Updating the artwork

The Prado is collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund to deface some famous works of art to reflect the effects of climate change:

Marta Zafra raises the sea level on Felipe IV a Caballo (Philip the IV on Horseback) by Velázquez, circa 1635.

The Parasol that supplies the title for Francisco de Goya’s El Quitasol of 1777 becomes a tattered umbrella barely sheltering miserable, crowded refugees in the sodden, makeshift camp of Pedro Veloso’s reimagining.

If Velasquez and Goya getting the Banksy treatment seem too much for you, try ocean acidification, lack of fresh water, and drought on for size and pay some attention before the price gets any higher.

Bravo, Prado.

The hazards of Political Art [part MCMXII]

Even for the most accomplished of smart ass, wise guy, artist provocateurs, political art is dicey. Art can be political. But if it is, it better also be very good.
So… Banksy has a hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem called Walled Off. Okay. And he threw a street party to mock-celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration:

People from the nearby Aida refugee camp said afterwards they objected to the way the event had used Palestinian children as the centrepiece of the performance. “We came because we didn’t like the use of the British flags or the way they were using Palestinian children,” said Munther Amira, a prominent activist from Aida who planted a large Palestinian flag in the middle of a cake.

Banksy’s rendering of a British street party was intended to satirise other celebrations, including the dinner on Thursday, at which guests will include the British prime minister, Theresa May, and her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Several dozen Palestinian children had been invited to the event, which included scorched bunting and flags, cakes and helmets painted with union flags set at a table beneath the looming concrete separation wall.
The event also included the unveiling of a new work by Banksy, etched into the concrete of the wall: a mock apology from Queen Elizabeth II to the Palestinians reading “Er … sorry”.

The Balfour declaration was the result of discussions between British Zionist leaders seeking political recognition of their goals for Jewish statehood and British politicians embroiled in the first world war.

Whoever Banksy is, his instinct to bring attention to Palestinian suffering is well-chosen but also lousy with pitfalls. Once any artist begins to make statements of expression using actual people, their stories, histories and emotions, they are using much more than words, paint, film or movement. I’m not convinced that it can’t or should not be done – it has and will again. But again: err first on the side of excellence. Good work is easily marginalized if it can be dismissed as manipulative self-promotion.

Diverse views on the news

What does it mean when everyone delivering the news and discussing it on the electronic television is the same hue? Same gender? Are we looking too deep when notice this? Are we ignoring the obvious when we don’t? Media Matters has some interesting charts on this, a grand total of zero of which will shock you:

White Guests Hosted Most Often On Cable News. Fox News had the largest proportion of white guests — 83 percent. African-Americans were the largest non-white group on all networks, representing 19 percent, 10 percent, and 5 percent of guests on MSNBC, Fox, and CNN, respectively.


As a completely white dude with a TV show, I have responsibility as part of the problem here. Why does this even matter? We have a guest this week (another white dude) who talks about a concept called cross-cultural competency – how comfortable we are interacting with people who are different from us. When it comes to integration in public schools, interested parties aka major corporations are coming down on the side of this sort of competency as a good in a society like ours. Now there are a zillions reasons why that is, but the subject itself sheds some new light on how we see ourselves – and others – and how that prism shapes our views about the world.

And if you set that aside for an instant and think about how you get the news and who decides what is news, you’ve got all kinds of reasons to be suspect of this heavily skewed arrangement. The situation in these charts breeds its reality in our society, one in which existing fears and biases must be constantly and always re-enforced, even before any ‘news’ stories get presented. When you contextualize everything first in how it fits the interest of one race or ethnic group, of course you’ll have trouble getting an accurate sense of anything. And we have plenty enough of that already.