Monday, October 29, 2018


(Cross-posted from my political blog, Rooting for Rouda)

A pertinent aside, from my own field of interest--art.

It's a perennial bind for the artist with a social conscience: do I risk abusing my talent in directing it to blatantly political ends? Some do, and successfully so. I think of the painter, Peter Saul, who has been doing it for years and remains widely respected for it. Or Shepard Fairey, of Obama fame. Or Robbie Conal, who posts his work liberally (!) on street corners, city walls, anywhere he can find available space for his scathing criticisms of power and its abuse. And there are others. But there are many artists, too, who are more hesitant about using their art to express their (mostly progressive!) views, and who choose to eschew any kind of political reference in their work.

But almost every artist I know is outraged, like myself, about the current--and regrettably thus far successful--power grab by the political right wing. My friend Bruce Richards is among many who feel this way but, as he put it in a recent email to me, "can only work in pictographs to produce the silent scream presently in my heart and mind." He attached an image, reproduced below, of the way he chooses to respond. Known for his meticulous rendering, in paint, of objects loaded with iconic value, he turns that talent to an image in which a burning tire--a potent symbol of the rage of the dispossessed and the oppressed--is seen encircling the silhouette of our United States. 

Bruce Richards, "Aperture" (thanks to the artist for his permission to reproduce)

Still, refusing to abandon his sense of responsibility as an artist to the higher goals of art, he works explicitly not merely in the socio-political context, but in the context of art history. The silhouette in "Aperture" is derived from a precedent, an apocalyptic artwork made in 1836 by Thomas Cole, "The Course of Empire: Destruction," in which Richards sees not only the dire warning of imperial overreach--but also the shape of America in the rift in the clouds.

Thomas Cole, "The Course of Empire: Destruction," 1836
America was never intended to become an empire. If it has become one, perhaps without intention, it now might seem to be on the path to self-induced Armageddon, as Cole's painting--and hence, too, Richards' work--suggest. 

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