Art and Politics

Assemblage

Expect artists to be among the first to apply for a guaranteed annual income. The arts are a useful pretext for the universal basic income initiatives slouching toward us. California, predictably, is in the lead. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts explains that artists are “essential drivers of economic well-being.” This is debatable. It is also not the same as saying that the arts are essential in themselves. But let’s not quibble just yet. On the YBCA website, Mayor London Breed explains the rationale for San Francisco’s monthly stipend  to artists:
The arts are truly critical to our local economy and are an essential part of our long-term recovery [from COVID restrictions].
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Cardinal Ravasi's Embrace Of Art And Fashion

Cardinal Ravasi’s embrace of art and fashion, the two dominant enthusiasms of secular culture, conveys a this-wordly moralism more theatrical than moral. Of all modern substitutes for religion, art is the most esteemed. It veils contemporary materialism in the language of transcendent values. The cardinal wasted no time embracing the peculiar nature of the high-stakes art world. Pope Francis was installed in March, 2013. Two months later Ravasi announced the Vatican’s first foray into the Venice Biennale. Beginning with a modest prehistory in 1893, the Biennale has evolved into the ultimate bazaar. Continue Reading
Shrine to Migrants in St. Peter's Square

Last month, in honor of  the Vatican’s World Day for Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis unveiled a three-ton shrine to migrants in St. Peter’s Square. Lumpen and inert, the addition is no surprise. Less and less is art conceived or promoted in terms of aesthetic value. It has become a form of advocacy journalism. Even in the Vatican, a repository of centuries of cultured achievement, political significance is the primary measure of artistic significance. St. Peter’s spanking-new monument squats in proximity to the luminous twin fountains by Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Continue Reading
Scattered Notes on Notre-Dame

My heart splintered watching Notre-Dame go up in flames. The disorder of my own responses—a jumble of dismay, anger, and foreboding—permits no tidy structure. What follows is a series of thoughts in no strict sequence. Bear with me. •    •    •    • “Somebody did something” on 9/11. Taking a cue from Ilhan Omar, can we wonder if somebody did something to Notre-Dame? It is a rational conjecture. Watching the cathedral tower burn, it was impossible for the mind’s eye not to go directly to the burning towers of the World Trade Center. Continue Reading
Portraits: No Politics, Just Pictures

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled the official presidential portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama last month. Much of the fun of it was in reading pundit responses to the paintings. I resisted adding to the chatter. But so many people emailed to ask what I thought of the duo, it is simpler to do one post than multiple repetitions. Besides, now that the heat of the moment has cooled is a good time to take a second look at the portraits unfiltered through a political lens. Continue Reading