Lecture 13 PPG & Social Activism.html


Power, Politics, & Glory (PPG)

The PPG theme refers to artworks that support or reinforce the political and social order.  Artworks vary from paintings and sculptures to larger architectural structures, such as the White House in D.C., the Empire State Building in NYC, or the ancient Greek Parthenon; each building signifying how society is ordered and enforces political rule.  For example, the Washington Mall in D.C. is packed with memorials to notable political leaders, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and, finally, in 2011, Martin Luther King, Jr.  In addition to the memorials, the DC Mall is lined with national museums of art, space, industry, nature, etc., and each structure glorifies America's story.  It's also important to note that the majority of the memorials, political buildings, and museums are in the Neo-Classical style, which mimics ancient Greco-Roman architecture to signify that the U.S. was the new Rome – an unparalleled empire that, unlike Greece & Rome, will never fall.

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Mount Rushmore, located in Keystone, South Dakota (Gutzon & Lincoln Borglum, 1927-1941) depicts four presidents who were instrumental in the founding, expansion, and unification of the United States of America.  George Washington was the first president and led America's defeat and liberation from Great Britain, and marked the beginning of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd POTUS, penned the Declaration of Independence and brokered the that doubled the size of the U.S. (828,000 sq miles).  Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th POTUS, was instrumental in the development of the Americas: he outlawed monopolies and advocated for the "common man," he negotiated the construction of the Panama Canal that connected the Atlantic Ocean (eastern U.S.) and the Pacific Ocean (western U.S.), and he established the national parks system.  Abraham Lincoln, the 16th POTUS, ended the Civil War by abolishing slavery (which bankrupted the South) thereby preserving the union of the United States.  The memorial was carved into one of the most sacred mountains of the Lakota people, Six Grandfathers, which represented Lakota cosmology & belief, was a site of pilgrimage for vision quests and other rites of passage, and symbolized the history and memory of the Lakota.  Beyond being a memorial celebrating the history of the United States, it's also a symbol of power over America's indigenous people.  Look at the map below.  What surrounds the memorial?

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Royal portraiture is another example of PPG such as Hyacinthe Rigaud's full-length portrait of King Louis XIV of France (the Sun King) c. 1701 (Oil on Canvas, 9'1" x 6', Louvre Museum, Paris). King Louis stands in the contrapposto pose and is draped with the blue royal regalia of France covered with gold fleur-de-lis and a bejeweled sword hangs from his left hip. Behind him on the right is the throne which has been de-emphasized by the scale of the king; to his left, a large marbled column with a relief sculpture of Athena/Minerva, the Greek/Roman Goddess of War & Wisdom, is placed just behind his crown; and in the far left background, a marble corridor further references ancient Greece & Rome.  The royals were not only political leaders and keepers of social order, but also trendsetters.  Louis wears a wig, which was very fashionable, as were wearing tights that showed off his muscular legs (he was very proud of his dancer's legs); in fact, to further accentuate his legs, he began wearing healed shoes to make his calf muscles pop. The portrait displays Louis' power & glory as the king of France, which he also believed was the new Rome & France would never fall.

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Divine Right to Rule (DRR)

DRR, aka the , is a sub-category of PPG.  Prior to the Enlightenment, most political, religious, and military leaders believed they were either descendant of the gods or chosen by them to lead, and they could not be held accountable for their actions by any earthly group, such as the Roman Senate or British Parliament – they answered only to the Gods.  The belief kept social order because of fear of angering the Gods.  And, to ensure social order, public artworks, such as Augustus of Primaporta, were created as propaganda to reinforce their God or demi-God status within society. 

Augustus of Primaporta, c. 1st century CE, depicts a bare-footed (bare feet = 1. divine status; or 2. savagery) idealized Caesar Augustus (1st Emperor of Rome) in the Ad Locutio pose wearing military regalia.  A toga, signifying his political status, is draped around his waist and left arm, and Cupid, the son of Venus, riding a dolphin at his right leg denotes Augustus' divine lineage.  On his breast plate, the Gods and Goddesses surround Augustus as he successfully negotiates the return of a military standard from an enemy, which suggests that his diplomacy skills were given to him by the Gods and that the Gods are always at his side.  

Image result for augustus of primaporta cupid & dolphin detail from Augustus of Primaporta sculpture Image result for augustus of primaporta breastplate analysis

Social Protest,

Artists have a responsibility to record important events in history, such as Diego Velazquez's Surrender at Breda (1634-1635, O/C, 10'1" x 12", Prada Museum, Madrid).  Velazquez' painting is an example of political propaganda that affirmed the power of 17th-century Spain. 

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Since the mid-1800s, artists began using their artworks to protest against those in power and to hold them accountable for their actions. In 1937, Pablo Picasso was commissioned to create an artwork for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exposition (World's Fair).  He painted what is considered by most to be his masterpiece, – a 25'6" x 11'5" oil on canvas painting that recorded the bombing of Guernica (a small Basque town in Northern Spain) by Nazi Germany & Fascist Italy at the request of Spanish Nationals.


Beginning in the 1950s, U.S. artists also began using their artworks as political protest, sometimes subliminally, against the prevailing power structures that PPG supported.  This era is known as post-modernism & we're still living in it. Contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns, Dread Scott, Banksy, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Ai Weiwei, Betye Saar, and so many more use their Art to critique the power, politics, and glory that leaders attempt to convey to the general public.  Protest artists use their artworks highlight corruption, injustices, oppression, and other forms of socio-political discrimination in society.  

caught the eye of the Chinese government early in his career when he photographed a 1995 performance when he smashed an ancient Han dynasty urn – an act of political protest (a signature of Weiwei's body of work).  His act of destroying a the urn was symbolic of his belief that for China to become a democracy, they need to destroy the current political system. Viewed as an act of dissidence & iconoclasm by his critics, Weiwei responded "General Mao used to tell us that we can only build a new world if we destroy the old one" ().   

Image result for ai weiwei dropping a han dynasty urn

In 2011, American protest artist, , mimicked Weiwei's performance when he burned the U.S. Constitution (Dread Scott, Burning the U.S. Constitution, 2011, 3-series photographic document of performance). He believes that for the U.S. to move forward as a democracy, we need to destroy the constitution, which he adamantly asserts is a racist document written by and for the benefit of wealthy land and slave holders.

Dread Scott, Burning the U.S. Constitution, 2011, 3-series photographs of performance

    Alabama is a state known for its history or racist ideologies & segregation laws, a site of decades of racial violence against African Americans, and the center of many racial protests during the 1960s.  In 2008 (the year Obama became the first black U.S. POTUS), UK-based anonymous street artist, , visited the state's capitol, Montgomery, and left a poignant message to the residents of the city.  The work was quickly tagged over.  

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    2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the freedom march from Selma, AL to Montgomery and there were many events planned to celebrate the achievement of the Civil Rights Movement that began there.  In protest against the celebratory events, The Friends of Forrest, Inc. (a neo-confederate group and Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured) was a slave trader and first grand wizard of the KKK) erected a billboard at the Edmund Pettus Bridge (Pettus was head of the Alabama KKK).  The bridge was the site of "Bloody Sunday" when 600 peaceful demonstrators were brutally attacked as they began their march to Montgomery. Many believe Banksy returned to Montgomery and threw up I Have a Dreamcatcher that depicts MLK, Jr. at the center of a dream catcher with his suit opened like Superman to reveal a red X as if expecting his execution.  

    Image result for selma alabama 50th anniversary billboard.   I Have a Dreamcatcher (2015), a new street art piece in Montgomery, Alabama, that some suspect is by British street artist Banksy. Photo: Rebecca Burylo, courtesy the Montgomery Advertiser.


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