The Chicago ballot, with artist choices (Photo by author)

CHICAGO — When my wife was completing her mail-in voter ballot for the upcoming US elections, something on the instruction leaflet caught my eye. The sample names that the Illinois election board has chosen to illustrate how to select a candidate correctly are as follows (the ballot is pictured above):


Andrew Wyeth

Wilbur Wright

Pablo Picasso

This is amusing in so many ways, namely:

A) An American government with a Minister of Art? If only! Public funds for the arts in the USA are administered by a government official who runs the National Endowment for the Arts, but to my knowledge there has never been a cabinet-level minister (or Secretary) who would sit down at a table with the President, Vice President, and the various Secretaries of State, Defense, Agriculture, Transportation, and so on, and argue on an equal footing for the importance of having a larger slice of the tax pie for the arts.

B) In other parts of the world, there have been several notable examples of artists (defining this for the moment as visual artists, musicians, and writers) who took up positions in government. I’m thinking of Andre Malraux, who was appointed Minister of Culture in France in 1959, and of course writer Vaclav Havel, who started life as a playwright, was imprisoned by the Czech government for his opposition to communism in the 1960s, and eventually became President of the post-communist Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic from 1989 to 2003. That is definitely not the case in the United States.

C) Wilbur Wright!? Er, didn’t he co-invent the flying machine? The man who said he didn’t have time “for both a wife and an airplane”?

D) But imagine for a second if either Andrew Wyeth or Pablo Picasso had been elected Minister of Art in the USA. What sort of policies would they have advocated? My thoughts: Vote Wyeth for mandatory life drawing in schools! Or vote Picasso to close down art schools altogether!

It’s pleasant to picture your favorite artist in such a position of power (and I bet Hyperallergic readers can come up with their own list). But the choice of wording on this ballot form is deeply ironic in an election where the arts have played such a minuscule role in the campaign trail, for both sides.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...