Political Art: Timely & Timeless

This past April, fellow painter and printmaker, Art Hazelwood, exhibited his suite of ten antiwar engravings titled Hubris Corpulentus, at the library of the University of Rhode Island. The exhibit included a panel discussion under the heading, Political Art: Timely & Timeless. Hazelwood delivered an important address on the topic that I encourage everyone to read – and with his permission I’ve published a few excerpts from his speech to whet your appetite. I’m in complete agreement with Hazelwood’s stance, and only take exception to his use of the term “political art.” As I see it, all art is political, whether it’s produced by David Hockney, Thomas Kinkade, or Art Hazelwood – but that’s a topic for another blog post.

[ Hazelwood’s excerpted comments: ]

“Over the last several years I’ve talked to lots of people about political art and there has been a gradual shift. Before the Iraq war there seemed to be an attitude that political art was out of date or people had a general hostility towards it. But recently I’ve noticed a shift in people’s attitudes. People I have talked to are changing their minds. There are still the purists who believe that any concession will debase the temple of art, but their voice, once supreme in the art world is now growing weaker. And it is obvious why. Political art might always have a place but in a time of war, and in a time of a rising police state political art becomes a necessity.”

“I’ve been enraged by the Bush Administration and its policies, specifically the Iraq War, but in general the ideology of the Bush doctrine of ‘good and evil’, ‘us and them’, ‘with us or against us.’ But how do you oppose this simplistic idea of good and evil without falling into the same mental trap. The world is more complicated. Life is more complicated, and art is more complicated. You can’t oppose that smug, ironic, detached and disconnected worldview that is the Bush administration with a smug, ironic, detached and disconnected cultural movement. What is needed is an engaged culture. An engaged populous. Not engaged through fear, but engaged through passion.”

“Some people say that political art has no effect in changing people’s minds; that it is preaching to the converted. To which I would answer three things, first no one ever measured the value of a painting of the crucifixion by how many converts it made. Political art is cumulative in its effect. Its not merely one political print that changes the world. It is a part of a cultural movement. Second, doing political art has certainly changed me, and that is some measure of its effectiveness. My experience of working with homeless groups has deepened my understanding of the problem and my desire to do something about it. It has made my artwork stronger and clearer and the clarity of the artwork I have made has in return made me want to push for a greater clarity of form and meaning. And I would say finally when asked if I really think art can change the world. I will answer in all truthfulness and humility, that certainly, yes, that is exactly the point of it, to change the world.”

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