Should The Artist’s Magazine feature political art?

Here are more of the letters we received in response to a reader’s letter (in the April issue of The Artist’s Magazine) that stated “art should address social ills, comment on human events and contribute to the betterment of society.”


I am writing to comment on P. Gupta’s letter regarding political art. I certainly feel that if an artist wants to be political, that’s OK, but I do not believe that artists have an obligation to address social and contemporary issues. And it isn’t The Artist’s Magazine’s job to be political in nature. Personally, I like to keep my pleasure and my politics separate as these days we have enough of the latter coming at us from all directions. Art should be able to be an escape, art for art’s sake, and that’s the reason I enjoy reading The Artist’s Magazine.

 

Jennifer Eubanks
Via e-mail

You asked if you should cover more artists who draw attention to social and political issues; I do not wish to read more of this type of article. We don’t need to be any more bombarded than we already are with the current stream of hatred and bad news we encounter on a daily basis. Not to mention the mud-slinging candidates. There are many galleries that can spotlight this work, just as there are many organizations working for the common good.

My art is my refuge from world problems and personal worries. My goal is to create work that gives pleasure to others. Please keep your magazine’s focus on learning and the business of art.

Mary Ann DeFronzo
Via e-mail

In the April 2008 issue, in response to Profull Gupta’s letter, you invite your readers to weigh in with our preferences on whether The Artist’s Magazine should “more consistently cover artists who draw attention to contemporary social and political issues.” My vote: absolutely not. As you point out in your response, there are plenty of fine publications out there to which I could subscribe if that was what I wanted to see and read. As a working artist, I count on The Artist’s Magazine to do exactly what you’ve been doing so well all along: “focus on the craft and business of an art career.”

Moreover, I have to take serious issue with Mr. Gupta’s basic premise, that art is legitimate only when it comments on social and political issues. Poppycock! Art—in all of its many forms—is about expression. What the artist chooses to express is entirely up to the artist, and it can run the gamut from rage and despair over human events and the human condition to something as naive and uncomplicated as “I saw the light on this tree and thought it was lovely: I hope you do, too.” All well crafted art along this continuum is legitimate—there’s no such thing as “art should”! Art succeeds if the expression is intensely personal and resonates with the viewer. If Mr. Gupta prefers his artwork at the “social conscience” end of this spectrum, good for him—that’s his choice—but it’s not somehow more worthy as art for all that. I count my work successful if I produce something that pleases someone, if I am able to share my perception that something in the world is beautiful, and I subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine because it helps me acquire and hone the skills that allow me to achieve those goals.

So no, an artist does not have to take up a cause to contribute to the betterment of society: One can also make the world a better place one beautiful object at a time.

Deborah Maklowski
Via e-mail

I think such issues should get frequent coverage. I find two similar quotations credited to two different authors:

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”—Bertolt Brecht

“Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.”—Vladimir Mayakovsky

Either version states my opinion very well, so I’ll leave it at that.

Bob Posliff
Via e-mail

I am responding to the letter to the editor in the April 2008 issue regarding the lack of political art in The Artist’s Magazine. PLEASE do not change your current format. I’m looking to you for advice in the technical aspects of producing art. I find the articles a great mix of how-to, features on artists, the use of materials, business issues, etc. I do NOT want to have this become another high-falutin’ commentary on the social issues of the day. There are other venues for that subject, which I choose NOT to read. Please remain on track with the kind of information that working artists need to have and to share with each other. As I work in a variety of mediums, including pastel, watercolor, oils and the occasional acrylic, I think you do a fine job right now.

Lynn Miller
Via e-mail

I have been a subscriber to your magazine for over a decade. I feel very strongly that the purpose of art is much more than to address social ills. Throughout the history of art, the area of social comment is a very small portion of the total output, and even there the artist is usually not starting from the premise that there is social injustice and it must be portrayed.

In Profull Gupta’s letter I get the feeling that landscape or figure genres per se are not important. I do not feel that The Artist’s Magazine should become a voice for the politically discontented. Please maintain you balance.

Donna Crane
Via e-mail

A resounding NO!! Does art always have to mean something? Can’t it just be enjoyable to look at? Even fun sometimes? We get so much political information from the Internet, television and radio that I find it a nice break to think about building my skills and finding guidance from other artists’ styles. Please, leave TAM enjoyable and informative—don’t get political.

Susanne Ohl
Via e-mail

In response to your request for feedback about political art, here’s my viewpoint. I make art, teach art and observe art to relax and enjoy life. I, for one, neither make nor enjoy looking at art that is a social commentary on how bad things are. Some people have different opinions and interests.

If I want to experience or work on issues such as social injustice or to try to make the world a better place, I contact government officials, volunteer, demonstrate, read the newspaper, listen to the radio or TV news, etc. I do not want or need to view depressing artistic commentary on the negative things in the world in the art magazines I subscribe to. For me, art is my escape from the negative realities of life. This isn’t a subject I spend time looking at in art shows or museums either. I subscribe to several art magazines, all of which show a variety of art media, styles, content, include how-to and historical articles, etc. A magazine that has a lot of political commentary-oriented art is not one that I’m interested in subscribing to. Perhaps there is a group of people out there who’d like to publish a different kind of art magazine that would appeal to those who seek art that focuses on social ills, etc.?

Lynn Cummings
Via e-mail

Oh God, NO! Please don’t put social and political art in every issue! The newspapers and TV news are FULL of bad news: We are shooting each other, using up our oil and water, heating up the planet, trying to thwart an insidious world-wide group of people who are taught to hate and kill us, our economy is sinking, and elsewhere there are epidemics, genocide and famine.

Do you think people are not getting the message? I think we are. So why add this bad news to a magazine that celebrates human creativity? Probably the majority of your readers make art as a healthy respite from world issues, and to prove to ourselves and our viewers that there are still beautiful, joyful things to say.

Please let me pick up just one publication that is about beauty, creativity, joy and hope. If you want social issues, go to the bookstore, read the newspapers and watch the news. You’ll get plenty.

Karen Werner
Via e-mail

The best publications stay clear in their purpose. I turn to TAM each month for the specific hand-on-canvas tutorials I need to learn and grow. Though I’m quite involved politically, I don’t feel the need for your publication to address this subject. However, when an occasional “political” artist’s work offers particularly good examples of the craft, technique or business of art, then by all means include it. To exclude a gifted artist because they are political would also be off purpose.

Marie Morgan
Via e-mail

I totally disagree with Profull Gupta’s letter about artists needing to “step up to the plate” and “address social ills, comment on human events and contribute to the betterment of society.” I believe what he’s actually saying is that artists should use their art as a tool to make specific socio-political comments. Hence, the artist who wishes to depict beauty or the effects of sunlight or any other visual possibility (and there is an infinite number of possibilities) isn’t a “serious artist.” Let’s not confuse art with propaganda. Let’s not make the mistake of our Hollywood friends who believe skillful acting results in cogent thinking on socio-political issues. I actually do believe we can “contribute to the betterment of society” when our art is timeless and universal and simply expresses our human experience in a way that relates to others around us. I’ve been a full-time painter for over 20 years, and I’m more sure now than ever that my decision to create art without hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas has been the best path to take.

Steve Kozar
Via e-mail

You asked for it—my opinion that is—and you’ve got it! Know in advance that I regard TAM with a high degree of respect, and most of the art is excellent. So here goes:

Although art is a personal forum to express whatever views the artist may have, and I wholeheartedly support the artist’s right to create whatever they think is art, thank goodness that TAM doesn’t assault me with other people’s political and social agendas! TAM is about the craft and business of art, not about force-feeding political or social views to others who may not agree. There are plenty of forums for that type of “in your face” work, such as galleries, big art shows, museums, etc., and those of us who read TAM are looking for articles on technique, not personal agendas.

I was so thankful that I missed the work of Alex Powers after his nasty rebuttal of a criticism published in the letters section, in which he accused the person of exhibiting the same kind of behavior of which he was in fact guilty. I don’t think TAM wants to go down the slippery slope of featuring political or social commentary art that causes people to miss the message of TAM because of the anger factor. After all, there are two sides to every argument and whatever you feature is going to anger the other side. If that’s where you really want to go, soon TAM will be the Jerry Springer of the art world, and you will disenfranchise everyone eventually. Besides, I doubt anyone ever changed someone else’s mind by hatemongering or telling other people they’re stupid for believing as they do. All it does is foment more anger and hate. One other option is to have an annual “hate issue” in which you can publish all the controversial stuff, and everyone who reads it can be mad about something in the issue. Let us know in advance, though, so those of us who aren’t interested in being angry can file 13 the issue without opening it. However, if you do decide to go down the sensationalism route with regular political or social statement features, let me know now so I can cancel my subscription and avoid the drama. I have enough drama in my own life—I don’t need anyone else’s drama forced on me unwittingly through what I consider to be a technical trade publication.

Misty Beauchamp
Via e-mail

While Profull Gupta is certainly entitled to his or her opinion, I strongly disagree with the letter that was written by this individual. The readership of The Artist’s Magazine does not appear, nor has it ever appeared, to have a strong desire for this sort of content in the magazine. I have a subscription to The Artist’s Magazine and would be greatly disappointed if political art was primarily showcased in the magazine. While some articles of this nature appear from time to time, I know I speak for myself and probably a number of readers who desire to read about artists who draw and paint figurative, landscape, and still-life work. I derive a great deal from articles about such artists who share their expertise about their craft. I don’t have any desire to learn of their political opinions. If The Artist’s Magazine were to change over to a political format, I would then have no choice but to only read the American Artist magazine.

If Profull Gupta desires art of a political nature, there are publications on the newsstand that address political art, such as the ones you mentioned like Art in America and ARTnews.

Finally, it is my hope that The Artist’s Magazine does not believe that Profull Gupta speaks for the rest of us.

Ann Grimaldi
Via e-mail

I wholeheartedly agree with the reply in April’s magazine that there are other periodicals dedicated to contemporary art and issues. The art historian in me enjoys those journals, but as an artist I find I need more. The format of The Artist’s Magazine is very beneficial to my art-making by providing tips on techniques, products, locations of juried exhibitions and featuring quality art and artists. To the reader who mentioned that he has seen movies and heard songs that comment on society, I would reply that not every movie nor every song does so. If every work of art commented on society, there would be no variety and art would only meet one of the needs it is capable of fulfilling. I appreciate the current format of The Artist’s Magazine and appreciate the help it provides me as an artist to improve my skill.

Katrina Pierce
Via e-mail

Who passed the edict that the “philosophical aspects” of art should reflect
social ills? It could just as easily be said that it doesn’t; that politics
and violence have no place in the art world, that paintings and sculptures
should always serve as our sanctuary of love, beauty, peace, and comfort.

Sally Young
Via e-mail

Thank you for asking for our input on this issue. I LOVE your magazine, but feel very strongly that I do not want to read about other artist’s political or social views. You surely can include their artwork, (as long as it is not disrespectful to the President, people’s races, creeds, etc.), but leave their personal opinions for political magazines or newspapers. I subscribe to your magazine because I want to read about & see art, not to read about politics. Thanks again & keep up the good work!

Deb
St. Cloud, MN

We are writing in response to your question posed in the letters section this month, regarding political art. Please, we implore you! No political art! As you pointed out, there are several other art publications one can buy to see such subject matter. It is precisely your LACK of this type of art, and your concentration on selecting pieces for their beauty that attracted my husband and I as subscribers. We’ve cancelled our subscriptions to other magazines that display political art. We DON’T want to see it. We’ve been grateful that your beautiful magazine has been available to us.

Jim and Sara Szollosi
Via e-mail

Okay. Here is my comment to Profull Gupta: Gupta is missing the ‘bigger picture’ not only of today’s art but in TAM. Personally, I wouldn’t subscribe to a politically loaded art magazine; I get enough of that in newspapers and TV. If Profull doesn’t see that art is reflecting huge changes in the way people are experiencing their lives in this world and recording that view in their art, there is a problem with Profull’s view finder. Having lived many decades I have seen huge changes in art. (In bad times some were painting blood and guts while others chose to go comic relief.) When one views art (of today) closely, we are forced to see what is going on within our society as a whole. Color, form, abstraction, composition, distortion–all reveal a huge change in the way our artists are experiencing the world and revealing it in their art. For this variety I am glad. Do I want to see explicit depictions of war, revolution, politics, etc., in an TAM—not unless they are of teaching value to me as an artist.

Judith Durling
Via e-mail

Please don’t try to put my art—or anyone else’s—into a narrow box by defining what art “should” be. Art has always and hopefully will remain to be what the individual artist wants it to be not what someone else says it ought to be. If you feel compelled to express your political views through visual art or song please do so, but don’t expect others to do the same or to be patrons just because it fits into your view of the world no matter how passionately you feel about the issues. Does that mean that I do not have a concern about the human condition and the injustices of poverty, war and inequities we experience? Most certainly not. I just choose to express that concern and engage the problems in a different way. The unfortunate problem with many activists is that they see thing from a very narrow viewpoint and believe their way is the only way.

Don G. Moore
Via e-mail

With respect to your request for comments, I enjoy the current content of The Artist’s Magazine, especially the articles on materials, techniques and styles, the showcasing of other artist’s work, and the business related articles. Since other publications, as you indicated, already provide significant exposure for the political and social expressions of artists, I prefer to see such topics in The Artist’s Magazine presented as “seasoning” to the meat and potatoes of your magazine’s current content.

Tom Shoush
Via e-mail

I strongly disagree with Profull Gupta about the need for The Artist’s Magazine to include political art. I have so appreciated the tactful balance that you editors have found in your choice of subject matter and your focus on the technical aspects of art-making. Artists are not in agreement politically! Most of my artist friends support the effort in Iraq and find it tedious to see yet another rage against our nation in poorly executed art that gets attention simply because it is political. Let’s not make our politics the focus of the magazine and let those who want to engage in political activism do so through other sources.

Dona Barnett
Fairview, NC
Via e-mail

The idea that “art should address social ills, comment on human events and contribute to the betterment of society” is a lofty idea that holds merit for artists so inclined. However, there are many of us who “make” art for the sake of beauty and the joy of creating.

Howard Mayberry
Via e-mail

I subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine to read about art and improve my artistic skills—not to learn about social causes or politics. There is no need for advocating social or political causes in your magazine; there are other places for that. Please don’t become a political or social advocate!!!

I just wanted to voice my support for the emphasis that The Artist’s Magazine has displayed on the “craft and business of an art career.” I have long been a fan of this publication because of that very emphasis. As was mentioned, there are several other art magazines that take a more philosophical approach in what they cover. I really enjoy The Artist’s Magazine‘s different approach since it is often hard to find such concrete tips and more commercially oriented information anywhere else. I say keep up the good work.

Cara Nilsen
Via e-mail

I read the April issue of your magazine today, including the question about political art and your reply, and your request for our thoughts on the matter; so here are mine:

First, I don’t how this person is not seeing political or social art. I see it almost every Sunday in the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Arts section. Second, Profull states “Art should address social ills, comment on human events and contribute to the betterment of society” as fact when it is actually his opinion. Anyone else can have an opinion is just as valid as his. He also does not explain how viewing something ugly contributes to the betterment of society. Art that lifts us up and gives us hope would do much more for “betterment.” Ugly is depressing, while beauty is soul lifting and soul stirring. Creating ugly art that makes a statement may have catharsis value for the person creating it, but it does not change the public at large, or move them to make a difference in society.

Thanks for allowing me to give my views. Please do not stop giving us beauty; there is no need to.

Cindy W.
Via e-mail

I don’t feel The Artist’s Magazine should bother with these issues. I have subscribed to your magazine for many years and have looked forward to the instructions offered those many months. If someone, and Profull Gupta (“Where’s the political art?,” April 2008) in particular wants those issues, then let them buy the magazines that address those issues.

I  love your magazine and look forward to each issue. I believe I still have every magazine from the beginning of my subscription back in 1987. Oh, and I’m still a beginner.

Mike Harris
Via e-mail

In regards to the “WHERE’S THE POLITICAL ART?” letter in April 2008, volume 25, why can’t we just enjoy art for the beauty, awe, appreciation, joy, inspiration, etc. it give us. I personally get enough of “social ills, human events, and the betterment of society, on the evening news, and by trying to just get by in this messed up world. Art brings a release and momentary peace to our otherwise hectic surroundings. Let this guy run for office, or organize a protest march. Let me just enjoy the beautiful pieces in your fine magazine.

C.G.
Via e-mail

In regard to the letter concerning political art. Thank you so much for NOT including what for the most part has a message apparent only to the “artist”. I am tired of being told that “art SHOULD” do anything other than be art. I would suggest those who trivialize visually gratifying art look up the definition of art and heed the words of Pablo Picasso “The purpose of art is washing the dust of life off our souls.” I find it rather arrogant that Profull thinks that political “art” really contributes to the “betterment of society.” I am tired of being told I “have not stepped up to the plate.” Maybe I like to remind people of the beauty and good things that can be seen in the world after an ugly day of volunteering to help a senior citizen navigate the medical system, working at a school trying to teach a 5th grader math who says he can just use a calculator so why should he learn, or cleaning up the filth that people leave along side the road. I don’t need to go to movies or listen to songs to recognise the problems in the world around me that I can try to do something about. I am aware of the global social injustices without seeing them represented in art-infomation about them is very available . Maybe this person should not waste their time living in the media world of movies, get out there and volunteer, and quit judging and complaining.

Karen Nichols
Via e-mail

Heavens NO! We are berated by sight and sound 24/7 with news, stories, pictures and sound of bad behavior, unfairness and sad happenings around the world.

Your publication is a respite for escape to art from the world we live in. All
we, as artists, want is beauty, peace and our own solitude while creating something worth looking at (even if only in our eyes). The Artists Magazine gives us support to those ends as well as advice on improving skills and marketing. Maybe Profull should subscribe to the New York Times.

Ron Raasch
Via e-mail

In the Letters section of your April 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Profull Gupta asked why your magazine does not include more works on political matters.

The Editor responded, “Should The Artist’s Magazine more consistently cover artists who draw attention to contemporary social and political issues? Let us know your thoughts…”

My response is: Please don’t! It’s almost impossible to escape a constant bombardment of politics from every possible source these days. Even children’s cartoons are rife with political propaganda. I turn to art and music for an escape from all that. If you start loading your magazine with politics, “raising awareness” for one thing or another, you are bound to offend at least a large section of your readership no matter what the point of view. I would most likely cancel my subscription.

Beverly Specht
Via e-mail

I am REALLY not interested in seeing political art in your magazine beyond a very occasional article. Politics is divisive, if you were to showcase very much of a political viewpoint I don’t share, my enjoyment of your magazine would be substantially diminished, I’d probably not renew, and we would both lose.

A long time subscriber
Via e-mail

In response to the letter in the April issue of The Artist’s Magazine, I plead with you to stay true to the stated mission of being about the craft and business of having an art career. This is why I subscribe. It is one of the few places in my life that I can turn to for a respite from politics. Once you begin making the politics of art your editorial thrust, you will most likely lose me as a subscriber. Why? Because it is the tendancy today for artists to see “social injustice” through only one kind of lens. That lens seems to be the one of “hate America and all it stands for, it’s soldiers, it’s defenders, and the ones who are killed or wounded while defending the rights of those to say that they hate being Americans or America (while putting it into the language of “the Europeans hate us…” (Oh yeah? Then why are realtors making money today selling homes to Europeans who want to be here?). My point is, that when I look at the magazine today, I see ways to make my art better. I revel in the skill of others. I am awakened to the beauty in the world, and as a Jew, I don’t have to worry that it will be yet another venue for people to express their hatred of the Jews; which it will become once you open the floodgates. And I am not being paranoid here. I happen to love the sport of politics, read history and pay attention to current events. So this reader begs you to keep political art in the venues where it is popular—Art in America, Artforum, ARTnews.

Arel Mishory
Via e-mail

Please DO NOT feature or promote Political Art in your magazine. The reason I have subscribed to The Artist’s Magazine is because it is full of helpful and inspirational information and beautiful art. The introduction of clumsy “message” art would be a distraction that would render the magazine useless to me and result in a cancellation of my subscription. Please keep your focus on the “craft and business of an art career.” You are doing a great job. Thank you.

J. Ballard
Via e-mail

You wanted our views on publishing more political art in the magazine. I have enjoyed your magazine now for 15 years. I have found it to be very helpful and pleasing to look at. It has maintained its standards of keeping to the foundational aspects of art. I enjoy different ways in which people express their feelings , hopes, ambitions. However, lets keep politics out of it. When people want to create political art it is usuallyso they can express their depression, negative, wo is me attitude toward the system. I don’t need to look at that to get inspired. This magazine is not the venue to express that garbage. If those who create and waller in such stuff want to do so go ahead but publicize it somewhere else not here in The Artist’s Magazine.

Stewart Huntington
Via e-mail

I’m prompted to write in response to the letter to you from Profull Gupta (April issue) and the comments regarding the occurrence of art dealing with current social and political problems. I, too, have wondered at the lack of discourse on social issues in much of today’s art. The cause, in many cases is the polarity of present society, but we have always been a people of varying ideas. The real problem is the intolerance of the extremes. Note the number of artworks that have been defaced in recent history by those who have no appreciation for the necessity of open discourse. I believe, however, that democracy depends on us being thick-skinned when it comes to other people’s opinions.

John Skille
Via e-mail

In response to your request for feedback about political art—here’s my viewpoint. I make art, teach art and observe art to relax and enjoy life. I, for one, do not make nor enjoy looking at art that is a social commentary on how bad things are. Some people have different opinions and interests.

If I want to experience or work on issues regarding social injustice or trying to make the world a better place, I contact government officials, volunteer, demonstrate, read the newspaper, listen to the radio or TV news, etc. I do not want or need to view depressing artistic commentary on the negative things in the world in the art magazines I subscribe to. For me, art is my escape from the negative realities of life. This is not a subject I spend time looking at in art shows or museums, either.

I subscribe to several art magazines, all of which show a variety of art media, styles, content, include how-to and historical articles, etc. A magazine that has a lot of political commentary-oriented art is not one that I am interested in subscribing to. Perhaps there is a group of people out there who’d like to publish a different kind of art magazine that would appeal to those who seek art that focuses on social ills, etc.?

LC
Via e-mail

PLEASE don’t become more political. I am sick of everything having to have redeeming social value, philanthropy, and a PURPOSE. The purpose of art is to be created, making the artist happy to do so and to have done so. Can’t we have a club where we just are friends? Can’t we go to the grocery store without a guilt trip about those who are starving? Can’t we paint, draw, sculpt, paste, or whatever because we love it?

Nobody knows how much I give to charities. Nobody knows the depth of any social conscience I possess. Pretend my emotions and knowledge are just as valid as yours. Do not constantly attempt to instruct me or to make me feel guilty or wanting in the finer feelings.

Linda C. Dumas
Via e-mail

Please, spare me.

I subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine because I want to be inspired, informed, educated and encouraged to continue my growth as an artist. If I want to learn more of the social issues of the day (which, thanks to the more-than-adequate coverage by television, internet, newspapers, magazines and radio I’m already acquainted with) I’ll subscribe to Time or Newsweek.

By the way, great job on the magazine. I love the variety of articles: the informative monthly features, the practical how-tos and the interesting artist interviews which often yield some little nugget of wisdom that influences my work habits. I’m glad to see you featuring a wide variety of artists, including illustrators.

Keep up the good work … and don’t change a thing!

Teresa Houston
Via e-mail

The idea that “art should address social ills, comment on human events and contribute to the betterment of society” is a lofty idea which holds merit for artists so inclined. However, there are many of us who “make” art for the sake of beauty and the joy of of creating.

The Artist’s Magazine provides articles of interest to those of us who want to keep the beauty of art free of politics.

J.S. Jones
Via e-mail

I subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine for enjoyment, education, inspiration. I was so delighted to see Jan Brett’s work as I collect books and stories of my favorite illustrators. I have the magazine renewal card in my hand,and if I thought for a moment that the format is going to take a turn for social commentary and political issues, the card would go right in the wastebasket. I am inundated with other media that routinely supplies plenty of angst. Whatever precious pages are devoted to providing the excellent choices that you choose are fine, so stay on target!

Diane Harmon
Via e-mail


To join the conversation, e-mail us with Political Art as the subject.

 

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