Art as Protest Advanced Drawing: James Olsen

I really want to focus on social and political art this semester, works that will hopefully get us talking, especially in what is already proving to be a pretty frightening time.

Maus: Art Spiegelman: 1st Graphic Novel to earn a Pulitzer Prize

Ok, lets start this off with inspirations. First off is the graphic novelist/biographer Art Spiegelman, known as an underground comic artist, he rocketed to fame with his Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus which was a biographical telling of the Holocaust through interviews with his elderly father who was a survivor. It is told in a post modernist style with use of heavy line and often minimalist expressions on his characters, Jews portrayed as mice and Germans as cats. It is a story that tells not only of a survivors struggles, but also that of a son who sees some less than comfortable similarities between his father and the Germans that at one time tried to eliminate him. Spiegelman's work has always been an inspiration for its in your face graphic style, pulling no punches, yet at the same time evoking wonderful senses of emotions.

John Hartfield

John Hartfield was a German artist associated with the late Dada movement, his seminal works were collages that ended up not only being prophetic but protest in nature. His central theme was about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and how they were being left unchecked by the rest of the world. He would spend the better part of 10 years on the run from the Nazi regime while at the same time continuing to create subversive art that he hoped would lead to the saving of his beloved homeland. I find Hartfield inspiring because of his extremely dark sense of humor that coupled with his collage work on one level seems to entertain, yet on a deeper one horrifies. I feel that collage can be a form of drawing, instead of making line and structure with a pen one is doing it with image instead. Is that not a form of drawing?

Peter Max

Peter Max may seem to be an odd choice at first as many would argue he doesn't fit the textbook definition of a protest artist, however when you at his work in a historical context one realizes how important his work has been to the fabric of the modern American artistic landscape. Peter Max is most well known for two series, his earliest works distilled the "Summer of Love" and the bright colors and vibrant sounds of the 1960's hippie/peace movements. He is also well known for his series of images of the Statue of Liberty, many of which hang at points of entry for new immigrants to the country (fun fact, I in fact remember now seeing one at my point of entry as an immigrant) there is also a sad undercurrent to his Liberty works in that many of them have now been digitally altered and used as weapons against the very people he sought to welcome to our fair land. I find his work fascinating on a number of levels, he has wide strong brushstrokes that evoke emotion and power, yet the images are still extremely clear and easy to read. His use of color brings me into his pieces, overwhelming the senses, entertaining, yet again informing. There is also something to be said for his commercial success, we do make art for ourselves, to make a point, sometimes to do nothing, but at the same time is success a bad thing? Can one be commercial as well as thoughtful?

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