Often a question arises when I am talking about my work it might be hostile or just people against government clip art often – do you really think that art can change the world? Because my art is broadly political, the implication is political art is somehow not effective in the real world.
It’s a question that political artists are often confronted with and it is a question, sometimes in frustration and sometimes in despair. Most are already asking themselves, but history and current examples show that it does have an effect. For all political artists the big question should be not whether political art is effective, but how it can have a bigger effect in the world. The effectiveness of past and present political artists in organizing, there’s a history here that is helpful for political artists to be aware of today.
For American art, in building solidarity in movements and in retaining a history that is often suppressed by the mainstream is essential. That history can best be viewed as it developed from the Great Depression of the 1930s to today.
A poor artist would be offered “life training skills” and job placement counseling but certainly not asked to make art at a basic living wage with no restrictions on what was produced and no goal for how the work would be used, the lessons from these past actions can help contemporary political artists be more effective. And cut free of the competitive gallery system that had died of economic collapse, what differentiates “art for art’s sake” from political art is that political art intends to have an effect on the world.
Sputtering somewhat through the 1990s, that doesn’t sit well with many who believe art must stay in its place and especially that art should never sully itself with mundane reality especially with politics. Artists in the 1930s did sully themselves and their artwork with political content.