sebastian said...

“At some point, you’ve made enough bowls.”

But not if you are Frantisek Vizner, though, being dead, he can't make more.

Stunning stuff.

Althouse would like, I think.

Rick.T. said...

Nobody said...
"My dad, from PA, had a joke he liked. “There are three towns named after General Pott in PA: Pottstown, Pottsvill, and Chambersburgh!""

Name of Chicago streets joke: What are the three streets that rhyme with vagina?

Answer: Paulina, Melvina, and Lunt.

EDH said...

I wouldn't call Bradford's work "political".

bagoh20 said...

The objective of art is to make a good living so as to avoid less pleasant work while pretending to be paid completely by accident.

Nobody said...

What are the three cities in Mass named after Endicott Peabody? Endicott, Peobody, and Marblehead.

buwaya said...

Michelangelo’s David was explicitly commissioned to express Florentine patriotism, pro-independence and anti-Medici.
The underdog willing to fight.

Ken B said...

Wrong Althouse. The best art is political art. The best sex is political sex. The best cheeseburgers are political cheeseburgers. The best guppies are political guppies. The best rectal thermometers are political rectal thermometers.

Yancey Ward said...

That is because politicians are the worst artists.

BN said...

"political art is the worst art"

Maybe, but how many roads must a man walk down before they give you a Nobel Prize?

Paco Wové said...

In the "great or at least good" political art category, I'd also nominate:

the Winged Victory of Samothrace
the Ulysses Grant memorial in front of the U.S. Capitol
(spouse mentioned) Delacroix' Liberty leading the People

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

Bagoh20 said:

"The objective of art is to make a good living so as to avoid less pleasant work while pretending to be paid completely by accident."

This is good. (And, as Bagoh20 is a fellow Las Vegan, I hope to run into him some day.)





n.n said...

Diversity breeds adversity and political conflation produces Hutu-Tutsi cycles of redistributive and retributive change.

JAORE said...

I once painted a portrait far superior to the Mona Lisa.

But I burned it when I discovered it encouraged voting for Trump.

JAORE said...

How did it encourage voting for Trump?

It was in the eyes. If you just looked deep enough....

Leora said...

I have a friend who makes pottery and last year she was inscribing "Fuck Trump" into her pots.
Not sure how that is working out for her.

Skippy Tisdale said...

She said: "I'm still trying to figure out how to make them political."

That's easy. Just write Arbeit macht frei on them.

Unknown said...

Here is his Elegy to the Spanish Republic.

That's number 110. The first 109 must have been dreadful if that's the one he chose to give to the world. Maybe he just got sick of trying.

Sigivald said...

Political art (in the sense these people use it) is trash.

In more refined senses, where it's not A Lecture Disguised As Art it can work very well.

Ken B said...

Leora
That's a common sexual fantasy. You should ask her if she has achieved it yet.

Skippy Tisdale said...

"But political art is the worst art."

So this song is the worst art?

Ohio
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin'
Four dead in Ohio
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Na na-na-na, na-na na-na
Na na-na-na, na-na na
Na na-na-na, na-na na-na
Na na-na-na, na-na na
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drummin'
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio (Four dead)
Four dead in Ohio (Four)
Four dead in Ohio (How many?)
Four dead in Ohio (How many more?)
Four dead in Ohio (Why?)
Four dead in Ohio (Oh!)
Four dead in Ohio (Four)
Four dead in Ohio (Why?)
Four dead in Ohio (Why?)

SDaly said...

There used to be three Dicks on the Seventh Circuit, Dick Cudahy, Dick Posner & Frank Easterbrook.

Henry said...

@EDH -- Just watched the segment via the link in the blog post. I totally agree with your take. Beautiful, unique, work.

mockturtle said...
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mockturtle said...

Buwaya asserts: Michelangelo’s David was explicitly commissioned to express Florentine patriotism, pro-independence and anti-Medici.

A bit of a stretch, I would say.

BN said...

Skippy, "Ohio" is by Neil Young (as are "Alabama" and "Southern Man"). CSNY did live versions on "Four Way Street" IIRC.

Paul Ciotti said...

Politics is about power. Art is about those things that touch the human heart. If what moves your heart the most is power you are not really human.

BN said...

"... you are not really human."

Sometimes politics moves hearts very powerfully. Indeed, sometimes politics makes hearts stop altogether. Many people throughout history have found that act to be very moving indeed. And artists have portrayed the use/abuse of political power in all forms of art ever since art--and politics--were invented.

Paco Wové said...

"A bit of a stretch, I would say."

I don't think so. The idea that David embodied the Florentine Republic is pretty well accepted. "Mess with me at your peril."

Paul Ciotti said...

Skippy and BN

I have a hard time believing that songs about ideology deal anything true and eternal. Politics is always downstream of culture. That's where a lot of people swim. Fine by me. I try to avoid it though.

BN said...

Paul,

Some say truth and eternity themselves are political concepts used to control others. I myself don't really know about truth and eternity--or beauty for that matter--but I do know that politics has inspired and *paid* for tons of great art. I do understand what you're saying, sometimes it's annoying to be preached to in a song or a movie. Nevertheless, matters of taste are hard to argue (sounds better in latin). I am ok with people enjoying whatever they enjoy. I'm happy to argue why I think the Beatles are better than the Rolling Stones (or its opposite), but I'm ok if one disagrees without thinking they are sub-human. Dehumanization seems ultra political to me.

Paul Ciotti said...

BN

My theory of art is the same as that of the stage manager in Our Town. And it has nothing to do with wealth, inequality, intersectionality or transexual bathrooms. Near the end of the play the manager makes a little speech at the hilltop cemetery outside Grover's Corners, New Hampshire:

Now there are some things we all know, but we don't take'm out and look at'm very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings."

The speech goes on for another couple hundred words but the point is that all the things that we think are important when we are rushing about our daily affairs all seem terribly beside the point when you're looking at eternity. Things like politics and ideology immediately fall away. To me, art is that which helps me understand the eternal, and that's why I can't get enthused when art which is used to provide, for instance, a more nuanced apologia for illegal immigration, reparations, and freshman class lectures on toxic masculinity.

Fen said...

Politics is about power. Art is about those things that touch the human heart.

Nah, Power is about power. And it is artful.

BN said...

Paul,

"...something to do with human beings" is too vague for me, I'm afraid, but I'm just a simple man. I think I kind of know what you mean, but I'm not sure. I do think the killing of people by other people might be eternal, or at least it seems to be. And that's what "Ohio" is about, and what a lot of other art is about. I'm not sure whether that makes it political or not. And I'm not saying "Ohio" or "Our Town" or even the statue of David is great art, though they might well be, I like them all anyway. What I don't like is rap music; we can all agree on that, right? ;) Actually, that's not true either, now that I think about it. But 1+1=2 for sure, right? Except for beings of different sexes, it might mean 3, I reckon. Or more. Which is a beautiful thing, right. Is that what you mean maybe by eternal truth? I'll buy that.

Meanwhile, your earlier point as to whether politics is downstream from culture, I believe it's a chicken and egg thing. But certainly Breitbart via Gramsci knew that culture was important to influencing politics, and I agree with that (but also vice versa). Though maybe not as important as morality (see John Adams). Which I think is also cultural, but way more important than mere art. Anyway, have a good night. I enjoyed discussing this with you.

Nobody said...

Hemingway had a good quote about writers who got into politics, he said that they die like everybody else, but their corpse stinks more. That’s true because when you get into the daily fray of partisan politics in your “art,” you are stamping your art with an expiration date.

Huckleberry Finn was a very political novel, but there was no partisan politics in it. That made if a far better novel.