“When President Kennedy was shot that fall, I heard the news over the radio while I was alone painting in my studio. I don’t think I missed a stroke. I wanted to know what was going on out there, but that was the extent of my reaction.”– Andy Warhol, November of 1963
“Those that believe it cannot be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”– James Baldwin
Some artists give their audience questions. Other artists give their audience answers.
Some artists never stop working, a war could be going on outside their window, and they remain artistes– pursuing their own unique apolitical version of truth and beauty. While others, like Norman Mailer and many in the black canon, cannot exist outside of the politics of the community–their truth and beauty is locked in the political nature of American life.
Well, Andy Warhol was never interrupted.
He built his world around the notion of the Factory.
He laid his canvases out dozens at a time and moved through them with his assistants like an android, toiling from morning to night.
He did exhibit a political sensibility as seen in pieces like “Big Electric Chair” and “Five Deaths,” which respectively depicted the horror of modern electric chairs and the crush of modern mortality known as the auto accident.
But Warhol became known for his dispassion.
While other artists like Dylan crooned about change, Warhol kept quiet and converted his artistic process into a mechanical one: he gave up the brush and pen, relinquished his inimitable human touch for the silkscreen and the whir of modernity.
Then there’s James Baldwin.
A fiery man who became so busy marching and politicking and essaying that he stopped writing novels altogether in the ’60s. When asked about the delay between his novels, he snapped: “Well, you have to remember I was working between assassinantions….They’re killing my friends!”
As critics began to denounce his work as propaganda, James soldiered on. He was in search for truth in the here and now. He was waging a different kind of war, like a boxer fighting folks on every street corner instead of in the ring. Perhaps the aesthetics of his work did suffer. Perhaps his greatest work remains The Fire Next Time and the countless of other essays he wrote that fired up the muskets of change during the civil rights movement.
But who cares? As an artist, you yourself decide how you’ll live your life, and what you’ll do what with the gifts and the moments Yahweh has given you. As a member of an artistic movement, you write your own manifesto and decide how you’ll work through the snare of art vs. propaganda.
I bring all this up because we at Wondaland voted today. Many of us voted for Obama. But we encouraged everyone to vote, to engage in the political process.
We believe in questions. We believe in answers. As much as we believe in rabbitholes. And the interruption of reality with wonder and magic.
We are still very much of the world and engaged in changing it on an active level.
Which sometimes means a ballot box…
and at other times means a bullet…
or perhaps a brush…