April 14, 2004



Politics DO make for good art, but only when the politics are so hidden beneath the structure that you don't notice it.


And I'd say that Elizabeth Gaskell or Arthur Miller come immediately to mind.


One other thing: It's "Barth." :)


Jeez, I'm a fucking name disaster today ... Laila already called me on "Natalie" Gordimer.

It's the drugs. Definitely the drugs.

Kevin Holtsberry

It is an interesting issue. You seem to think that my rant about the philosophical underpinnings of culture was an attempt to force "littary criticism through a narrow political agenda." But isn't a search for relevance and a connection with the big issues of our time the same thing? Why is a discussion of egalitarianism's impact on culture different from an artist's attempt to capture and express a political worldview via literature?

Dan Green

I think you're right (and Terry's wrong) about German Expressionism. That kind of "engagement" with social currents can produce worthwhile art. But those artists weren't really trying consciously to be political or to engage in cultural commentary. They just couldn't help it.

Dave Worsley

I'd like to second Arthur Miller (Focus) and certainly Tim O'Brien as work that stands up politically and as excellent prose. Same with Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin)

Tony Christini

"Terry and I talked about this subject over lunch and we both agreed that politics generally doesn't make for great art. There are exceptions of course but I do think that art that's pressed into the service of the purely political tends to be didactic and formulaic."

Hello Mark, interesting site. The position above seems to me to be wholly unsupportable by taking a glance at history: "Antigone," the purposive political comedies of Aristophanes, Erasmus' didactic comedy The Praise of Folly, Gulliver's Travels, the dialogues of Plato, Michael Moore, all the brilliant political cartoons and graphics today, etc...

In 1939 in Forces in Literary Criticism, Bernard Smith noted: “ ‘Propaganda’ is not used here as an invidious term. It is used to describe works consciously written to have an immediate and direct effect upon their readers’ opinions and actions, as distinguished from works that are not consciously written for that purpose or which are written to have a remote and indirect effect. It is possible that conventional critics have learned by now that to call a literary work ‘propaganda’ is to say nothing about its quality as literature. By now enough critics have pointed out that some of the world’s classics were originally ‘propaganda’ for something”) (289-292).

I've recently put together the site "Literature and Social Change" that grew out of my interest in reading, writing and teaching political novels, and propaganda and literature. Lots of excerpts there that comment on the existence and value of political literature.

best regards, Tony Christini


I know this is an old post, but i came across it while doing research for an article on a similar topic for a college journalism piece.
You are deeply in error to think that there are no great, well known pieced today that are political, artistic and American. One author since thats what you seemed most interested in is Alice Walker. Then of course there is the recent creation of the movie 'Crash'. Political art can also be seen in cartoons. Today there are numerous cartoons making fun of Bush, or protesting the Iraqi war.


March 14, 6 PM - Politically-Charged Art Event at Pace University, NYC


Pace University/University of Technology, Sydney

Global Art Collaboration

MacDonald’s & Subritzky’s Politically-Charged “Lobby, Fold and Spin” Installations Debut in New York City;

Opening Reception: Wednesday, March 14 at 6 PM at Pace University with the Hon. Robert Hill, Australian Ambassador to the United Nations

OVERVIEW From March 14 to May 5, two Australians, artist Fiona MacDonald and curator Ricky Subritzky, will collaborate on a series of three installations in New York City. Entitled “LOBBY, FOLD and SPIN,” the provocative installations are part of an international project that The Washington Post has called “charged” and “striking” and The Sydney Morning Herald has described as “subtle and beautiful.” The New York showing is a result of a collaboration between Pace and The University of Technology, Sydney, and the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery in Chelsea.

LOBBY (March 14-May 5) – installed in the lobby of the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, America’s last Liberty Tree forms an immense mandala-like canopy circled by doves and hawks, while the surrounding space is completely wrapped with 900 yards of silk drapery depicting a kaleidoscopic crowd scene. In this installation, MacDonald and Subritzky contemplate relationships between citizens and governments, and the influential sway of lobby groups in the struggle between liberty and authority.

FOLD (March 14 - April 14) – installed at the Peter Fingestin Gallery at Pace University, MacDonald and Subritzky bring home the implications of the accumulation of property. This second installation immerses observers in intricate, insidious and repetitive patterns enfolding the heady mix of capitalism and militarism into domestic flows and architectures. In a disquieting tableau, a rocking chair and light shade merge in a wallpapered flurry of falling leaves and ascending warplanes. A drape repeats a “geophysical survey of lurid magnetic intensity data” overlaid with a crystalline motif of B-1B bombers. A grid of 50 paper shopping bags, a “bag-flag,” is silhouetted with birds of prey. And the last Liberty Tree flutters on a wall covered with US one dollar bills, and looks on a shadowy rug below.

SPIN (March 22 - April 21) – at the Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, a series of lamps are transformed into zoetropes; precursors to cinema, zoetropes use cylinders set in motion to animate still images. Riffing on the mendacity of political “spin,” and satirizing mass media’s problematic predilection for simplification, MacDonald & Subritzky animate imagery drawn from current affairs. As each trope spins erratically – a hand passes a buck; someone does a back flip; somebody else fans the flames; and the canopy of American’s last Liberty Tree spins in perpetuity.

Pace University
1 Pace Plaza (across from City Hall)
Lower Manhattan
Enter at Spruce Street (between Gold Street and Park Row)

EXHIBIT HOURS: Tuesday - Saturday, 12 - 6 PM (except during theater events at Pace, call 212-346-1715 to confirm weekly schedule).


ABOUT FIONA MACDONALD & RICKY SUBRITZKY: MacDonald & Subritzky first collaborated in 1995 at the Museum of Sydney, where they developed work now in public and private collections including the National Gallery of Australia. More recently, they worked together in 2005 on the Strangely Familiar exhibition in Sydney (http://oj.hss.uts.edu.au/strangelyfamiliar/strangelyfamiliar), and in 2006 on the Dream Home exhibition in Washington DC (http://www.hss.uts.edu.au/dreamhome). MacDonald's visual art practice often explores entangled personal, aesthetic and historical storylines. She says she frequently uses modest materials and artisan techniques, including collage, weaving and silhouette, to create visual paradoxes that challenge essentialising narratives and imperialisms. Subritzky's academic and curatorial practice deploys what he calls a 'radical empiricism,’ bridging critical distance to engage with contemporary problems. Beyond ideology critique, he is interested in an actively experimental approach that creates new and productive associations between ideas, materials and texts.

ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF FINE ARTS, PACE UNIVERSITY: http://appserv.pace.edu/execute/page.cfm?doc_id=6928

ABOUT PACE UNIVERSITY: One hundred years old in 2006, Pace University is known for an outcome-oriented environment that prepares students to succeed in a wide-range of professions. Pace has facilities in downtown and midtown New York City and in Westchester County at Pleasantville, Briarcliff, and White Plains (a graduate center and law school). A private metropolitan university, Pace enrolls approximately 13,500 students in undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, Ivan G. Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Law School, Lienhard School of Nursing, Lubin School of Business, and School of Education. www.pace.edu

DIRECTIONS TO PACE’S DOWNTOWN CAMPUS: http://appserv.pace.edu/execute/page.cfm?doc_id=16157

Stephen Pitt

Tour de France? are you kidding? A cyclist link?


and so, all art, based on intent and conveyance of it, supplants politics. Especially, where only elements are considered.


I see you are fresh. Happy days for you.


Political Art

"politics generally doesn't make for great art."

I respectfully disagree.

Quite to the contrary I'd say that political art is some of the only interesting or pertinent work being made today. Making purely aesthetic based work in a post modern world is a lost cause. All you are doing is supporting the commodification and degradation of the artwork and artists -- and all just to make a quick buck. Nowadays it's all about the prestige and money that can be conveyed by the artwork. The actual artistic merits of the piece are completely irrelevant.

Political artwork, on the other hand, maintains at least some validity. Now I agree that over the top/heavy handed pieces won't accomplish anything -- they are merely preaching to the choir. But there are so many subtle, well thought out, and powerful political works. Check out artists like Nikki S. Lee, Sophie Calle, and Banksy (to a lesser extent) just to name a few.


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