Art of War

September 17th, 2007 · Comments Off on Art of War

This weekend I had to choose between free tickets to the Edward Hopper exhibition at the National Gallery and the war protest at the Capitol.¹ Picking which side of Massachusetts avenue I was ultimately going to end up on gave me a chance to examine:

Art Rubbing up Against Social Conscience: A Brief History

While art has never been really removed from politics (even Baroque art was tacitly counter-reformation), one could argue that in 19th century France, the goals of art switched over from the “good taste” of the Rococo to the message-laden Neoclassical, Romantic and ultimately Realist art (Courbet’s socialist painting The Stonebreakers²). Still, while Impressionism was occasionally peppered with references to the status quo of prostitutes and Dada sometimes poked fun at a world that couldn’t help blowing itself to smithereens, it could be said that by the 1940’s the pendelum had decidely swung the other way.³ Abstract Expressionism, which was ostensibly a return to “good taste” in art, seemed to announce that art gave up caring about an outside world that was just fodder for Peter Sellers films. So, when “abstract impressionist” Philip Guston went from this to this, the art world practically choked on its own disbelief.

Chris Burden’s ShootStill, arguably the most enduring image of Vietnam-era anti-war art was Chris Burden’s 1971 performance Shoot, where he got drunk and had a friend shoot him in the arm. (Then of, course, there is the ineffable subtlety of the National Gallery’s Vietnam by On Kawara…)

So down to the actual business of this post:

Faculty ExhibitionOr Yep, you got four paragraphs in just to discover it was all an introduction. Where does all that leave us today? What does it mean to make art rooted in a particular socio-political climate, and what can the artist do to push it towards the universal? Should art disconnect itself from meaning/recognizable events altogether or does it owe us something more?

Garmon with Sewing Bird Outside My Window, Nickel and Detwiler's Island, foregroundIf you’re looking for answers, I can’t help. (Its art. No one can.) But if you’re looking for all of those questions conveniently packed into one room on campus, check out the duPont Gallery (in the main lobby of duPont Hall) from now until October 21 (MWF, 10 AM – 4 PM, SS 1 PM-4 PM) for the biannual Studio Art Faculty Exhibition. On the social side, Professor Di Bella exhibits two magnificent sets of paintings loosely themed on the war in Iraq, and Professors Carole Garmon and Claudia Emerson present their Sewing Bird pieces (sculptures and a poem, respectively) that showed at Randolph Macon College earlier this year. Meanwhile, Professors Nickel & Detwiler’s ceramic work and Professor Griffin’s horizontal stripe paintings hold up the abstract side of things. (I’ll see what I can do to get some pictures up here for y’all who need extra encouragment:

Garmon -Sewing Birdpainting by Griffin, ceramics by Nickel and DetwilerDiBella)

So Edward Hopper will have to wait—besides, Morris Louis opens at the Hirshhorn next weekend anyways so I’m hoping for a twofer.

Until then,



¹In the end I chose the latter just because some of my elementary school friends have been coming back in pieces. Anyway, ‘nuff said. This blog is for art, not politics.

² Which, in a turn of events spectacularly relevant to this topic, got itself blown up in World War II.

³ This isn’t strictly true, because I neglected to mention Futurism, Muralism, and Social Realism, three between-wars movements with decidedly political agendas. Then again, these have mostly been relegated to footnotes in Art History…just as they have been here.

Tags: Art · Art Exhibitions