Groan.... (or a Quick Fisking of Gil Vicente)
Here are a few of the images (from artinfo.com via flickr):
As I've noted frequently here, most political art not only sucks, it can barely aspire to sucking. This is a classic example of why I feel that way. More than the over-simplistic sensationalism of the central idea, it's the artist's complete inability to intelligently articulate why he made this work that makes me cringe. As Vicente explained to the London's Telegraph:
"Because they kill so many other people, it would be a favour to kill them, understand? Why don't people in power and in the elite die?" he said.I wouldn't normally even think to fisk an artist's work. I generally feel most artwork transcends the insistence on logic that is the foundation of fisking (and in this instance too, I'm not so concerned with Vicente's drawings as his defense of them), but he has willingly stepped into the political arena and opened himself up to the debate. So let's have at it. Let's have a look at his argument.
I'll begin with his last statement: "Why don't people in power and in the elite die?"
You'd have to live under a rock to truly believe there's a shortage of political assassinations in the world. In the United States alone, not counting lesser political figures than the President, the numbers are sobering:
Around the world, and throughout human history people in power and the elite have died, nearly constantly, because another person or group felt they had cause to take justice into their own hands.
The U.S. has lost four (4) presidents to assassination:
- Abraham Lincoln (1865)
- James A. Garfield (1881)
- William McKinley (1901)
- John F. Kennedy (1963).
But this is not the whole story, even restricting ourselves to U.S. presidents. The list of failed assassination attempts on sitting presidents is much longer.
- Andrew Jackson (1835)
- Abraham Lincoln (1861)
- Theodore Roosevelt (1912)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–a month before his inauguration!)
- Harry S. Truman (1950)
- John F. Kennedy (1960, 1961, in addition to the successful assassination in 1963)
- Richard Nixon (1974)
- Gerald R. Ford (2 attempts in Sept. 1975)
- Jimmy Carter (1979)
- Ronald Reagan (1981)
- Bill Clinton (2 attempts in 1994)
- George W. Bush (Feb. 2001, Sept. 11, 2001, 2005)
Being purely Machiavellian about it, one could easily conclude that because political assassination has been a near constant throughout history, that assassination does not work. It doesn't change anything. It doesn't lead to any significant or long-term decrease in corruption. It's a flawed political policy.
But that's the least of Vicente's logic problems here. He begins his rather contemptuous response to his critics with this statement:
Because they kill so many other people, it would be a favour to kill them, understand?Now I'll be the first to admit you can draw a line between certain policy decisions by most world leaders to the unnecessary deaths of people they're supposed to be serving or those in other countries they have sway over, and I'm all for holding leaders who make illegal or immoral decisions responsible for their actions. And I'm sure, if pressed (unless he's truly unhinged), Vincente would argue that he is hoping to simply start a dialog about such issues with his sensationalist drawings. However, the oversimplification of his statement of the problem (let alone his solution) invites an oversimplified response, rather than the sort of sophisticated response which a more nuanced statement of the problem might invite. Or, as one would hope his ultimate goal truly is, might actually improve political accountability and checks and balances. Instead his vigilante-based response only serves to shut down, rather than open up, any meaningful dialog.
What bugs me most about art like this is what I suspect its real motive is. Convinced as I am that Vincente must know his work won't open up a serious dialog about political corruption or the possible ways to curb it, he must be aware that the only thing left to talk about in response to it is himself...the artist. Which, again, I suspect is the goal here. Not that narcissism isn't the motivation behind most political efforts, mind you.... Corruption and accountability are far more serious issues than Vicente's sophomoric work gives anyone meaningful insights into.
Labels: political art