Art and Social Conscience

This is a bit of a pipe dream:
When the world is convulsed by a financial disaster, it seems only right that the arts should engage with it. Just to continue with its own concerns, shut away in its little world of galleries and concert halls would seem indecent, while millions are being thrown out of work or onto the street.

History offers an inspiring example of how art can help heal the social wounds brought on by a financial crisis. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, the arts in America took on a new tone, epitomised in the career of Aaron Copland. He foreswore the nose-thumbing modernism of his youth and set about creating a ruggedly populist language, epitomised in such works as the Fanfare for the Common Man (later incorporated into the 3rd Symphony) and those wonderful ballets such as Billy the Kid.

Like the Depression-era artists such as Ben Shahn and playwrights such as Clifford Odets, Copland knew that to be politically effective, art has to speak in terms its audience will understand. In the Thirties, artists themselves often suffered from the same poverty as the Okie farmers and unemployed factory workers depicted in their art. That's why it has such a stirring sense of conviction; it was born out of social solidarity.

You would think that because our ability to exchange information has improved dramatically since the 1930s that the art of today would be more relevant in terms of commentary. It isn't, precisely because the technology and the context is too easy to ignore and misunderstand.

I think thinks were more straightforward in previous eras. There is always subtext, and sly humor, and satire has been ever-present, but the impact of Depression-era art is greater because you could hit people over the head with scenes of pathos and desperation and not be readily accused of manipulation and dishonesty.

What you see above is a distressed piece of euro currency. So, the artist doesn't like money or the design of the money? This is supposed to be a unique and biting piece of social commentary? Really? He colored on and chopped up a large denomination bill. Hey, that's original.

Snark, in other words, has undermined everything in the art world. These images of pathos you're displaying--are you for real or are you being ironic or are you juxtaposing things in order to make people laugh? That's why the impact is greatly reduced.