Mary Ellen Croteau — Why Political Art?


“Why can’t you just make pretty pictures?”  Yes, I have been asked this.  

Indeed.  Why can’t I just make pretty pictures? 

I can’t because I think.  I can’t because I read.  Because I live in this world.  And I can’t because I identify with those people who are having their lives destroyed so that Americans can keep driving SUVs fueled with cheap gas.  I identify with those women who are being murdered by husbands, lovers and other strangers.  I identify with the great mass of people in the world who are held hostage to the greed and power and war-mongering of the few.

I make political art because I can’t NOT make art that says what I feel, that rages against those who are trying to destroy us.  Art is my voice.

Then I am asked:  Does it really make any difference to anyone?  Aren’t you just wasting time “preaching to the converted?”

Of course it makes a difference.  If it didn’t, people wouldn’t even bother asking me that. 

They ask because what I say challenges them to also say something, and some would rather silence me than accept the responsibility themselves.  I consider it a victory when I have upset someone’s complacency.  And YES, preaching to the converted is also a worthy goal. I consider it a victory when someone who sees my art has their own feelings validated and reinforced.  We all need to know we are not alone, we are not crazy.  We need to find ways to bridge the isolation that is being imposed on us in contemporary American culture.

Of course political art makes a difference.  If it didn’t, governments wouldn’t be so afraid of it.  There is a grand art history that concerns itself with political issues, including DADA, social realism, and even abstract expressionism - which was initially a response to WWII and most particularly to the development and use of atomic weapons.  (Think of that the next time you see a Jackson Pollock painting.)

What would the world be without Kathe Kollwitz’s and Goya’s prints, Picasso’s Guernica; Dorothea Lange’s photos; Sequeiros, Rivera, and Orozco’s murals, and other great and wondrous images of people in their struggle for life?  We would be left with the stupid advertisements to tell us what our life is about.

Mary Ellen Croteau