Friday, September 25, 2009

The Shepard Fairey boomerang

Bad art, meet bad politics: Shepard Fairey and Yosi Sergant at the ICA.

If you have a genuine life, you probably haven't been paying attention to the NEA brouhaha that has been brewing over the past few weeks. Long story short, red-state, neocon and "birther" sites have been bubbling over a recent NEA conference call, apparently led by NEA Communications Director Yosi Sergant (above, with you-know-who), during which, as progressive bĂȘte noire FoxNews says, it was apparent that the NEA was soliciting work from artists that could further the Obama administration's agenda.

In a word, this kind of thing is wrong. It was wrong when the Bush administration did it, and it's wrong when the Obama administration does it. The NEA should not be sponsoring propaganda, even if it tiptoes around the letter of the law to solicit it, and even if the initiatives in question are desirable.

After the outcry, Sergant was initially demoted; yesterday he resigned. It seems to me a few more heads should roll at the NEA, but this may be enough to stem the political hemorrhage for the time being. (The White House has also issued new "guidelines" for its communications.) What the Obama administration needs least is any defensible critique that could legitimize the nutjobs on the far right.

I've been dismayed, however, by the reaction of the reliably-lefty cultural blogosphere to all this (needless to say, they're appalled that anyone could oppose the politicization of the NEA when it comes to their own politics). So I just thought I'd say out loud: I thought Yosi Sergant should go, and I'm glad to see his exit has come to pass. I'm sure I'm not the only cultural observer to think this (perhaps privately, in most cases), but I would like to add one new twist to the ongoing debate:

This isn't just good for Obama, it's actually good for art. When politics become the justification for art, you wind up with second-rate, feel-good agitprop like the posters of Shepard Fairey (above, with Sergant, at the ICA, in some kind of cosmic alignment of middlebrow cultural posturing). If we want truly great art, we must always battle the political assumptions that have covered so many academic and artistic institutions like group-think kudzu. So maybe FoxNews has proven to be good for something after all.

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