Ever since the 2016 American Presidential election, the art press has grown more irrational than usual, which is saying something. The fear of a Trump Presidency, in tandem with a conservative-led Congress, has fired up the art world in a way not seen since the cultish swooning that greeted the first Obama inauguration eight years ago. A perfect example of this is the “Art Strike” taking place tomorrow during the Presidential Inauguration, an event which you would be forgiven for not even being aware of until now.
A summary of the reasoning behind this event is contained in an essay published yesterday in Apollo. The author, an art history professor at NYU, explains that the strike will be “in response to the feared imperilment of individual liberty and social equality that a Trump presidency might inaugurate.” He expresses the hope that this event may have legs well beyond just a single day, as the art world confronts Trump, et al., in the coming years.
The application of logic, a virtue little understood and rarely valued within the art world, requires that we ask two questions about this event. The first and perhaps most fundamental question is, are the organizers being a bit premature? Having such an extreme reaction to something which has not even happened yet is somewhat odd. It seems rather like going to the doctor because your toe hurts, and then insisting that he amputate your entire foot, before he has even taken an x-ray.
Yet the second, arguably more substantive question must be: who exactly is going to be hurt by this event?
Certainly an “art strike” will not hurt Mr. Trump, an appalling man of appalling taste who is not known for being a patron of the arts. Nor will it hurt Congress, which historically has shown little interest in or patience for the whingings of the art world. Nor is this event likely to have any impact on average American voters, whose rare dealings with the inherent attitude of condescension and relativism within the art world usually leave them unimpressed and unwilling to support it, morally or financially.
What is perhaps most curious about an exercise such as this, is that it may end up having the exact opposite effect of what its organizers intend. Beyond the noble values of the free expression of citizens and the unfettered creative process, the unspoken motivator here is that of money. Artists, museums, and public institutions are naturally worried that a new Republican administration will cut their funding, as has happened to them many times in the past in the shift from a leftist to a conservative government. Yet if the art world is so concerned about Mr. Trump or Congress turning a giant, flaming eye from atop Barad-dûr in its direction, surely it could not make more certain of heightened fiscal scrutiny, than by going out of its way to insult, ridicule, and shriek at those who hold the purse strings.
In short, gentle reader, at least for this scrivener, it is going to be a long four years – or more.