Articles

All-American Art

by Jillian Steinhauer on July 4, 2012

“Tea party artists believe that art, for too long, has been controlled by wishy-washers on the left,” says a woman wearing a blazer and pearls in an introductory video on the website teapartyartists.com. “The tea party artist doesn’t try to impress the gate-keepers.” And for a moment, you are half-horrified, half-impressed, and you believe her … until the next line: “We also don’t share our opinions at social gatherings and small parties, cause that is stupid and doesn’t make any sense.”

In what appears to be a spoof — although happily, it’s not quite clear — Missoula, Montana, artists Ben Bloch and Caroline Peters, who together form the creative duo Goatsilk, have founded the Tea Party Artists group. What is their mission? To correct what they see as “a national aesthetic disfunctionality.”

“Art for too long has been controlled by wishy-washers on the left,” Peters proclaims — wishy-washers being one of their many nicknames for liberals, and a term that encompasses anyone who works in the largely liberal cultural world of museums, universities, residencies and historical societies.

The almost endearingly awkward acting in the video, plus Peters’ thick-framed red glasses, tipped us off that Tea Party Artists might not quite be the real thing. But what’s more surprising (and perhaps more indicative that this isn’t the real Tea Party talking?) is that their “About” statement makes some interesting points. They might even be onto something. The duo writes:

Tea Party Artists want to revive American aesthetics with tea party values: strength, honor, self-sufficiency, and courage. Unlike the larger political branch of the tea party, we don’t focus on taxes and the constitution. Instead, we use our eyes and brains to find the good and the bad in the world around us. As independent American artists, we recognize the spoiled vision of window-washers currently has too much power in the artworld [sic], academia, and other arcane social institutions. The American public deserves better. A new ethical, transcendent and patriotic vision needs a chance to take hold, and that’s why we decided to broadcast our views publicly. Tea Party artists stand for the freedom to commit new acts of creativity in contemporary culture.

OK, ethics and patriotism, maybe not so much. (Happy July 4!) But that last line sounds like something that could have come from Occupy Wall Street. It has a real provocative resonance to it.

Jon McNaughton, "One Nation Under Socialism"

Jon McNaughton, “One Nation Under Socialism” (image via latimes.com)

All of this got us thinking, though: where are the Tea Party, and other right-wing, artists? Who are the peers of the infamous Jon McNaughton, who sold his painting of Obama burning the constitution to Sean Hannity on the spot, on air, earlier this year? It’s telling that the domain name teapartyartists.com wasn’t already taken, but then again, if there was a strong group of conservative artists out there, would those of us in the, yes, largely liberal “art establishment” notice?

I think we would. Christopher Knight is always looking out for it, and Artnet did some digging for Tea Party art two years ago, too. The larger issue, I suspect, is that many conservatives, Tea Partiers or not, aren’t exactly burning to express themselves visually. Art is not generally the province of simple ideas; uncomplicated visions of patriotism, family and small government don’t make for rich visual imagery. Art is a realm of doubt and challenge and questions. It’s also a genre often concerned with itself, an exploration of form with no connection to the outside world. I doubt most conservatives are too interested in that.

Then again, art has long been a medium for expressing strong emotions, and the American right wing has plenty of those!

Maybe we’ll find the future generation of Tea Party artists at this summer’s 2012 Republican National Convention. The RNC recently announced an “Elephants on Parade” art competition for middle and high school students from the Tampa Bay area. In keeping with the trend of conservatism, of course, all entries must be two-dimensional and framed, and listen up, kids: no appropriation art!

Any entry that has been copied from an existing photo (except the student’s own), painting, graphic, advertisement or any other work produced by another person is a violation of the competition rules and will not be accepted.

We are not breeding the next generation of Richard Princes here.

Aside from a quote by convention CEO William Harris about reviewing the entries “personally,” the announcement doesn’t explain who will be doing the judging or how the winner will be determined. All it offers is the contest theme: “what does being an American mean to me?” I can only guess the winner will be the student who most convincingly paints her loyalty. I’d suggest, if I may, something along the lines of an elephant on the back of a bald eagle, perched on Mitt Romney’s head … attached to George Washington’s body.

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