9th November 2020 – (New York) In the early days of the U.S. Elections, KAWS or Brian Donnelly, the world-renowned artist has released a new politically-charged artwork urging fans to vote for Joe Biden and to vote Trump out. It was an augmented reality artwork downloadable on the Acute Art platform titled ‘VOTE HIM OUT’.

KAWS or Brian Donnelly

Brian Donnelly and his artwork Kaws have influenced the entire art world, and Art View has introduced his art history. His work includes repeated use of a cast of figurative characters and motifs, some dating back to the beginning of his career in the 1990s, initially painted in 2D and later realised in 3D. Some of his characters are his own creations while others are reworked versions of existing icons.

Another New York-based artist,  Eddie Martinez who is well-known for using bold colorus and contemporary graffiti painting style also resonated KAWS’ campaign and made some free tote bags titled ‘VOTE HIM OUT’ freely available at the Perrotin gallery that represents him. In another Instagram post, he uploaded a picture with a sign ‘Trump failed us’.

 American contemporary visual artist, George Condo who also lives in New York City posted a glass of red wine yesterday to celebrate the loss of Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Daniel Arsham, a multidisciplinary artist based in New York has been vocal in politics for a while and he has shown support for Biden and recently commended on the first woman Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. He said that ‘It ebbs and flows but the tide of history flows in the right direction’.

Getting political on social media can have impact many people as artists are popular personalities. While some might argue that an artist’s political voice is often integral to their work, others would argue that doing so could negatively affect your sales and turn off your audience. Whether you favour Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or online forums and groups,  could you potentially be harming your career, networks and livelihood by mixing social media and politics? 

Dana Schutz’ painting of the corpse of Emmett Till, titled Open Casket, drew protests when shown in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and there were demands that it be removed from the show. Schutz’s 2016 painting Open Casket derives from the photograph of the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, whose mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open casket at his funeral because she wanted her community to see what had happened to her son. She had said, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” Photos of Till’s open casket funeral were published in The Chicago Defender and Jet magazine; the murder was a seminal event in the civil rights movement. The artist has stated that she approached the painting from the perspective of a mother and partly based it on the verbal account of Till’s mother about seeing her son after his death. Art.net critic Christian Viveros-Fauné described the work as “a powerful painterly reaction to the infamous [photograph] … the canvas makes material the deep cuts and lacerations portrayed in the original photo by means of cardboard relief.”

Some objected to the painting’s inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, there were debates online, and protesters physically blocked the work from view. Artist and Whitney ISP graduate Hannah Black posted an open letter on Facebook, writing that “it is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun, though the practice has been normalized for a long time. Although Schutz’s intention may be to present white shame, this shame is not correctly represented as a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist … The painting must go.”

Schutz responded, “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension. It is easy for artists to self-censor. To convince yourself to not make something before you even try. There were many reasons why I could not, should not, make this painting … (but) art can be a space for empathy, a vehicle for connection.”

The conflict only grew from there, until Berlin-based artist Hannah Black called for the removal of the painting from the Whitney’s exhibit, and even recommended having it destroyed, garnering scores of signatures on a petition.  

According to Anni Irish from Art Business Journal, as a more established artist, Schutz’s career has endured. In fact, one could argue that the controversy sparked renewed interested in the painter. But the same wouldn’t necessarily be true for an emerging or relatively unknown artist or highly established one. You can have different approaches to share your political views on social media, either through visual art, writing or videos.

While some work – political art or otherwise –  is enhanced through conversations that occur online, these interactions can often escalate quickly and can reflect negatively on the artist in the process. And, depending on who’s listening, the context (correct or not) and timing of your views may be at the perfect moment, or could be seen as tactless or uninformed.

For Schutz, this is of particular note because her intent was not political in nature, but rather maternal. Yet, for better or worse, in today’s society, context is everything, not intention.  Artists using social media to express political views may be challenged by others that they don’t have the right to comment on an issue if the they don’t share the same, race, gender or ethnicity as the subject.

Anni said that ‘as these artists have pointed out, it’s important to have a series of checks and balances when it comes to sharing mixing social media and politics, no matter what the issue is about. As MacCormack noted when explaining that her political activity harmed her marketability for a university position, determining who you would like to target as an audience or potential client is an important first step when deciding whether to express your political viewpoints on social media. However, as the social and political landscape changes, the need to share viewpoints and political art on social websites may eventually become more forgiving. As an artist, its important to use your voice; but understand that doing so may have repercussions.

Picture credit: KAWS instagram
Picture credit: KAWS instagram
Picture credit: KAWS instagram
Picture source: Elmersfud Instagram
Picture source: Elmersfud Instagram
Picture source: artistgeorgecondo Instagram
Picture credit: Daniel Arsham Instagram