Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trump inauguration - artists to strike or not to strike?

An interesting development in the run-up to 20 January and the new President Elect's inauguration is the notion of artists going on strike!

I was amazed at the number of articles this idea has generated and I'm guessing most of you won't have read them. Some are worth reading if you want to get an idea of the pros and cons for this idea which seems to revolve around when is a strike just a posture rather than an act with real impact.

I decided to line them up in terms of whether they are
  • broadly supportive
  • think the action is futile and/or there are better ways of making a stand
  • just want to report the news and/or haven't made their minds up yet
The article most quoted by other articles!

But first the facts...


A document entitled ‘J20 Art Strike Letter’ has been published for circulation. The letter is addressed to museums, galleries, studios, art schools, and other cultural institutions and is signed by various figures in the art world. These include:
  • artists - including Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman and a lot of people I've never heard of
  • art critics and educationalists - again the names mean nothing to me so I've no idea of their weight or otherwise.
The Art Strike Image
The letter states
We, the undersigned artists and critics, lend our support to the call for an Art Strike on Friday, January 20, 2017, the day that Donald Trump will assume the presidency of the United States.
The call reads:
#J20 Art Strike
  • An Act of Noncompliance on Inauguration Day.
  • No Work, No School, No Business.
  • Museums. Galleries. Theaters. Concert Halls. Studios. Nonprofits. Art Schools.
  • Close For The Day.
  • Hit The Streets. Bring Your Friends. Fight Back.
This is the Facebook Page for the event. I have to say that it doesn't look very promising in terms of numbers who have said they will be involved so far (if you remember these people will be spread across the USA). Thew comments are worth a read!

These are the media articles about the letter and the proposed strike - divided into the different camps.

PRO - it will make a difference

AGAINST - People are posturing and/or there are better ways of making a stand

  • ArtNet News Artists Criticize Proposed Strike for Inauguration Day - The divisive event has art world players debating how to effectively protest Trump. (This is the counterbalance to the first article listed above) 
  • The Guardian (Jonathan Jones) | has responded from across the pond with this article The 'art strike' against Trump is futile – cultural elites cannot effect change - Calling on cultural institutions to close on inauguration day only serves to make the likes of Cindy Sherman and Richard Serra feel good about themselves Very widely quoted by other articles. Maybe significant he's the only art critic who is not American who works for a liberal newspaper? I'm very much behind a lot of what he says - see below for an extract.
Yet an art strike is just about the least effective idea for resisting Trump that I have heard. The American left is in for a long, wretched period of irrelevance if this is its idea of striking back. I admire some of these artists greatly, but the notion that museums will help anything by closing their doors, or students will scare middle America into its senses by cutting art classes, tastes not of real hard-fought politics but shallow radical posturing by some very well-heeled and comfortable members of a cultural elite.
I like this response by Weinberg (must be the "child of the 60s" connection!). So much so I'm going to quote his words - with my emphasis in bold
Everyone knows there’s the J20 Art Strike and we’ve been asked what we are going to do. Are we going to be closed?…We are opening our doors as wide open as possible. We are not closing down. We’re actually going to do the opposite: We’re going make the museum free—pay what you wish—all day Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Being a child of the ‘60s, all I could think of was the teach-ins [the response on college campuses, including mine, to the controversial Vietnam War]. So we are going to have a series of discussion groups that will be going on all day long. It will be open for people to bring their own contributions to this, whether their readings, artworks, songs or performances.

This our territory. This is America. And we really need to express what we believe….I feel strongly about the Whitney’s role in that. It is our role not to let them own what we think of as America but to express what we believe is America….

INDEPENDENT - we just report the news


What's also very interesting is the number of institutions and media outlets which have not taken a stand on this or written about it. I think it's presenting a number of them with a bit of a conundrum in terms of which way to lean!

....and what do I think?


My own take on it, for what it's worth, is that a strike only works when it represents a groundswell of opinion which has been grown over time.  

A strike has to be big and it has to be solid to count for anything.

The danger of a strike organised by those who like taking stands on things they feel strongly about - without any existing connection to a wider community - is that it can become a damp squib. In which case it only serves to undermine the perspective of those taking part and emboldens those they may be protesting against.

That's why for my part I think
  • there are more effective ways of making a stand
  • the action taken by the Whitney Museum is far more effective in the long run.