Art and politics in the current election cycle: Two items

This week I received a newsflash from Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization, alerting me to the presidential candidates’ views on the arts. Whether or not you believe the federal government should support the arts, the statements and policy positions of the candidates that can be found at this site are informative.

In the spirit of the pen being mightier than the sword, and focusing on the artist and illustrator’s pen and India ink, I was struck recently by the incredible power of image versus word. Many of us who read newspapers regularly spend a good bit of time reading the opinion and forum pages. On Sunday, Sept. 28, there appeared a full-page graphic editorial (“A Bridge to Somewhere”) by Andrea Levy, an editorial artist with the Plain Dealer, which has created a significant amount of controversy. I must say it was so powerful that it took me totally by surprise and stopped me mid-gulp of my coffee that Sunday morning. It was not a political ad by a single party, though it clearly puts forth a more positive view of one candidate rather than the other, but was truly an editorial comment commissioned and supported by the newspaper.

We are used to reading powerful, even outrageous editorials by journalists from every political perspective. But this “visual” editorial demanded and held my attention far more viscerally than narrative editorials almost ever do. And the comments from readers have been flooding into the paper, such that the PD has posted a live chat with the artists on its website.

If we need any more evidence of the power of the visual image, I don’t know what it is.  Maybe that’s why artists are first among those persecuted by repressive societies that cannot tolerate the complexity of ideas that threaten a restrictive world view.