KCAC Forum Magazine November 1984
ART AND POLITICS
by Sally Huggins
Is using art to make a political statement “trivial?” Or is it important to use art to communicate your concerns? And when should artists get involved?
These issues and others were discussed by a panel of experts at the annual meeting of the Kansas City Artists Coalition, October 3. About 40 people attended.
Making an overt political statement with one’s art could be considered propaganda, said panelist David Perkins, editor of the Chouteau Review and an arts critic and commentator.
“It strikes me as propaganda,” Perkins said. “Not only are you dated but you’re not just an artist, you’re a propagandist.”
Bill Crist, artist and associate professor of art at UMKC, said he had spent much of his career learning to overcome the taboo he learned early against using art to make a political statement. His early development in art was during the 1950’s and 60’s when artists ran the risk of being branded unpatriotic if they spoke out against the cold war or the Red Scare.
But, Cris said, he realized by not making a statement he was making one. He now uses his artwork to address the problem of world peace.
“Like it or not, we artists are in it up to our necks,” he said. “The biggest taboo against overt comment with art is the inability to sell it.”
Art and politics have been intertwined for a number of years, said Romalyn Tilghman, regional representative for the Plains states for the National Endowment of the Arts.
“Art runs the risk of changing people’s minds,” she aid. “If you change enough people’s minds, you run the risk of changing society.”
Tilghman said both major political parties dealt with the arts in their platforms this year. She also noted that groups such as Artists for Mondale, comprised of four artists who are donating their works to help get Mondale elected, are emerging.
Artists can influence issues through their involvement in organizations said Joy Rushfelt, fiber artist and vice president of the American Crafts Council. Legislative issues such as consignment laws and copyright laws can be affected by artists’ organizations, she said.
“It’s easy for artists to be critical of the system they live in our governmental systems they have to deal with,” Rushfelt said. “Artists tend to consider themselves individuals, self-sufficient. They forget their ability to make changes.”
Using one’s art to make statements about the danger of nuclear arms race or some such broad cause is not good, though, according to Perkins.
“To take the cause of world peace is terribly trivial. It’s so broad and wise it hardly makes any sense,” he said. “It’s like supporting being young.”
Perkins said expressing a statement about a small issue was better than making a grand statement about world peace, which could become passe very quickly. Perkins also raised discussion from the audience through his comments about the Nicaraguan poets and the revolution in that country. He called both frauds.
The panelists said American art tended to be much less political than that in other countries, particularly where artists are supported by the state, such as in China and Poland.
Rushfelt said that artists could make statements in ways besides through their art and encouraged them to do so. She suggested that artists work to create interest in their areas of concern so that change could be made.
Tilghman said that action on issues of interest to artists has come most often through the states rather than Congress.
Lynn Bretz, former art editor for the Lawrence Journal World and a commentator on KANU radio, was the moderator.