Art and Politics

Reading Patricia Leighten’s The White Peril and L’Art négre caused me to think about the current political climate and art being produced today.  Leighten spends the early part of the chapter outlining the political climate Picasso was creating some of his African influenced art like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.  Considering the highly charged political climate that we a currently living in caused me to think deeply about the question of art and politics and how closely the two are tied.  Pervious readings we have done for this class on Picasso’s art and the African influence have hardly scraped the surface as to the politics of the time in comparison to Leighten’s The White Peril and L’Art négre.  As primarily a historian, I am a big advocate of a deeper understanding of the culture and politics that is happening behind the scenes of artworks.  I can only guess that this current period will produce art that has a highly nationalistic flavor, covering both ‘America First’ and the diversity is America’s strength sentiment.  Or there will just be outrageous blond hair everywhere, I don’t know.  Either way, I think knowing where this art is coming from is of great importance to taking away a more complete understanding what the art is saying.  Before Leighten, it was possible to see the African influence as merely the new visual language of modernists in pre-WWI Paris.  However, now we hold an understanding of the anarchist circles Picasso was part of and all the scandals of brutality in the Congo that were breaking in the first few years of the 20th century.  On page 250 Leighten  writes “The deliberate ugliness of a painting like the Demoiselles  is meant to assert the persistence, within a self-congratulatory “modern” culture, of the ugly realities that a complacent modernity would prefer to elide.”  I cannot imagine that today’s artists will not find a way to make ‘ugly art’ to comment on the ugly in today’s society and politics.

Katelyn Kiner – Hope College – 2017


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