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Back to the Barricades: Part 1

January 12, 2017

I’m having second thoughts about not using art as a social tool to influence society. When I was a young art student and artist in San Francisco. I firmly believed in the ideas Arnold Hauser’s Social History of Art. I fancied myself as a socialist if not a Marxist. Mind you this was the early 1960s and I wanted a changed world. Sixty years on I still call myself a socialist, the Marxist me is long gone, and I still want a changed world, but it’s a very different world now and one that is, if anything, worse than that of 1960. Then we were about the enter the era of JFK and now we are about enter that of Donald Trump. I have lived for the last fifty years in Canada and the United States has gone its merry way without me.

The short story is this. After serving three years active duty in US Army, nearly half of it in Korea, in the late 1950s, I went to art school in San Francisco and Bloomington, Indiana getting my BFA and MFA and, annoyed with Vietnam, exiled myself to Canada where I taught fine arts at university for thirty-seven years. Now firmly some years in retirement, I sit and think how wrong I got it all. The world is not a better place and I’m not a better person.

I did think, back in the early 1960s, that art—I was thinking visual art—could be a tool for changing the world to be better place. People, particularly those in power, would look at art and change their evil ways. It didn’t dawn on me that most people in power didn’t look at art in the first place and those that did saw it as an investment rather than an inspiration. History to the contrariety was, of course, right in front of me, Hitler was a big fan of art, but what the Hell. So banging my head on the walls of the orthodoxy of the time, Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field Painting, etc., got me nowhere.

So, I figured there was art and then there was everything else. Art was the beautiful. Hence, the title of blog: Art and Beauty. I taught a course on the subject for over thirty years. I still believe in the beautiful and that’s the art I like looking at and the art, now photography, I want to make, but recent events have made me think that I should have another look at my ideas of half a century ago. Democracy is clearly in danger. America has elected a neo-fascist president, or at least the Elector College has, and those that voted for Trump do not seem to understand the danger to the republic and themselves. They wanted change and they are certainly going to get it.

liberty-delacroix

Yes, a majority of Americans did not vote for Trump, but they’re stuck with him. Still people do have to continue to speak out and not normalize his presidency. Artists, in particular, have a role to play. I am not suggesting that all art need to be political. Indeed, the beautiful can provide a respite from stress of Trumpism, but artists need to take a stand on the side of democracy if not in their works then through their actions and words.

(To be continued.)

©Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, 11 January 2017.

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One comment

  1. A return to the comparison of images and words. A return to the power of the image from the formalizatiom that an image requires a thousand words.



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