Governor LePage of Maine recently ordered the removal of a mural inside the state’s Department of Labor building. He said it offended business leaders. The mural depicts the struggle of workers throughout the state’s history, including those of child laborers. LePage is sympathetic to the business community’s desire roll back child labor laws. The mural is a poignant symbol of labor history, as well as an excellent example of the power of art as a relevant political tool, and how that art can cause discomfort among forces opposed to the rights of the working class and poor.
Forget petitions. Forget letter-writing campaigns. While they do have their purposes, they’re more often than not simply cosmetic solutions to problems. Direct action has turned the tide of history. The civil rights movement wasn’t won with polite letters bowing in deference to authority figures. Victory was achieved with people in the streets, throwing their bodies against the status quo. Nonviolent civil disobedience is the key to winning.
Another form of protest is direct action through art. Chris Hedges, in his book Death of the Liberal Class, writes eloquently about how art, specifically theater, has lost its virility–indeed, its relevance–with the onslaught of foundation grants and post-modernism. While one can clearly see examples of protest art at rallies, the mainstreaming of art as a political tool has atrophied considerably. Rarely, for instance, can you walk into a museum and see art that appeals to the poor and working class–art is made for acadamia, and is to be admired principally by people who attend institutions that dictate how art should be appreciated.
Artistic expression, before the likes of Jackson Pollock and his contemporaries, wasn’t about navel gazing. It was about awakening class-consciousness in the viewer. Theater, writing, and other forms of visual expression, used to be accessible to the poor and working class. These forms used to incite revolutionary emotion in the audience. There’s a reason why art has been relegated to ivory-tower institutions, and why apolitical forms of art receive the bulk of foundation funding. Art isn’t meant to “rock the boat” nowadays. It threatens the elite’s hold on this country’s collective class amnesia. But when something like the following happens, it reminds us of the urgent need for relevant art. The anonymous activist posted this with the video:
“We put this video up to remind our peers that you have a voice, as soon as you choose to use it. If your government takes a symbol away and tries to hide history, you can make the truth resonate a thousand times stronger with your own 2 hands. This is a lesson the labor unions taught us all, though some have chosen to forget it. We will remind you.”
Art must be relevant again. If you have photography or other forms of art that fit this relevance, we’ll happily promote said work. Thank you.