The prestigious, high-visibility positions in the art world are occupied by art selected more for its doctrinal conformity to dominant ideologies than for its artistic merit. Contemporary art promoted by museums, universities, and legacy media art critics typically conforms to the dogmas and doctrines of closely related schools of thought that might call themselves “progressive,” “leftist,” and these days, “woke.”
For example: The art can denigrate Christianity, but not other religions or atheism. The art can challenge traditional morals and aesthetics, but not progressive morals, aesthetics, and so forth.
There’s nothing wrong with art being political or even offensive. But today, art is being monopolized, used (and abused), and constrained by the dogmas of the dominant cultural faction which is, at least in the art world, the left. Art is stifled and crushed by the left too; it’s not flourishing there.
Art can serve as a medium for exploring truth and lies, enigmas, emotions, quandaries, and more. A painting or sculpture can open up new perspectives, pose questions, and speak to the viewer directly and viscerally. This is why we can’t have art bottled up into the ideological confines of one faction, or fenced off from another faction; artists need leeway to go out and explore.
A Counter-Cultural Appreciation of Beauty
In a culture that’s hostile to beauty, art doesn’t have to be political to be counter-cultural. Landscapes may not sound “alternative,” but it’s rare for mainstream contemporary art displays to promote landscapes that were created as celebrations of their subject matter.
Many religious painters have seen landscape painting as an act of worship for painter and viewer alike, for they see it as a celebration of God’s creation. Religious or not, many landscape painters and viewers are looking for “something” in the landscape: deeper truths, emotions that are manifested in and through the outside world, the fingerprints of God.
This landscape portrays the mountains near my home. Landscape painting represents a certain humility in man by giving appreciation and attention to the topography and atmosphere of the Earth, rather than focusing on ourselves.
That being said, human figures are themselves expressive microcosms that reflect macrocosms as evidenced by such well-known statements as “made in the image of God” or “as above, so below.” Figures when combined with the landscape open up worlds of possibility in expression and communication through painting (as in this piece, by my father Steve Henderson).
The painting below is a street scene from the small town near where I live. Art forms of all types tend to give heavy attention to the world of the rich, the powerful, and the favored. The prosaic world where most of us live most of our lives is often overlooked.
But domestic scenes of homes and neighborhoods, and people, pets, and livestock are of considerable importance. The day-to-day world is saturated with deeper meaning and drama, and it is as worthy a subject as paintings of royals, politicians, history, religion, and mythology. Paintings of prosaic scenes help us see that the “ordinary” world is in fact extraordinary.
Allegory, Symbolism, Satire, and Juxtaposition
Art can also be used to explore conflict situations, and the reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak provided plenty of opportunities.
“Sanity, Her Son, and the Credulous” is the first painting I created exploring the mask mandates back in 2020.
“Don Quixote de la Left” is an oil painting depicting the Ottawa Trucker Freedom Protest, and the left deluding themselves into seeing everyone they disagree with as a Nazi so they can justify their Quixotic attacks on medical freedom and populist movements. The Ottawa Parliament building and the trucks tie the piece to the historical event of the Ottawa protest and provide a foundation for the other layers of symbolism in this allegory.
The non-gratuitous, justified depiction of violence is a useful means for shedding light on dark human actions. State medical authoritarianism is based on the ultimate threat of killing or caging those who don’t cave to the lesser pressure of threats, sanctions, business closures, and fines. As many a police-beaten lockdown protester the world over found, those threats are not empty. The followers of “The Science” ultimately rely upon the threat of violence to force compliance with medical authoritarianism.
There are many artists working beyond the bounds of the mainstream art world and creating good work, even if they don’t have access to the same spaces and avenues. Great artwork is out there, it’s just harder to find than that which has the organs of the establishment behind it and promoting it.