Between talking about decolonising art theory last week and Robert Storr’s talk last night there have been many opportunities to think about what artists can do in the face of a deeply troubling political reality (particularly in America). So, here’s a laundry list of notes from Storr’s talk, but also from a discussion with writer and curator Morgan Quaintance and my own thoughts. Also, I can recommend Anthony Downey’s book Art and Politics Now (Thames & Hudson, 2014).

  • Talking about it is the most important thing. Collective wisdom important.
  • The value of the work is NOT whether it makes a change or not. (Artists and critics should not use this as a litmus test for success.)
  • Give people a chance to be troubled (ref. The Art Workers Coalition 1969 poster And Babies).
  • Try to build coalitions. Get active at the grass-roots level (‘artists as citizens’). (ref. Women’s March on Washington)
  • Give people a reason to believe in better values (not ‘fascinating fascism’ (Sontag)). Propose an alternative model.
  • Change from within. Use what you do. “Use what is dominant in a culture to change it quickly.” (Jenny Holzer work)
  • Know your history. Study the historical and political context of your art theory references. Also, read the primary sources.
  • Be accepting of all kinds of art (even totally apolitical and seemingly benign), else you may marginalise artist and send him/her to the ‘other side.’ (A little extreme, I think.)
  • Step up to the plate (money, time, voice, action).
  • Use humour, caricature, political cartoon, outrageous behaviour. (New Yorker and Time covers, Guston’s Poor Richard series, Trump farting GIF, Pussy Riot)
  • But, you don’t have to shout (ref. Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (1991) billboard of empty bed).
  • Critique what YOU (as artist) are doing not just with your work, but every day. Notice when you quickly back out of potentially hot political discussions or when you assume the other side is ‘irrational’.
  • Don’t just use ‘other people’s social realities’ without understanding and debate if that is the best way.
  • Don’t just focus on the victims, shine a spotlight on the perpetrators. (Morgan Quaintance) (image from work in progress)


Also, check out these podcasts with Morgan Quaintance:

Amy Robson