Art Won’t Save Us

A lot of people are mad about the world today, upset with the White House and increasingly disenchanted by the many promises that came with being American.

What do we do about this? We all seemed to want to get active, motivated to run for an office or donate a money or march in the streets for whatever it is we craved to defeat. Over a year later, this hashtag resist momentous moment is still going as school walkouts and gun control protests are proving. This is good.

Yet the promise of charged, urgent life and times hasn’t successfully made it’s way into art. Yes, there have been songs and paintings dedicated to degrading Trump but nothing has cut through the fog with a serious heat, with a legitimate comment other than “I SUPPORT X CAUSE!” or “OBVIOUS CONNECTION BETWEEN TRUMP AND A PIG.” because it’s all a part of a system that supports that which it fights.

This is perhaps the most disappointing realization of 2018, that the majority of work is not as critically prepared as we had hoped. Over at SFMOMA’s fantastic Open Space, Anna Khachiyan muses quite brilliantly on the subject, pointing out how so many theorized that the rise of Trump would yield a “call to action” that we would all benefit from. That’s not really what’s happening.

In the story, Khachiyan paints the art world as it is: elitist and above all the problems of the real world, supported by artists who increasingly are stuck in “capitalist realism,” a thought that artists are too clouded by the fog of capitalism to actually make anything that comments more than sells. Khachiyan points to the Guggenheim golden toilet as the perfect example of the “Zing!” culture art has defaulted to, noting that it emphasizes the Trump base critique that “[ideological] elites care more about symbolic progress than they do about meaningful reform.” On both ends, it boils down to class and generational issues, as Khachiyan wisely observes, and the art world’s participation in that which it seeks to bash (ie, Facebook — and, by association, Instagram — palling around with Russians and Trump).

The story is quite searing and smart and of note for any and all artists seeking to use their talent to bring down the bad men. To that, this paragraph — the sixth entry in the story — is something to hold tight, to remind yourself of.

Artists, of course, have always liked to think of themselves as rebels but, the truth is, as long as art remains a prestige economy of the free market — a glitzy barnacle on the side of global finance — it cannot be an effective tool for political change. The best it can hope to do is comment on the political situation after the fact, “thematize” it as it unfolds, or in rare, purely serendipitous cases, anticipate it. There’s also another way that art can theoretically influence political attitudes, and that’s on the level of cultural consciousness, in the spirit of Andrew Breitbart’s darkly prophetic mantra: “Politics is downstream from culture.”

It’s our obligation as artists to do and be more than obvious, to attack the shit economic and social systems that are ruining our world. Otherwise, we’re just being lazy, masturbating commentary into our own hands without doing much of anything but supporting the likes of Facebook, et al.

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