Artists: Leaving the Conservative Closet


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Note: This posting is reprinted from my column at modernconservative.com. It can be found at Liberatchik.

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I hate political art. Political art is not for me. I am uncomfortable with it mainly because its foremost practitioners’ politics are way stronger than their art – and their politics suck.

Yet, if you are like I, you know viscerally what it feels like to be a conservative artist, especially if you’re one who takes his art seriously. It feels lonely as hell.

Especially if you won’t sell out. It has not been news that the art world is peopled with flaneurs, shockers, and other assorted pretentious dilettantes who pose at being outcasts. But, you know who the real outcast is: It’s you.

It’s not just that you don’t fit in – you even feel as though you’d have been exiled from the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s not that you are lacking in a certain social DNA – it’s that you’re completely bereft of it. Kind of like that scene in Taxi Driver when Robert DeNiro, woefully inept at dating prowess, takes an uptight Cybill Shepherd to a porno theater on a first date.

By day, you’re just some guy or girl with a workaday job. You save up enough loose change and singles to finance what your family regards as your “eccentric hobby.” The earmarks of your passion are the oil paint you can’t fully scrape out from under your fingernails or the smell of photo fixer you can’t get out of your skin and clothes no matter how often you wash them.

You hide your political beliefs. You know you’re not a liberal, a progressive, one of those mindless lemmings who’ve “gone green.” But, you’re struggling in your art career, and your position in the gallery scene is too precarious to let people know the “real you.”

So, you adopt a bifurcated self, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the movers and shakers, those oh-so insouciant curators in black turtlenecks, whose opinions you secretly despise whilst simultaneously craving their imprimatur.

You swell with a strange kind of “half” pride when you finally see your work hanging in one of those trendy galleries. You’re “half” elated when a collector buys one of your pieces. You convince yourself that you’ve kept your art “pure,” because you’ve kept politics out of your art – while hiding your personal political beliefs from the majority who automatically assume that because you’re an artist that you’re also a leftist.

You make yourself believe that you’ve kept yourself “above it all” by not stooping to the same level as the rest of the art community. Yet, deep down, you also know the very minute your secret political self is unmasked, that you will be blackballed, that so-called “friends” will drop you like a hot potato, and that in the art world you’ll be persona non grata.

You’ve censored who you are in order to stay safe, fit in, and pass by unnoticed. But your real self looks upon your artist self with nothing but scorn and shame, because deep down, you fear that you have sold out in some more insidious way than by prostituting your art.

You tell yourself it’s not your fault, because you know that the selfsame “tolerant” lefties have stacked the deck against Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians. They get away with it because of Political Correctness, you tell yourself.

But then, from out of the past comes the stinging rebuke that maybe they are not the only ones culpable for this bad scene. The admonition that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” echoing in your mind comes not from Edmund Burke, but your own conscience.

Yes, when the intolerant left finds out about your clandestine conservatism, of course your art career will be ruined: You have already abdicated the sanctity of your conscience by prostrating yourself before people who hate what you stand for. Why should they suddenly respect you when they already know you’re lacking in spine and stomach?

Or, you can take some schooling from Don Vito Corleone: “You can act like a man! What's the matter with you?” I have never had the problems so many conservative artists have with liberals because I have never played this self-defeating charade of hiding my political beliefs. I don’t bash people over the head with them, but at gallery openings and such I don’t let an insult go by without at least offering an “I disagree with that.” If you are forthright about who you fully and truly are from the start, then you set the terms by which others deal with you, not they.

Do you see the Tea Party movements the past year, filled with people who found the courage to stand up and defend their cherished beliefs and the Constitution of the United States of America? These are regular guys and gals who finally realized that being consoled by their membership in the “silent majority” was a fool’s bargain – their liberal opposition was only too happy to oblige their silence.

What am I asking of my fellow artists? To join Liberatchik? Sure, but Liberatchik is merely a symptom of the problem, not the solution. True solutions to the ills that plague society seldom rest in collective action.

The solution rests in being true to yourself, and standing up for your beliefs as an artist, as a citizen, as an individual. What is needed, now more than ever, are individuals whose purpose in life is to fully engage in the pursuit of their happiness, not in wanting to be liked by everybody.

Take a look at Frances Byrd’s example. This Jeanne d’Arc of the conservative art movement is out there, standing on her own two feet, facing the fire, but succeeding. She’s succeeding because she’s true to her art, true to herself, and her soul is not for sale.

(And, if I may add, she has raised the editorial cartoon to the level of high art -- here is some political art I actually admire).

Take an assessment of your own life as an artist, your own soul. You will be welcome by us at Liberatchik, should you so wish, not because you’re “one of us,” but because you’re true to yourself.

Then, half the battle will be won already.

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