Artfully Politicking

With the upcoming presidential election, and the first round of debates this evening, we are all braced for the hard and heavy domestic and international topics that will be debated in the coming weeks.  But as an arts writer and arts lover, I wanted to turn to what’s sometimes seen as the "softer" side of politics, as its place and importance is often underestimated.  I want to take a moment to look at some of the artistic movements surrounding the current president. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Ed Ruscha | We the People, 2 color lithograph, 14 x 14”, Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. and “Artists for Obama.”

Some artful facts: Obama has been a strong supporter of the arts thus far and he has called for a 5% increase in arts spending in his 2013 budget. The creation of his President's Committee on The Arts and Humanities alone speaks highly to the value Obama places on the arts, but additionally, in May of 2011, this committee released a report called, "Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools." The report details the role of the arts in education, the role of the government in supporting the arts, and the challenges that lie ahead.  Through such initiatives, Obama has made significant reform and change at the way our schools and government even understand the very value of art's role in education and the future of innovation.  Additionally, his administration has sought out artists to visually support and articulate his American Jobs Act, through a participation in a poster contest.

Examples of poster submissions from 30 Reasons, 2008 featuring: Brett Yasko’s America, Frank Chimero’s Empowerment, and Luba Lukova’s Health Coverage.

As a writer and artist himself, Obama has not surprisingly gained support from a large number of artists. His campaign in 2008, in fact, was spirited by Shepard Fairey’s iconic reimagining of Obama’s photographic portrait (for more on the legal battle between the Associated Press and Fairey, click here).  Also in 2008, 30 Reasons launched a similar poster contest to the one Obama later hosted for the American Job Acts – it was a call to 30 graphic artists and designers to create posters that illustrate one reason they favored Obama’s election.  Now, they have begun a similar contest that starts exhibiting original artwork from October 8th through election day.

Claes Oldenburg | Musical Hearts, 2 color screenprint, 14 x 11 1/8”, Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. and “Artists for Obama.”

In another artist endeavor, 19 artists, including but not limited to Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Chris Burden, Claes Oldenburg, and Ed Ruscha, have each contributed an original work of art to a fundraising entity known as "Artists for Obama" (you may remember this from 2008 as well).  In conjunction with LA's art workshop and publisher, Gemini G.E.L., they are releasing a limited edition portfolio of the prints that will be sold as a set for a $28,000 donation, all of which goes directly to Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

While I do not have the money to support or buy into this enterprise, I do have the enthusiasm for the cause and the appreciation for the chance to look at the portfolio and see what these artists are thinking and creating.  (Download the PDF here.)

Below are a couple of my favorite pieces.  Some won me over aesthetically and compositionally, while others did it solely with their humorous titles and artful politicking.  And, while I am aware that this is a very one-sided look at Obama-inspired art, we welcome suggestions for similar artistically-inspired piece on Romney. Let us know what you think in our comments section!

Chris Burden | Married, 12 color screenprint, 12 x 14”, Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. and “Artists for Obama.”

Jasper Johns | Map, 2 color lithograph, 14 x 11 ½”, Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. and “Artists for Obama.”

Richard Serra | NOROMNEY, 1 color etching, 14 x 14”, Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. and “Artists for Obama.”


Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.


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