How Have Artists Dealt With Political Issues in the Modern Age?


October 28, 2010 :: Kenneth Allan
Moderated by Christina Cuthbertson

In past ages, artists were essentially craftsmen carrying out the wishes of the ruling political, aristocratic, and religious elites. When modern artists gained a degree of economic independence in the late 18th century, and with the rise of democratic ideals, a minority began criticizing the establishment as an artistic opposition, and this has continued to the present day.

The relation of artists to politics largely mirrors that found in the rest of society, a difference being that artists are experts in the manipulation of charged symbols. With respect to political issues in society (and regarding all political tendencies from left to right) artists have been harshly critical, slavishly supportive, and at times completely apathetic, depending on the moment.

This presentation will explain some of the approaches politicized artists have taken to engage in the social and political process, and it will discuss what sorts of effects these engagements may, or may not, have in the larger social and political environment.

Speaker: Kenneth Allan

Ken Allan teaches art history courses on modern and contemporary art, photography, and experimental film at the University of Lethbridge. He has a PhD in Art History from the University of Toronto, with a specialization in the study of Conceptual art.

Allan’s recent publications include: “Metamorphosis in 391: A Cryptographic Collaboration by Francis Picabia, Man Ray, and Erik Satie” for Art History (forthcoming in 2011) and “Grounds of Forgetting and Intermediaries for Memory: Some Photographs by David M.C. Miller” in Public, 42, “Traces” (Fall 2010). His essay “Understanding Information” forms a chapter of Conceptual Art: Theory, Myth, and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).


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