Good art, bad art contrasted, add propaganda

Art as propaganda is usually frowned upon. However, Alain De Botton rethinks the negative reaction this combination so frequently elicits in our modern culture in the following quote from The Architecture of Happiness. The blurb also harkens back to the idea of art embalming our personal and cultural virtues.

    Yet the term “propaganda” refers to the promotion of any doctrine or set of beliefs and in and of itsel should carry no negative connotations. That the majority of such promotion has been in the service of odious political and commercial agendas is more an accident of history than any fault of the word. A work of art becomes a piece of propaganda whenever it uses its resources to direct us towards something, insofar as it attempts to enhance our sensitivity and our readiness to respond favourably to any end or idea.

    Under this definition, few works of art could fail to be counted as propaganda: not only pictures of Soviet farmers proclaiming their five-year plans, but also paintings of peas and lustre bowls; chairs; and steel and glass houses on the edge of the California desert. Taking the apparently perverse step of giving each of these the same label merely serves to stress the directive aspect of all consciously created objects — objects which invite viewers to imitate and participate in the qualities encoded within them.

    From this perspective, we would be wise not to pursue the impossible goal of extirpating propaganda altogether, but should instead endeavor to surround ourselves with its more honourable examples. There is nothing to lament in the idea that art can direct our actions, provided that the directions it points us in are valuable ones. The theorists of the idealisating tradition were refreshingly frank in their insistence that art should try to make good things happen — and, more importantly, that it should try to make us good.

Damien Hirst’s “pickled shark” as Clarkson refers to it

Let’s contrast that with the wit of Jeremy Clarkson, courtesy of the Art Market Blog. In the article cited by Art Market, Clarkson talks about how there’s a glut of British galleries. A few choice words from the spot:

    Even Saatchi struggles. Obviously unable to secure a nice painting of some bluebells by a local artist, he has filled his new gallery with all sorts of stuff that to the untrained eye is food, bedding, waste and pornography . . .

    Inside, guests could feast their eyes on a pickled shark, a room half-filled with sump oil and a severed cow’s head full of maggots and flies.

    The high-profile nature of all this provides some hope for the owners of provincial galleries — they need only trawl their local butchers and fishmongers to fill half the space — but it’s not so good for you and me . . .

    The trouble is that thanks to Saatchi — and to a certain extent, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen — there’s a sense that you can put anything on your walls at home and it will do. But it won’t.

    I, for instance, have a very nice little picture in my sitting room. It’s of some cows on a misty morning by a river. I know this because it was painted by someone whose deftness with a brush meant he could represent cows and mist and a river.

    Unfortunately, it gives off a sense that I’m not moving with the times. So really I should take it down and nail one of my dogs to the wall instead . . .

    Real art, like real jeans, never goes out of fashion. You’ll never hear anyone say: “That Mona Lisa. She’s so last week.”

Clarkson is a journalist and broadcaster in England, but his artistic observations here are keen — and humorous. Is what he suggests true? Will works like Hirst’s shark be looked at in the future as “so last week.” Or will it even be looked at? When I look at the photograph of the fish in the box I figure it’s in a natural history museum, not an art gallery. It’s a technical work, not so much an imaginative one. Anyone with a workshop or resources such as those apparently available to this superstar of a an artist can put together a white box with a big fish in it if they want to, right?


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

5 Responses to Good art, bad art contrasted, add propaganda

  1. Marissa says:

    I’m so not a fan of that man.

  2. pNielsen says:

    I’m not sure I knew who he was till last month, though I’d bet I’d heard the name a few years ago. So far in my knowledge of the guy he seems to typify the artist-as-genius that I have developed such a distaste for, though I really know very little about him.

  3. madsilence says:

    Art as propoganda? Doesn’t most art convey a message?

    Some thoughts on politcal & conceptual art:


  4. PAUL HOFMANN says:

    while the only comment I have on de botton is that he is a pretensious bore. Thw real question is , do you have any idea who jeremy clarkson is ??? I sugest you research him and his BBC” programm “top gear” he is a motor jounalist of the macho/ reactionary variety. dont mistake ignorance for wit. dont misunderstand me hes no fool (hed be safer if he was)
    Damien hurst may not be evryones cup of tea but unlike mr clarkson at least hes attempting to inject some level of meaning into our lives(overpriced as it may be)

  5. pNielsen says:


    I was aware of who Clarkson was. It’s interesting, though, if you’re willing to allow it how people outside of a particular situation can actually make very astute observations.

    And if you’re not a fan of either Botton or Clarkson, who would you recommend? Critics will always have opposition, and I without offering something constructive — other than name-calling — your comment is as easy to ignore as you’re suggesting they are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: