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Art and Politics: Why there should be a balance of political views expressed visually at public funded art museums

by Brian Sherwin on 6/30/2011 12:12:42 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

Art and politics can bring out the worst in people. Having written a few times on FineArtViews about the lack of conservative themed artwork within the mainstream contemporary art world I feel that I need to clear a few things up. Several individuals-- mainly for the self-serving purpose of supporting their extreme political views and the goal of downplaying my opinions-- have taken my opinions out of context. I stand by my opinions -- I do believe that political bias exists within the professional aspects of the contemporary mainstream art world. Furthermore, I stand firmly on my opinion that there should be a balance of political views expressed visually at art museums-- and other art exhibit spaces-- that receive public funding.


Those who have taken my words out of context have attempted to cultivate the idea that I'm trying to force private galleries into displaying a balance of political and social opinions. One critic of my opinions actually suggested that I'm trying to destroy the freedom of gallery owners-- that I'm trying to stomp on their liberty. That is not so. Owners of private galleries can show what they desire-- it is within their rights and there is nothing unethical about how they choose to operate in that sense. It is there private business and they have every right to cultivate a specific direction of visual exploration. More power to them for sticking to their social and political guns.


My argument is that public funded art museums should be expected to have more balance concerning the political and social ideas that are displayed in regard to artwork created by artists who are still living. Obviously some art museums have a specific direction-- but many don't and promote themselves as offering an examination of the whole of art within the United States when in reality they hold themselves to one-sided political and social dogma that conveys a clear political liberal-- often extreme-- message. The problem is that art museums of that nature are funded in part by tax payers-- individuals who, when combined, represent a plethora of political and social views. The public-- as a whole-- is not being served.


NOTE: I'm not against liberal themes in art. I actually hold several politically liberal viewpoints about society. What I'm against is the whole of art being represented -- or presented--  by art museums in a way that makes it clear that key individuals are dictating the direction of how art is documented in order to uphold their personal social and political views instead of thinking of the public at large. Ideas expressed visually should be considered regardless if we agree with the message-- to me that is what our art museums should be about.


I do not think the public is being served when art museum directors and curators allow specific political ideologies to dominate under the ruse of being a mere "curatorial choice". Their choices are a political choice-- a personal choice based on their own viewpoints of politics and society. They should be expected to provide a true visual examination of the opinions of today. In that sense, they should provide balance-- they should be expected to examine a wide range of political and social views held by the public. In fact, I'd go as far as to suggest that it should be a requirement in order for the art museum to continue receiving public funding from our government-- and for museum directors and other staff involved with "curatorial choices" to keep their positions.


Again -- I realize that some public funded art museums-- and other public funded art exhibit venues-- have a specific direction as to what is explored within the space. I am in no way suggesting that museums-- or other public funded exhibit spaces-- should be forced to counter against their mission. However, for public funded art museums-- and other venues-- that claim to openly examine various issues within society I think it should be expected that they truly explore a variety of viewpoints held within the public at large instead of reducing their program to a single political agenda expressed visually.


I have upset everyone from art critics to museum staff members by suggesting this. I've even been called "paranoid" by some artists for suggesting that political bias exists within the professional art world-- and that extreme liberal views are catered to over all others. In fact, many deny that such bias exists. Others have suggested that I'm an "art world conspiracy theorist". Regardless, I stand by the positions that I have-- and I know that others have noticed the political prejudice of the art world as well.


Earlier this year art critics Ken Johnson, Irving Sandler, and Amei Wallach discussed the issue of political bias within the contemporary mainstream art world on The Leonard Lopate Show. During the discussion art critic Ken Johnson described the art world as a "liberal festival". Johnson mentioned that while art can appear in almost any form the "orders of the art world are pretty tightly policed ideologically". In other words, Johnson implied that specific political/social views expressed visually that fall outside of the liberal political box stand little to no chance of being exhibited. He stated, "There's a lot of kinds of expressions or sensibilities that aren't allowed."


"Art can appear in almost any form, but the orders of the art world are pretty tightly policed ideologically. You see very little...there's no tea baggers art at any of these fairs. There's a lot of kinds of expressions or sensibilities that aren't allowed in these. You could say that it's a "liberal festival."" -- art critic Ken Johnson


New York gallery owner Edward Winkleman mentioned on his blog that he discussed the Leonard Lopate Show debate with Ken Johnson. He stated that he told Johnson, "Even though it may take some time, I do expect to see highly conservative values being expressed in competent art work more and more.". To which he said Johnson replied, " It wouldn't matter... because people like you wouldn't show it in galleries.". That an art critic as influential as Ken Johnson would suggest this of a gallery owner as influential as Edward Winkleman speaks volumes for the stranglehold of political prejudice that is currently wrapped around the throat of the art world.


It is clear to me that art critic Ken Johnson feels that specific social and political views-- that specific conservative themes in art-- expressed visually have no chance of seeing the light of day within the larger professional art world no matter how 'good' the art is. It strikes me as odd that I'm stamped as being "paranoid" for my views considering that an art critic as influential as Ken Johnson comments on the larger problem and escapes being called "paranoid" or worse. If I'm "paranoid" does that mean that Ken Johnson is "paranoid" as well? Paranoia is not the issue here-- facts are facts. Political bias within the professional art world does exist... and it can exist at art museums-- and other public funded exhibit venues-- as well.


With all of this in mind you may be asking yourself, "Why should there be more balance of political views expressed visually at art museums and other public funded art venues?". I think the answer is simple. Tax payers help to keep these institutions open. Tax payers don't represent a dominate political or social ideology-- they represent a plethora of social and political viewpoints. Thus, in my opinion the public deserves to have 'visual options' when visiting a public funded art museum. They should not have to endure the same dominate social and political ideas over and over again upon art museum walls. They should never have to leave a museum feeling that one view or the other is held as being an absolute representation of the public as whole.


I realize that people may argue that public funding based on taxes does not amount to much compared to private donations. That said, it is doubtful that many of these institutions would want to rely only on private donations alone. Not to mention that said charge is a cop-out-- a distraction from dealing with the larger issue of political and social prejudice that is common within our public funded art exhibit spaces. Especially in regard to exhibits that focus on artwork by living artists and the trends of recent acquisitions of said artwork. Is it wrong of me to suggest that the majority of venues that receive funding from the public should serve the public as a whole? I don't think so. In fact, I'd suggest that my view is rather progressive.


I think what bothers some artists, art critics, art dealers and museum staff about my opinion is that they are content with the liberal bias that exists within the art world. They thrive in it. They want to keep some ideas away from the public in order to control the direction of how art history is documented-- how art is talked about. They are afraid of an open visual dialogue. They risk being called out as being intolerant if a shift in museum direction in regard to contemporary art were to occur. Point blank -- the direction of private galleries and art magazines impacts the direction of art museums and the majority of art world professionals are happy with the way things are. Liberal bias helps to sustain their market and place within history.


The "liberal festival", as art critic Ken Johnson calls it, of the professional mainstream art world would lose ground if art museums were required by government decree, for example, to place some focus on conservative themed art of our time-- as well as other viewpoints-- in order to continue receiving public funding. It would break their system of claiming historic context and perseverance because artists outside of the "expressions or sensibilities", as Johnson put it, that they adhere to would have a chance to be seen by bypassing the politically and socially exclusive stronghold of the contemporary mainstream art world altogether. It would force the conversation of art spurred by art world professionals-- as well as the mainstream contemporary art market-- to be more open.


In closing, I stand firm in saying that public funded art exhibit spaces should be considered a place to learn-- a place where opposing ideas are tolerated and explored-- not places where key staff abuse their positions in order to cultivate attitudes in preparation for voting booths in support of one specific political party. As for the contemporary mainstream art world status quo -- the fact that the professional art world has been "policed ideologically" in order to 'silence' ideas for so long-- I will leave you with a quote: "I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it." -- Niccolo Machiavelli


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

Art Critics, Art Criticism, and the Political Machine

The Rise of Politically Conservative Art-- Just Under the Surface

The Bias and Hypocrisy of the Mainstream Contemporary Art World: Does it bother you?

Andy Warhol + Religion = Contemporary Art World

Topics: art criticism | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews 

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I'm not in favor of an atmosphere where only a narrow ideology is accepted and perpetuated. That causes more problems than it solves. But the problem with this suggestion is that how do you avoid ending up with a system that mandates the artistic equivalent of evolution and creationism being taught side by side in public schools?

Brian Sheriwn
If my suggestion were to happen I don't think it would involve exhibits that have to show all angles of a social/political topic in order to take place. For example, if the exhibit involves a theme in support of the choice of abortion I'm not suggesting that in the same exhibit there should be examples of artwork that are pro-life.

I'm thinking more along the lines that if there is an exhibit that, for example, conveys an obvious extremely liberal political position on a topic-- well, at some point in the year there should be an exhibit that explores an extremely conservative political position on a topic. It would not have to be the same topic per se.

I'm not suggesting watered down exhibits by any means. I personally enjoy controversial, edgy artwork. I want to see ideas expressed and talked about. We should not be wary of confronting opposing views visually. There is more than enough room for views, in general, to be presented. explored, and debated-- and they all should have a chance in my opinion. Especially in the United States.

I think it is important for the views and opinions of our times to be documented visually-- and preserved by our museums. I don't think ideas and art should be "policed" in this context. I'd hope that most would agree with me...

Brian Sherwin
My position has always been that I may not agree with the opinion that is being expressed-- but the art should at least be considered... and I should reflect on my own views upon viewing the work. I think there would be more support for the art community overall if more people had that attitude.

Like it or not the things we don't agree with still come together along with everything else to define who we are as a people. Things we don't agree with are still part of our history even if we want to deny, avoid it, what have you.

George Olson
I don't think any of the art exhibits should be funded by public funds at all. If all the art exhibits were privately owned they can show what they want and the public will make the decision what is conservative or liberal that they like. That being said there are art treasures that could be funded by the government for the public to see and observe (not to be purchased) but should absolutely not be influenced by politics.

Jean Mazur
Thank you, Brian, for an excellent article. The same could be said of religious artwork that is sometimes presented as political statement. The image of the Virgin Mary with dung on it or the crucifix in urine come to mind. Both are offensive to Christians and should be offensive to others of different faiths or no faith and show disrespect. Politics, politicians and other figures in the public are fair game because of their choice of occupations. However, I do not believe in censoring an artist or their artworks, whatever their opinions. But, like George, I don't think the government should fund art exhibits, either. tmccool wonders about the artistic equivalent of evolution and creationism being taught side by side in public schools. Presenting many sides of the beginnings of life here shouldn't be limited to these two. How about Native American or African or other beliefs. Limiting these subjects to only two, is, well, limiting.

Brian Sherwin
Jean -- Good points. Christianity has been an easy target within the contemporary mainstream art world for years now. It is a 'safe' religion to mock. Other faiths are rarely explored in the same manner even though a few obviously have a political and contemporary context that one could say deserves to be explored for future generations.

There is a double standard within the professional art world concerning religion. Take for example Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" -- most accept it as a brilliant display of creative freedom. However, those same individuals would have labeled Serrano "racist", "hateful" and who knows what else had he created 'Piss Muhammad' instead.

Brian Sherwin
George. Jean -- Concerning the suggestion of not supporting art exhibits with public funds. You may be surprised to find that many artists agree with you-- the idea being that the majority of artists don't benefit from that support anyway so in the end it would not make anything more difficult for them if public funding were pulled.

In fact, I know of artists who avoid involvement with public funded venues for the simple fact that they don't agree with public funds being used to support exhibits.

George -- The problem is that”¦ at least with the mainstream contemporary art world”¦ art critics and others tend to be the ones who dictate what is an 'art treasure' or not. Considering that most of the top art critics in the United States are outspoken supporters of the Democrat party it appears to me that they likely take that rhetoric into their professions when deciding what to write about.

Obviously I can't prove that-- but I do know that if you look at what some of the 30 years in the field critics have chosen to write about you will find few examples that go outside of their political ideology when politics is an issue of the artwork. The same can be said of a some prominent museum art directors-- Jeffrey Deitch at MOMA comes to mind.

The art world is highly political today because of these professionals. Artists have long explored politics in art -- it is a historic staple of artistic creation. That said, in the last 30 years alone it is clear that the majority of the professionals within the art world have locked down on specific issues-- and that there is little room in their 'world' for themes that go outside of the scope of what they support socially and politically within their personal lives.

That is the problem -- at least in my eyes. It is a disservice to future generations-- a historical lie that could easily be covered up in the past... but not so much in the age of the Internet.

Brian Sherwin
In fact, one could suggest that the professional aspect of the contemporary art world has become conservative-- not politically speaking-- in the sense that it sticks to specific social and political causes instead of being liberal/progressive -- as in being accepting of a plethora of viewpoints expressed visually.

The myth of the art world is that it is an open place where ideas are exchanged, explored, or at least considered-- again, that is just a myth. It is not open. There are unwritten rules -- and dare I say, financially secured directions that are held over all others.

That is another part of the problem.

There is irony here. When Ai Weiwei was arrested in China with bogus charges just because of the political message of his art many US artists spoke out for him. Those same artists don't say anything when certain political messages are avoided in galleries and museums in the US. It happens all the time.

Interesting comments about evolution and creationism taught in schools. The theory of evolution is only one possibility that scientists have came up with. There are others that are not taught in schools. All theories. Evolution makes sense but it has not been 100 percent proven. There are snags in evolutionary theory. Creationism is a theory as well. There are scientists who think that some form of higher power sparked life. Why shouldn't students be aware of that?

Cops Impliedly Authorized By New Law To ***Kill Innocent Suspects

See statements from the killer cops themselves regarding their delight in the new law that impliedly authorizes them to kill their innocent suspects.

A new law by the US Supremely corrupt and cowardly court impliedly authorizes the killer cops (and the fbi assassins) to murder a fleeing, innocent suspect:

U.S. Justices rule fleeing police is a violent felony
"Risk of violence is inherent to vehicle flight," Kennedy said. "It is well known that when offenders use motor vehicles as their means of escape they create serious potential risks of physical injury to others. Flight from a law enforcement officer invites, even demands, pursuit."
In order to fully comprehend the disturbed and criminal minds of the cops and their fbi/cia mentors see some of the *comments of joy by cops who relish their new power to kill as authorized by the fools on the highest court. The story and all quotes below are taken from the following link:

Here are representative samplings (from the above link) quoting some of the lunatics in blue who now prepare to kill innocent suspects fleeing from the *homicidal police:

"Fleeing in a vehicle IS deadly force, and should be dealt with as other deadly force situations."

"I remember back in 2005, or so, at the Brandon Town Center, when unit 100 got on the radio and said "TAKE HIM OUT" in reference to a X31 truck that was trying to get away."
Cops' threats to Geral Sosbee:
"In the mean time, don't try to flee or elude the police. It would be wrong...... and could be fatal. I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."
Another insane cop threatens Geral Sosbee, issues an unlawful order, and with the enthusiasm of a serial killer brags about executions:
"Stay in Texas and stay off our board. Texas is a great place for criminals....highest number on death row and the highest number of executions. The eyes of Texas are upon you....flee and see what happens."

Finally, the people of the United States must discover the sick and criminal minds of the police and the fbi in order to intelligently resist the violent and murderous methods employed as SOP throughout the so-called 'law enforcement' community (i.e., the gang of thugs in the houses of the **LD).



The sooner the people are educated about the out of control cops, fbi, etc., the better able we are to defend agaisnt them.

Yours Truly, Geral Sosbee


*** ... lower.html

Geral Sosbee just showed how much of a moron he is. Google will ping your blog for that kind of blatant spam bro. Maybe we can get these comments back on topic?

It is true that most artists don't benefit from arts funding. But they do benefit from the art appreciation that is developed from it with the public. Right? Do we need to fund the arts in order to keep the public interested in art?

I live in an extremely liberal community. My work was never political in nature, and I sold my work through a number of galleries. I was also accepted into local shows. However, the minute I spoke out on a particular issue, I found myself immediately ostracized. I was suddenly out of a particular show I had been accepted into regularly. I found I was kept out of other shows as well. It seems that the left, which prides itself on its "tolerance", has apparently re-defined the word to mean anything BUT tolerance for anyone holding any sort of conservative view! They will viciously punish any artist who dares to express an opinion outside of their carefully constructed liberal box. This is completely against what art should be about - freedom to THINK and express oneself in a myriad of ways, whether visually or in some other way without fearing retribution. The art world has become tyrannical in nature.


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