This is a bit old--real life has cut into my blogging time far too much lately--but last week the (London) Times Online ran an article asking the question, "try to think of a contemporary piece of art that made a right-wing point" (link via MAN.) The author's main concern is theater, and British theater at that, so the frame of reference is a bit different for an American interested primarily in the visual arts. My own knowledge of and experience in the American theater world is fading fast now that it's been about fifteen years since I so much as watched a play, let alone help mount one. That said, my recollection and limited knowledge of the current scene confirms in part the author's argument: what politics makes it onto the stage is almost always of a liberal sort, and often rather self-satisfied. I've always thought this had as much if not more to do with the audience for the art as anything else--producers typically being people who are more keen on making money than championing a cause. I could say more, but I don't have the proper examples at hand, or inclination, so let's move back to the main question: what contemporary art makes a right-wing point?
As the article demonstrates, it all depends what you mean. Theater often enough depicts people in society, so exploring some theme of political significance is always an option, and depending on one's interests or sensitivities, can come up almost unbidden. Yet what might be considered political, or left- or right-wing, can differ to according to one's own perspective (part of the frustration expressed by the author and those he quotes is that the artists and arts establishment they perceive as left-wing don't even seem aware of it.) And if Look Back in Anger could be considered provisionally right-wing, as the author suggests, well, times really have changed.
Visual art obviously may or may not take anything in our social world as a reference point. While the resurgence in narrative art over the past few decades has also come with a certain level of political art, it's been far from the rule. Still, the idea that artists should foster some sort of "oppositional" stance toward the mainstream is a common one, with a long pedigree. That it often meant, among 19th and early twentieth century modern masters, a sort of reactionary, aristocratic contempt for the bourgeoisie, is less often remembered.
What about a contemporary example? At the risk of taking her themes more seriously than intended, I submit that Dana Schutz's Civil Planning, seen above, could be considered a work of art making a right-wing point, though Schutz herself certainly isn't (as far as I know) a conservative. I'm not interested at the moment in whether the painting is any good or not, in part because I don't think it's one of her best for reasons separate from the ideas discussed here. Civil Planning offers a sort of parable of the organization of society, with violence never far in the background and the two (presumed) planners working in the foreground, apparently indifferent to their creations, hardly paying attention, their own attitudes and prejudices reflected back to them on the circular mirrors above. It's hard not to sense in the work a healthy scepticism regarding human nature or the promise of "civil planning", both eminently conservative points, regardless of Schutz's own politics.
But why should anyone care if contemporary right-wing art exists? The author seems to want it not only to balance left-wing art, but almost in the spirit of "where's our agit-prop?", ignoring the fact that a lot--most--artwork expressly intended as political isn't very good. Of course, once again the situation is different in the U.S., where--along with the rather gentle example of popular movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral--there are a number of televesion dramas catering to conservative markets (as in the theater world, the audience gets offered what those making the work believe it wants.) But to stick to the visual arts, I would think that the very conservative lesson that such things can't be forced applies. If we do respond to Schutz's painting as depicting flawed human nature and the limits of our abilities to act, it's because these are as much pre-political truths of human life as much as they are implicated in political attitudes. Both Kant and Burke believed in, to use the former's phrase, the "crooked timber" of human nature, but they came to very different conclusions regarding the French Revolution.
Both the article and I have been sliding between different concepts of political art, so I'd like to try and clarify a little before concluding. There's the sort of art that's expressly political--say, Richard Serra's Stop Bush. For all the attention such work gets, often by people deploring it, there's less of it than one might suppose. Then there are works, like the Schutz painting, which may deal with ideas, attitudes, or feelings that can have political implications, but don't necessarily, or don't indicate any particular form of politics. I happen to think that if one takes Schutz's painting seriously, perhaps a mistake, these kinds of ideas lie close to the surface, but others may differ. The danger here is that by looking at art of this kind through a political lens, one can very swiftly wind up a commissar. Lastly is what the article calls "Fogey art", work that by nature of its traditional form or content--paintings of horses that look like horses, music with a tune, plays with clearly resolving plots, stories that depict the stuff of broad human experience, etc.--are in some sense conservative. Perhaps they are, though the sense in which they might be isn't clearly a political one; nor is a taste for such art limited to conservatives, by any means. But that's enough for now, even if I've left a number of questions undiscussed. Other thoughts are welcome.