The rationalization of “social practice art” and promotion for much political art imagery inevitably rests with examples such as Picasso’s “Guernica” or Goya’s “The Shootings of May Third 1808“. This presumes everyone is familiar with western art history and be so moved emotionally or in anger to rise up against their oppressors to demand justice in the face of such violence.
The truth is that few people other than those familiar with Spanish history actually know where city of Guernica is, or what actually happened there, why or when, or why May 3, 1808 is a significant date other than being the title of a painting by Goya?
Were it not for a specific familiarity with western art history could it not be seen that the purpose of these paintings for the actual promotion of violence such as with countless images of victorious battles and crusades, Mayan paintings commemorating the subjugation of their neighbors; the invasion of Troy, perhaps? Who is to say those figures facing the firing squad in Goya’s painting couldn’t be perceived as the enemy itself, members of a vicious drug cartel, gang rapists, or convicted murderers? (Photographs are documents, and though they’re often regarded as art, the context is quite different.)
While it may or not be true, there’s a relevant anecdote about “Guernica”. Apparently when the Germans entered Paris during the WWII occupation, a group of SS officers went to visit Picasso. Upon seeing a photo reproduction of the painting, one of the officers said to Picasso, “Did you do this??” Picasso’s reply was, “No, you did.”
Every artist has a right and an obligation to speak up for social justice or act legally upon their political ideals – the same as ANY citizen. We are NOT privileged more or less than anyone else despite the argument that an artist’s work MUST depict their political beliefs or someone else’s political agenda. We are not messengers and art does more than send a message.