Steve's Thoughts

The Politics of Art: The Refugee Crisis Gives Birth to A Show




“All art is political in the sense that it engages society in some way, either influencing or influenced by it.” Dale Eisinger, Cultural Writer

For many, there is little connection between art and politics. They gravitate toward work they like, from landscapes to modern art, seeing their choice within the context of personal taste and preference. But the fact is, politics have long been a driving force in art and even dictated what was seen. In medieval times much of the art was driven by the church, which also wielded power over politics. In recent memory we have the “Hope” portrait paintings of  Barack Obama designed by artist Shepard Fairey, which was widely described as iconic and came to represent the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. It consists of a stylized stencil portrait of Obama in solid red, beige and blue, with the word "progress", "hope", or "change" below. The design was created in one day and printed first as a poster and later adopted by the Obama campaign, appearing on election paraphernalia from tee shirts to coffee mugs.

Much of my life – and career – I have gravitated toward, in some way, helping others, or at least wanting to help others when I could afford it (emotionally, physically and financially.) This is simply the way I am “built.” Consequently, I dare say I am more plugged into the emotions that certain political situations trigger. Today, that political situation is the refugee crisis.

I honestly do not understand how the world sits by and watches the travesty unfold. Each nation has originated a reason for limiting their assistance to the men, women and children trying desperately to flee the very things that, supposedly, NATO itself wants to defy. The atrocities against the innocent have been unbearable, if not unmentionable.

This has led me to create a show based on the refugee crisis, which will open in June, in Chatham, MA. The show for me will never be complete…instead it will be an ongoing project throughout my life, one that documents what is actually happening as well as how I feel about it, what I am observing in the culture at large, while also interpreting the emotions of the crisis into “art.”  It is a humbling experience because I am well aware that compared to many I am highly privileged – me, a white man who can “do his art” and pay his bills with his success – so, what can I know or understand about the suffering of refugees? My answer is that often times it is the distance between the subject and the artist that creates the best interpretation. In medieval times the artists were not always religious leaders or even believers, yet they created masterpieces that reflected the politics of the time, an intertwining of religion with the rule of the land. The same with Farley, the creator of the Obama portrait art: by framing his portrait around text that includes “Hope” and “Change” he provided context to his distance from being the first black president of the United States – in other words, his art was a reflection of what Obama’s election meant to him (and millions of others.)

I will be using a similar thematic structure to my refugee crisis show. The framework of the show is centered on the question, “How did helping other humans become politicized?”  I will attempt to answer that question with several paintings, an audio installation and a visual installation piece. As stated the show will open in Chatham, MA, June 9. The plan is that it will travel to Boston, NYC and L.A. and perhaps other locations. I hope you can and will see the show. For me the refugee crisis is not just one of the great human travesties of our time, but also one of the greatest reasons for asking questions about humanity itself.