Monday, October 26, 2009

Art for Obama

Washington Post Staff Writer Philip Kennicott makes an interesting point in his review Campaign hype feels like old glory of the book "Art for Obama." He is very definitely worried about the way the artists portrayed in this book have become so uncritically admiring of Obama and his campaign. He is concerned about artists crossing the line that separates democratic enthusiasm from totalitarian mania.

I, too, worry about this enthusiasm. Too many Democrats have treated Obama as the second coming of FDR. I just hope he doesn't become the second coming of Jimmy Carter. It was relatively easy for me to support Obama in last year's election. I, however, saw his flaws along with his strengths.

Why have some artists become so enthralled with Obama? Six years ago Obama was a relatively unknown state senator in Illinois. I had never heard of him. Most artists labor in obscurity. Every little bit of recognition is powerfully reinforcing. Last June I participated in Artomatic for the second time. As a result of that participation, I was contacted by International Arts and Artists. They struck me as a good group. Others confirmed that view. I joined.

With Obama we have a relative unknown having a meteoric rise from obscurity outside of Illinois to leader of the United States. This will get an artist's attention. It will, to some extent make them think he's like one of us.

Because Obama's rise was so quick, negative information about him will take awhile in coming out. Some ideologues who are affiliated with other branches of politics will seek out such information and try to publicize it. Eventually -- especially when failures mount -- will other people see the negatives and begin to take a more complex view of Obama. That might already be happening to some extent. Today, though, most of the people who see Obama negatively are on the political right. That gives them less creditability than people on the left, at least with artists, who tend to lean more to the left than the right in politics in the current era. To get people to change a political position, you need to get them to see you as at least partly like them.

Why are artists inclined to the left these days? Partly it is because artists are a bit rebellious. We do get into things that most people ignore. That's part of our curious nature. Establishment figures frequently don't like rebels and, sometimes, even more independent people that they meet. They think of such people as dangers to the existing society. While government has risen in importance and power in the past century, most people still see government as responding to other powers in our society. Would FDR have been able to push the New Deal without the Depression? It is unlikely.

I think art critical of Obama will arise during his time in office. Still, though, uncritical enthusiasm among artists of powerful people can be dangerous for the larger society. Kennicott and others who take note of this phenomenon are performing a valuable service.

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