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How to form an opinion of your own: Political Art

Art, it's easy to think this is something you either know, or something you don't and when you don't, you really don't. In Canada, art within schools have on average been losing funding. To put this into perspective, in 2019, the Toronto District School Board cut $67.8 M from the budget over two years. (TDSB, 2019) The art department, specifically, was cut in half.


The loss of funds towards art has created a gap in knowledge on the subject. More importantly, this gap creates a deficit in accessibility to understand how to properly assess artwork on a multitude of levels from personal art, to political art.


With each political movement, there has been an era of art to go hand in hand. The art itself, more times than not, will either be in support of a movement, or in opposition. Rarely, in art will you find pieces made significant, for lack of better word, solely for its neutrality on a subject.


One significant piece of art you may all know, either love it or hate it, that was in support of a large movement is Johnny Canuck. First created in 1869, and later resurfacing in 1942 during WWII. He was used to represent an easy going, and laid back military super hero. (Johnny Canuck 2023)



A portrayal c. 1942 of Johnny Canuck as a World War II hero


On the other hand, art in opposition to a movement will be just as plentiful. A widely known anti government movement that surfaced in the previous years has been the anti pipeline with Wet’suwet’en. While this is still an ongoing event for Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan nations, it is hard to pick an individual piece to represent this entire movement. This movement is however one you will be able to find various examples of art over the next few years. (Shah, 2022)


Finally, while it is rare that art is amplified during political events when it is viewed as neutral, it can occur. In the case of Andy Warhol, his art during the height of the AIDS epidemic became a large talking point. This was because of various reasons, but key features of this were because of how the world viewed him in regards to his sexuality and the empire he created as an artist. Andy Warhol was able to commercialize his art in a way that artists before him had not done before. Warhol, while not what many people expected or wanted, remained neutral on the epidemic and continually did not want to get involved in politics.


One of the pieces in particular that he created during this time that caused an outrage during this time period is The Last Supper. Warhol wanted to stay out of the realm of politics and disease when the AIDS epidemic was happening, and because of this many viewed his response as a failure. (Beck, 2020)



A. Andy Warhol, The Last Supper (detail), 1986

The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

1998.1.355

An important objective to note within the context of political art, is that this is a never ending subject matter. There are always movements, and there will always be art to follow. Whether you agree with the movement, or the art does not matter. You should have access to the knowledge needed to critically analyze all key features of the art in order to understand it. This knowledge of art in regards to a world of politics, allows for the average citizen to be able to form an independent opinion on various fronts.


When examining the art it is important to look at four different areas. The first being the piece itself or the content itself. The second and third are who is the artist(s) and who(m) is funding the art. Finally, the location of the piece.


The content of an art piece will have a varying level of things to examine. A list of those key points include: colors, textures, type of art (called medium, painting, sculpture, etc.). These will all be the things you see at a first glance.


Next examine, what exactly is being thrown at first, and how is the artist using space, or color to bring forward (give more attention to) particular points or features of the art.

After examining the content of the art, next look for who the artist(s) behind the piece is. Knowing who the artist(s) behind a piece can open a door to understand what their motives or intentions were behind a piece. The artist(s) may be someone known to be in opposition, or in favor of the content presented, knowing this information allows an incite as to if the artist(s) will have a bias towards the content.


Lastly the location of the piece will reveal a few key details as to the intent for the audience. A piece that is held in a private museum or gallery that costs money to enter will hold a difference with a piece that is displayed in a public park. The first would allow only a select few to see the work, while the latter would be forcing the general public to view the work more naturally in their daily life.


No matter the take away you receive from art, movements, or what side you decide to stand on, or to remain neutral; your viewpoint on the art matters. Allowing yourself the independent thought and construction of opinion towards art will always allow for a better sense of self; and how that correlates to the world and politics surrounding you.


Checklist to examine the art around you:

  • Content

-colors

-textures

-type of art

  • Artist

-background

-any notable bias(s)

  • Who(m) is funding

-is it the artist?

-is it an institution

-is it the “opposition”

  • Location

-is it “legally” placed

-is it private or public property

-how will inevitably view the piece

-is it organically

-it is sponsored/pushed art

-is it only available to a select group of people


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References:

Beck, J. (2020, May 27). Warhol's confession: Love, faith, and AIDS. The Andy Warhol Museum. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.warhol.org/warhols-confession-love-faith-and-aids/


Shah, S. (2022, July 26). Wet'suwet'en explained. The Indigenous Foundation. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.theindigenousfoundation.org/articles/wetsuweten-explained


Toronto District School Board. (2019, May 13). Proposed Balance 2019-2020 Operating Budget. Toronto.


Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, March 5). Johnny Canuck. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Canuck


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