Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott reviews a book entitled Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change. It’s based on a travelling exhibition featuring works by noted artists based on President Obama. Mr. Kennicott, who presents himself as reliably liberal, is nevertheless appalled at the results and is embarrassed at the spectacle of artists–who had been proclaiming themselves as outsiders and subversives–reducing themselves to sentimental, dewy-eyed propagandists:
There is something tremendously depressing about the recently published "Art for Obama," a survey of images and sculpture produced in support of Obama's 2008 campaign for president. The gloom sets in slowly, page after colorful page, slogan after inspiring slogan. It is a catalogue of celebratory art, of smiles and hope and change, and somehow, it leaves you with a hollow, panicky feeling in the gut. . . .
This is a wholesale embrace of the full trove of Americana, as if young American artists were never happy on the margins of American society, as if they have suddenly found the right moment to release their inner Norman Rockwell. It almost calls into question the long-standing assumption that artists in America are by necessity and choice outsiders. Perhaps they never really were. The artists included here feel more like insiders whose invitation got lost in the mail.
So, throughout the book, one can never be quite sure if the supposed anti-bourgeois orientation of artists still applies in the age of Obama. . . .
These are terrifying images, made by artists seemingly unaware of the fragile line that separates democratic enthusiasm from totalitarian mania. It’s too easy, however, to say that this naive collection of Obamamania amounts to any serious desire for fascism or authoritarian control, as the president’s critics will surely do. But it does show the emptiness of imagination in a group of artists who suddenly find themselves on the crest of a historical wave, unable to invent anything new, unable to articulate any sense of the moment beyond the observation that it is “all very inspiring and a lot of fun.”