Artists and politics – February 28, 2003


(RG note) These are times that try artists’ souls. Every day, every hour sometimes, someone from our community jingles this inbox. Many artists are irritable and distracted. Some report that they cannot concentrate or work at all. Some suffer from CNNitis. Some offer terse “one-liners.” Some direct our attention to other sites that they consider informative. It may be that many artists just want to keep their connections open.

Opinions on the Iraq situation range from “Let’s get on with it,” to “Are we out of our tree?” While our site is run from Canada, and I’m Canadian, by far the largest number of subscribers to the Twice-Weekly Letters are US citizens. While some artists have objected to the use of the Painter’s Keys service for political purposes, I feel it’s important to pass along these points of view. We can only hope that the world’s current enmity will soon pass.

One writer wrote: “It’s time we took a stand.” Some want to avoid the subject: “I’m tired of people inundating me with unsolicited political viewpoints and especially in an artists’ community.” Another wrote, “Please limit political letters rather than encouraging them. Artists need a respite from politics. Penis letters are far more tolerable; at least that was about Art. It’s okay to see letters from people living in war-torn countries but diatribes from would be soap-box orators are insufferable. I can see both opinions on the Iraq situation and am equally disgusted by both. We are facing some really tough political days ahead and I don’t want to lose my few minutes of peace with Robert’s letters.”

Another artist wrote, “As far as using your clickbacks for political thoughts, I see no problem with it. Artists are people, and some say we are the voice of the people. How could we NOT have views of subjects other than art techniques, business, and spirituality?”

If you would care to add your own voice or respond to any of the material included in this hopefully short-lived response section of The Painter’s Keys site, please do so. If you wish to write incognito, your wish will of course be respected.

See also: Artists and Iraq (March 11, 2003)

Expansion of consciousness
Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas, USA

I don’t know if it’s your horizons that are expanding or just those of your letter, but it’s very welcome. Your philosophical remarks have always been applicable to all kinds of art but have usually been centered on landscape and genre painting. Which is fine, but your recent addition of erotic art, photography and politics into your letters and clickbacks really fleshes out the Twice-Weekly bones. Like many of us, I’m sure it didn’t occur to me to write an endorsement of your review of the erotic art show until I saw all that poisonous outrage in the clickbacks! Who knew so many fundamentalists painted? Since as far as I know you had never discussed even painting academic nudes, it was great the way you innocently plunged straight into eros! I can’t imagine people painting and not realizing they’re committing a sensual act, God help them. Painting is a form of sex — maybe a perverted one — regardless of whether you’re painting a landscape, a coffee sack or a naked person. Why else would we keep doing it? Photography, I guess, is even more voyeuristic. “Desire comes in through the eye,” as T. S. Eliot said.

As for politics, my own work is about as far as you can get from political art, but sometimes the outer world comes back to bite us in our artistically preoccupied butts. The same thing I said about sex being intrinsic to art is probably equally true of politics. An artist denied the freedom of expression — or intimidated into denying herself of it — is a political prisoner. This was obvious from your recent trip to Cuba. And if these World Dominators now installed in the White House have their way with the environment, the landscape painter of the not too distant future will have nothing but deserts to paint. After 9-11 I felt artistically impotent. Everything I was working on seemed trivial and irrelevant — but you carried on as usual in the Twice-Weekly as though nothing had happened. That was disappointing, and I know from some feedback I got that many of us thought you were out of touch with the real world. And now, using that attack as an excuse to finally put into play their ten-year-old plans for an American Empire, our neo-Brown Shirts in Washington are on the brink of committing mass murder in our name. Until recently you stayed out of these stormy waters, so your inclusion of some political letters in the Clickbacks, especially the article I sent you from Bernard Weiner is a welcome change.

The expansion of your Twice-Weekly’s consciousness adds a new validity, authenticity and sophistication to your project.

Don’t cater to the dopes
Faith Puelston, Wetter, Germany

There is no use catering to the fops and dopes of this world (and we’ve identified plenty of them), especially with such critical themes as war v. peace on the agenda. And considering that Nelson’s column in London is one of the most phallic symbols you could possibly “erect” (rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr) it’s totally crazy that people should be offended by eroticism as such, and even crazier that they automatically associate eroticism with pornography. Your splendid totem pole commission told its own (illicit) story! The only piece of advice I can give to artistic prudes is to chuck painting and settle for knitting, fast food (implicit short sex) or telephone sex (invisible) or all three!

A dangerous course
Anonymous, (UK)

I applaud your encouragement of political points of view on the Painter’s Keys site. The extensive interview of Noam Chomsky by Matthew Tempest in the Guardian on February 4, 2003 is worthwhile looking at. To quote Chomsky: “For years, experts in the mainstream have been pointing out that the US is causing weapons proliferation by its adventures since others cannot protect themselves except by weapons of mass destruction or the threat of terror. Kenneth Waltz is one who recently pointed this out. But years ago, even before the Bush administration, leading commentators like Samuel Huntington in Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal, were pointing out that the United States is following a dangerous course. He was talking about the Clinton administration but he pointed out that, for much of the world, the US is now regarded as a rogue state and the leading threat to their existence. In fact one of the striking things about the opposition to the war now, again unprecedented, is how broadly it extends across the political spectrum, so the two major foreign policy journals, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy have just in their recent issues run very critical articles by distinguished mainstream figures opposing the resort to war in this case.”

Lop-sided policy
“Faroud” (UK)

One cannot but be alarmed at the lop-sided foreign policy by the US and Great Britain that haunts any resolution of the various Arab questions. “While Tony Blair damns Iraq for the chemical weapons that a swarm of inspectors cannot find, he has quietly approved the sale of chemical weapons to Israel, a terrorist and rogue state by any dictionary meaning of those words. While he accuses Iraq of defying the United Nations, he is silent about the 64 UN resolutions Israel has ignored – a world record.” (John Pilger)

Turn for the worse
Anonymous (US)

America has taken a turn for the worse. The overreaction based on fear needs to be addressed. A resolution ought to be tabled in the UN forbidding the US going for the miserable Saddam. Those guys Rumsfeld, Powell, Cheney, and Rice are going to cause the world a lot of grief. And as for “what’s his name” — Impeach.

What”s going through their minds?

As an artist I’m interested in the working of the minds of others — collectors, curators, other artists. I am also interested in the workings of political minds.

Take Osama bin Laden. What’s going through his mind? He’s hoping and praying that the USA will strike Iraq. He knows this will bring further conscripts to terrorism. Right now he’s wondering if he should hit the US with something nasty before the USA unilaterally strikes Iraq — in order to insure that they do. Or should he wait until after — in order to show that terrorists are still able to punish the USA for trying to manage the Middle East.

Take Saddam Hussein. What’s going through his mind? Right now, thanks mostly to US pressure, he’s got a pretty good idea that his goose is close to being cooked. He can’t exile himself, his family and his top people to any other Arab country because they would all be toast — courtesy of his Arab brothers. Still, in his dream of dreams he sees himself as a hero of the Arab world. His mind is full of delusions of martyrdom. There’s nothing he’d like more than for the USA to slam Iraq. The bodies of his countrymen, women and children, he thinks, would be seen by the wider Arab world as a noble sacrifice to the greater good. When the war starts, safe in his state-of-the-art bunker, he knows he’ll still have time to lob a few dirty scuds into Israel — or into complicit Arab states. In the apocalyptic confusion he’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that his spare anthrax will leak from the ashes and into newly inspired hands.

The last thing Saddam wants to hear about is the permanent containment of Iraq by more and more UN inspectors. He knows that spy planes overhead will lock up any plans of glory that he might have had. Not only mortifying, this, for him, would be the meanest of deaths. In his nightmares he sees inspectors running amuck, the UN marching and flying in and feeding, doctoring and cracking open the doors of democracy, religious tolerance and freedom. He hallucinates the growing demands of the intelligent people of Iraq. He fears the painful erosion of his control. The last thing he wants to hear about is that the former bully USA has made a switch and is now able to show mercy, compassion and kindness at a time when trigger-pulling was the easiest thing to do. What’s going through Saddam’s mind is the terrible possibility that the Iraqi people will start to realize that the rest of the world is made up of a lot of really kind and well-meaning folks.

Art and the human condition
Andy and Beryl Bainbridge

In response to Jane Morgan’s impassioned presentation of an opinion held by many others concerning the American position about the current Iraqi situation, maybe a viewing of the movie “Bowling for Columbine” by documentary film-maker Michael Moore (also an American citizen) would give a wider perspective concerning the record of the U.S.A. and its involvement with bloodshed in countries such as Viet Nam, S. and Central America and Kosovo to mention a few. The documentary reveals the quandary faced by citizens of the U.S. when examining their beliefs in justice and freedom juxtaposed with their actual everyday behavior in their own country. Why, on their own soil, do more people each year suffer death from gunshots than anywhere else in the Western world for example?

Regarding the place of politics in art: What else is art all about if not the human condition in all its passions, its vagaries, its beauty and its sufferings? As aptly illustrated by the diversity of artists and others who respond to your initial stimulus, Robert. Thank you so much for your continued work and support of us in the way you communicate.

Safety of foreigners
Name withheld by request (Canadian, living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Many of our friends are concerned for our safety here now that terrorism has become a reality in all our lives. Frankly, I don’t think anywhere is safe now as evidenced by bombings in the same week in two of the most peaceful places on earth I would have thought- Bali and Finland. Since 90% of all terrorist attacks in the world in the past 5 years have been perpetrated by Muslim males I think the safest place to be is among lots of Muslims eg. right here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There have been some sporadic bombings of Western cars here in Riyadh. Mostly in cars that park on the streets overnight which we never do. We do inspect our car carefully after having parked it on a street downtown. I don ‘t like the apprehensive feeling I have when I turn on my ignition. The imminence of the war on Iraq seems to have been pushed back by the latest developments in the UN and Iraq’s acceptance of weapons inspectors and their demands. A unilateral push by the US for a regime change in Iraq would increase the jeopardy to Westerners here so we will be relieved if there is a lessening threat of that.

Top sales award
Shane Davis

This is not a story that’s received a lot of play in western media. Last December, a German paper published a list of dozens of European and American companies reported to have supplied Saddam Hussein with materials for weapons of mass destruction. The paper claimed the list was included in Iraq’s massive document on its weapons programs that it turned over to the United Nations. Jim Trautman is a freelance journalist in Ontario, Canada. On Commentary, a CBC documentary, he focused on some of those companies.

“As another war in Iraq gets closer, U.S. administrations have become masterful at covering up their past and present dealings with Saddam Hussein. Historically, when things go badly the U.S. rewrites history to portray itself as the victim.

“In the 12-thousand page declaration that was provided to the U.N. by Iraq in December, there was a list of 24-American companies and 30 of their subsidiaries that provided material to Iraq.

“But, in a deal with Hans Blix this information was never released. In fact, the Bush administration received the only copy and carefully edited out the incriminating evidence before presenting it to the other Security Council members. The list was leaked by a European publication and it makes for some very interesting reading. Besides naming the companies it is coded to show what each provided to the regime.

“Companies on the list include: Dupont, Honeywell, Bechtel, Unisys, American Type Culture Collection, and the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Facilities.

“The U.S. companies provided rocket engines, nuclear material, biological and chemical material for weapons of mass destruction. This included cultures to manufacture biological weapons.

“Little mentioned is the 1994 U.S. Senate report that focused on the U.S. material and technology that assisted the Iraqi government to make mustard gas, VX nerve gas, anthrax and bubonic plague.

“Looking at that list one realizes that the cast that provided the deadly material is the same cast preparing for war today. Donald Rumsfeld opened the door to Iraq – U.S. relations in his meeting with Saddam in 1983. Rumsfeld was Reagan’s envoy to the Middle East. He okayed the transfer of satellite images to Iraq of where the Iranian troop deployments were concentrated during the Iran – Iraq war.

“The 54 companies did the selling all with the authority of the Reagan and Bush administrations. They saw Iraq as a bulwark against militant Muslim extremism. The U.S. provided Saddam with deadly outlawed “cluster bombs” through a phony cover company in Chile. Of course at the same time the U.S. was supporting bin Laden in Afghanistan.

“And for anyone that believes this commerce stopped, Halliburton Oil was doing over $100 million in business with Saddam in 2000. Who was the CEO of Halliburton – why Vice President Dick Cheney.”

A lie has no legs
Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia

The USA started the Vietnam war, that was a bad example – then the USSR began a war in Afghanistan. The USA began war actions against other countries — these bad examples allowed the Russia to began action against the Georgia at Caucasus. The future bad example against Iraq will allow many new bad examples for other countries. Carthage, Jerusalem, Guernica, Dresden and Grozniy were destroyed because of some contemporary “Saddams.” Another question: – “Were those “Saddams” the real true reason or was the real reason something else?” Good people will always understand a falsehood. Good people suffer because of the falseness of bad people, in all countries. The difference between the artist and other people is that the artist is more inclined to say the truth (example — Picasso’s “Guernica”). “A lie has no legs.”

Animated numbness
Barbara Johnson, Hadley, Massachusetts, USA

Bernard Weiner, quoted in Warren Criswell’s warning in the last responses to the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly letter, is a Ph.D. in government & international relations. He has taught in various universities, served as theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and written widely for progressive journals. He is co-editor of The Crisis Papers. Here’s another quote from Bernard Weiner: “Americans, still gripped by fear from 9/11, have tended to be in a state of animated numbness, putting up little resistance to the machinations of the authoritarian rulers. Similarly, out of great sympathy for the post-9/11United States, various nations around the world bowed to the wishes of the Bush government. Bush&Co., meeting little resistance, interpreted this relative lack of opposition as full support for their programs, foreign and domestic. And so they’ve continued to want more, tighten the screws more, reach and then over-reach for more. Their motto and guiding principle seems to be: “We can’t be stopped, so let’s just go take it all.” Suddenly, though, Bush&Co. are running into overt opposition. Their allies abroad are telling them — to their face — that current American policies are mad, wrong, dangerous. More and more conservative allies at home are warning the Bush Administration that their dash toward imperial rule abroad and draconian Constitution-shredding at home is a violation of what America stands for, and will bring the United States (and, given the economic interweavings between nations, much of the world as well) nothing but disaster.”

Free speech

It’s interesting that the leader of a country that believes in the wisdom of free speech for conflict resolution, refuses to join a debate, whereas the despotic leader of one who does not believe in free speech, invites it. Hmmmm.

Seize the day

Let Tony Blair do a TV debate with Saddam. Tony is eloquent and can think on his feet and is likely to have his facts in order. There should be only one condition — the people of Iraq and all of the Middle East ought to be able to see the same unedited version that will be seen in the West. The Western powers should take this opportunity to seize the day.

All will be well

The use of the word “war” is not very useful. This is going to be an attack like no other in history. The US now has “smarter” microwave bombs that fry equipment and not people. They can also target certain people and not others. The US will go to war when it knows exactly where the ones it wants to hit are located. The world will see the brilliancy of it all. Almost immediately the Iraqi military will put down their arms. The campaign to take out Saddam will be over in hours. There will be dancing in the streets of Baghdad. The people of Iraq will thank us. The Arab nations will welcome the removal of this despot. All will be well in short order.

Evolutionary choice
Guy Dauncey, Victoria, BC, Canada

I have written an action guide called “101 Ways to Stop the War on Iraq” It contains all the email and letter-writing addresses, peace movement contacts, and everything that anyone could need to stop the US attempt to force the world into a war that no-one wants. It’s gone beyond a struggle for oil, weapons of mass destruction, or supposed terrorist links. It’s now about just one thing: shall we determine the fate of our world by dominance, or by cooperation? This is the evolutionary choice that our planet faces.

(RG note) If you would care to add your own voice or respond to any of the material included in this hopefully short-lived response section of The Painter’s Keys site, please do so. If you wish to write incognito, your wish will of course be respected. Thanks for writing.

See also: Artists and Iraq (March 11, 2003)

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.


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