So what do I think about that infamous poster in L.A. anyway?

There has been a lot of press about the President Obama Socialism/Joker poster lately. Because of this I have gotten several emails of articles that relate to the topic. Here's my take on it...

The other day during an upbeat session of online shopping I was emailed a picture of the now infamous Barack Obama “Socialism” poster that’s been popping up all over Los Angeles. The email was followed with a link to this article that criticized the art community to penalizing artists with more conservative views. You can check it out here:

Here is my response to this article. I emailed it to the person who originally sent me the article. Several other emails followed which I may post later but here’s the initial one. .. :) Names have been removed to protect the innocent.

Here are my thoughts on this particular piece and the article that you sent me...
I agree with some of the thoughts presented in this article. It echoes the sentiment that I expressed regarding the NEA's endowment for this type of work. Work that expresses a political message is typically a valid and valuable form of expression. There are exceptions of course if the work is blatantly racist, fascist, or generally hateful. Just as it is never ok to deem child pornography "art" it also isn't ok to promote a hateful agenda.

The point that I don't agree with him on relates to an unwillingness to express dissent. Historically, the art community has ALWAYS led the way in asserting disaccord with government, politicians, and religious or social movements. Almost (actually, I can't think of any art that doesn't) all art has an undercurrent relating to one of those four issues. The thing to remember is that historically, almost all artists/critics/historians/educators have also been liberal. The entire sub-culture tends to lean farther to the left than the average individual. The thing that this artist seems to be lamenting isn't the fact that artists refuse to express a social or political idea (after all, they have been expressing ideas-- they just don't happen to be ideas that he agrees with) it's that the vast majority of fellow artists don't hold the same political beliefs as him. But, as I just mentioned, the vast majority of artists are liberal, so it follows that the vast majority of blatantly political work would also convey a liberal message.

In response to the idea that certain conservative artists feel as though they may be "persecuted" for producing anti-Obama work... They need to get over it! If Eugene Delacroix was willing to risk life and limb to portray liberty and freedom in France pre-revolution, and if Goya was willing to put a face to the horrible executions of the defenders of Madrid during the Napoleonic invasion despite the threat of execution (see right), and if an entire generation of avante-garde German artists were willing to pursue their craft and defend their social values despite certain death if caught be the Nazi army, a few American artists with different ideals just sound like whiners when they complain that other people are being critical. Criticism is part of art and they need to get used to it. In fact, criticism is such a part of art that it is literally built into an art curriculum in college, and nothing is off limits. Your technique is criticized alongside with the political undertones of your work.

Regarding this particular image of Obama as a "Joker".... I can understand why a lot of people are interpreting it as racist. The idea that it is racist does not spawn from the socialist political message. The idea that it may be racist probably originates from the fact that the President's face is painted. This is traditionally racist imagery that is found in cinema and graphic art from the latter half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. In these pieces, African Americans are depicted with painted faces and overly articulated features (especially their lips). If this was not the artist's intention to represent this particular idea, then he or she could have easily quelled people's fears by including their reasoning in an artist's statement about the work. The article mentioned that they did not do this. Instead, they posted the images anonymously which makes me think that there was a racist undertone. Why else would you need to be anonymous? The artist needs to clear this up by stating his intention.

In an industry that historically has questioned just about every government and regime, where political imagery is encouraged no matter how controversial, and where extreme criticism is just part of the job, it's not a valid argument that an image isn't popular and is being met with dissent. The artist needs to get over it, explain themselves, stop whining, and perhaps pick another profession (if they can find one) where a critical eye isn't one of the main facets of the game.