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Anti-Trump art needs to quit the playground taunts and get serious

13 November 2016

The US presidential campaign was a bitterly fought affair, beset by slurs and scandals. The art it inspired was similarly provocative, with scathing attacks on the two leading candidates made in the form of sculptures, sketches, and stencil graffiti. The majority of the scorn was directed at Donald Trump, yet these creatives, like all other critics of Trump, failed to keep him out of the White House – and understandably so. Most anti-Trump art favoured mockery over scrutiny, and preached to the converted rather than the undecided.

In many of the most notorious works, Trump’s physical features were mimicked or distorted for comedy. The Trump Hut and Hanksy’s Dump Trump imitated his sweeping hair, while Illma Gore’s Make America Great Again and Indecline’s The Emperor Has No Balls stripped him naked and altered his genitalia, inviting the audience to consider whether such emasculation should be seen as humiliation. Between them, the works exposed the artists to legal threats, physical assault, and accusations of body-shaming, but barely dented Trump’s reputation.

As Carey Dunne has argued, this preoccupation with humour distracted from Trump’s divisive policies and behaviour. Even artists who did tackle serious issues tended to share a proclivity for punchlines. Plastic Jesus’s Hollywood Star fence and t.Rutt’s cinder block wall both wryly parodied Trump’s isolationist plans for the Mexico-US border, but failed to provide a compelling argument for voters to latch onto. As a result, these artworks all reinforced Trump’s message that the derisive liberal elite saw him – and by extension, his supporters and their priorities – as a joke.

However critical of Trump an artwork may have been, he still stood to benefit from its circulation. Michael Kruse has suggested that his campaign thrived by harnessing the ‘dark art of bad publicity’, which ultimately proved a winning strategy. Regular controversy was rewarded with a platform and billions of dollars worth of free media coverage. By playing a role, however small, in this inflation of air time and column inches, anti-Trump art may have undermined its own goal.

The protests that immediately followed Trump’s triumph suggest that his time in office will be characterised by a high level of vocal grassroots opposition. If artists focus their efforts on dismantling Trump’s policies and appealing sincerely to those who voted for him, they have a far greater chance of shaping public opinion over the next four years. If they continue to rely on cheap shots and playground taunts, though, President Trump is likely to have the last laugh.

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2 comments

  1. D. William Larson Nov 18 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I’d like to reassure the British people that not all Americans saw Mr. Trump as simply a farce. Despite his grotesque image and ludicrous rantings, many of us here in the States deeply feared his election. Just the possibility that the GOP would be able to install the next two SCOTUS judges was enough to keep laughing him off a dismal parody of humor.

    Now that the unthinkable is a reality one hears weeping and the gnashing of teeth all about, but it cannot undo the damage. Your premise that a deeper observation of the man through thoughtful artworks may have changed undecided voters minds, though admirable, is at least a little unfounded. No message of reason concerning Trump’s personal accountability for his words and actions could be heard above the din of his supporters cry for change in Washington.

    Change is now coming, but not for the betterment of our country. Like the Brexit vote in the UK, the rallying call here is for isolationism and nationalism. It’s a terrifying reality; and should France fall into the hands of Le Pen and her supporters the dominoes may well continue to fall. God help us all, at least the art will improve.

  2. Minosa Mirabella Nov 30 2016 at 5:52 pm

    As a British ex-pat living in the United States, I’m happy to reassure the more sensible and informed UK citizens that Mr larson’s opinion is merely his own.

    Donald trump was elected by Americans who are informed and concerned about problems which are very real. The export of manufacturing jobs combined with massive imports of legal and illegal immigrants lowered wages and increased unemployment for the most vulnerable American working class people.

    Out of touch elitists who dominate upper levels in government, academia and complicit media resorted to scare tactics which failed to scare people against voting for Trump. Trump and certain allies have run businesses, dealt with investment banking and government for decades. Trump is no dummy. He knws what America’s problems are. Like Nigel Farage he represents those who are against globalist imperialism and expansion. WE all have seen the globalists make war on non-compliant populations and destroy nations.

    God willing, Trump will help America. And the world will enjoy peace and prosperity. No more lies!

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