Making Art in the Era of Trump

by William Skink

Even though he over does it sometimes with his smarty-pants-takes-on-pop-culture style, I don’t think you will find better analysis of Kathy Griffin staring dead-pan into the camera lens while holding aloft the blood-drenched fake head of President Trump than this post by Dan Brooks.

As someone who has filmed himself dancing with a halloween Trump mask covering his ass, I take seriously the dilemma we artists face in finding ways to effectively respond to the crude absurdity that is Trump. For anyone who finds value in art, I think the conclusion of Dan’s deep-dive into Griffin (sorry, couldn’t help myself) is worth highlighting:

The worst thing about having this man as president is the brutalization of the poor, sick, and brown. The second-worst thing is the terrible judgment his election laid upon our country’s soul. But way down the list, and perhaps too little remarked, is the problem of how his flat, stupid badness has flattened and stupefied art. So many of us feel so strongly against him that we are apt to mistake any mirror for a picture. The question of how to say something interesting about this man is getting increasingly hard to answer, and yet he is so terribly important.

That a person like Trump with an ego like a blackhole sucking in all matter around it became president is stupefying, so how should artists respond?

I’ve been asking myself that a lot this past year, and for me it’s not a question of saying something interesting about Trump. I am more interested in the narrative I am piecing together that allows me to understand how we have reached this bizarre breaking point so many seem ill-equipped to handle.

I started assembling and posting my music video journal last September, and since then I have created over 40 pieces. In the Halloween piece I even predicted the election of Trump because I had a feeling it was in the cards, so to speak, for Trump to win.

The story (I’m barely working on) still anticipates a future scenario that every day feels more plausible. I’m working out the particulars, but the Pacific Northwest in the future I envision becomes an autonomous zone called New Cascadia, a region governed by whatever clever name I come up with to describe the Neo-Nazis of the future.

I’ve been working on this story since 2015, long before any hint the Trump Train would crash DC and turn the town into a hysterical, Russophobic madhouse. I must admit I, too, was stalled in my craft (the story, not the videos) when Trump was actually elected–not because I was reduced to a weeping ball of disbelief–but because all around me the ripping-away of the safety blanket an Obama/Clinton transition promised created a massive psychological shockwave that is still reverberating with every breathless report of lurking Russian agents having their way with our virtuous democracy.

Artists are going to respond to this however they choose to respond, or not respond. My choice to sometimes dance with a Trump mask on my ass is my choice to make, at least for a little while longer here in Amerika.

The important thing is to not just rely on spectacle to get attention, like Kathy Griffin. There has got to be the chance of deeper meaning emanating from my Trump-covered, gyrating buttocks. Like how the mask was purchased with 20 American dollars at a local Halloween store that makes money selling ways for us to pretend to be monsters and slutty nurses and stuff.

I think what I’m trying to say is capitalism is making us all insane, and if you want to appreciate some art that tells that story, read this Salon piece that claims Breaking Bad is the boldest indictment of modern American Capitalism in tv history.

I happen to agree.

Now, excuse me while I retire to my shop to shout into a microphone about bunny rabbits.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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6 Responses to Making Art in the Era of Trump

  1. Big Swede says:

    Love the first comment with the Salon piece.

    “Breaking Bad” is not just the chronicle of an individual’s breakdown, but a global map of modern Western civilization: from its roots in a Lockean/Newtonian liberalism founded in empiricism and hands-on innovation all the way to its contemporary denouement in an abstract capitalism of runaway corporations unresponsive to human ideals.
    Translation;, I am a pretentious writer.-commenter Barry.

    • Big Swede says:

      By the by I’m elated that you used capital letters when writing “American Capitalism”.

      “I have repeatedly voiced my view in print, that I am as opposed to Capitalism as I am to Communism, because both reflect a material, consumption-centric view of not only the world, but society and culture as well. One of the things I’ve had problems with, as a result, is explaining to students in classes,when they have asked, how I can label myself a “capitalist,” when I am opposed to “Capitalism” as a social philosophy.

      Perhaps the simplest explanation I have used is that the difference lies in the capitalization of the first letter. Just like there is a vast difference between a republican and a Republican, there is a difference between a capitalist and a Capitalist. In both examples, in the first—lower case—situation, you have someone who believes in a philosophy (one political, one economic). In the second case, you have someone who adheres to a Party Doctrine, regardless of where and how that doctrine transgresses the underlying philosophy it purports to be based on.”-MountainGuerrilla.

      • JC says:

        So then, how would an anti-capitalist differ from an Anti-Capitalist?

        Bonus question, if communism isn’t the opposite of capitalism, then what is?

        • Big Swede says:

          Small a=economic, large A=political.

          Large “C” Communism and large “C” Capitalism have some similar traits. I can’t think of an example of a small “c” communism because of forced labor and other restrictions.

          There’s many forms of capitalism. Here’s the list.

        • steve kelly says:

          Both seem — to me at least — like controlled opposition to what’s really happening. When we’re presented two choices, frequently neither is of any use. Too many false dichotomies to count. Artists live outside the lines of the options given/enforced. Authoritarians of all stripes have a thing about artists, and art. Keep up the good work.

          FYI: Griffin’s just more retro. See: “David Holding Goliath’s Head,” Guido Cagnacci (1650). 1650

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