US Presidential Elections 2020: The Visual Art of Voting
Rhian Hutchings assesses political activism in art and whether this really is a force for good
One of the most essential features of art is that it can contains individuality but can also be channeled towards a collective purpose. The collective purpose in this instance is the November 2020 election that looms over America, and in fact the rest of the world, like an ever-present political fog. The threat of Donald Trump and his increasingly dictatorial style of governing has caused ripples of discontent that have advanced into waves of pure desperation as many Americans worry for the future of their country if he were to win another term.
It goes without saying that visual art alongside literature has historically been used as both a political tool and an emotional outlet. In accordance with this rather commonplace pairing of expression and political voice comes the ‘Planyourvote.org’ website. It was created as a utilitarian tool to aid those registering or planning their vote during the American election in just over a month.
Visual art alongside literature has historically been used as both a political tool and an emotional outlet
The website showcases and in fact utilizes art to resonate with the people of America before they make their decisions. It specifies that as a website it does not ‘support or oppose any political party or candidate’. The mosaic of artworks on the website displays compelling images alongside intricate designs and messages that are more powerful than decorative. Though different in design, each artwork conjures an emotion or sentiment but most importantly they are the reminders that every piece of ballot paper will make a difference.
One striking design is the artwork created by the Guerrilla Girls stating that they ‘refuse to accept the 19th amendment until every vote is counted’. The Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of feminists founded in New York in 1985 aiming to tackle issues of feminism and racism in America. This political yet essential message shared in their artwork aims to influence and impact voters in a more outright way than perhaps some of the other artworks on the website. It does illuminate the presence of political activism in art and the impact that visual tools can have on voters. Social media users are encouraged to share and forward these posts with suggested captions provided on the website.
It does illuminate the presence of political activism in art and the impact that visual tools can have on voters
There does seem to be a fine line between influence and expression with these pieces of artwork but despite the description given by the website there does seem to be an emphasis on persuading rather than brainwashing. As we live in an age where the onslaught of fake news is becoming an increasingly devastating social issue, are these politicised and often targeted pieces of artwork really a force for good?
The clichéd concept that where there is humanity there will be art has never resonated more in an age where a piece of artwork can be seen by millions with the click of a button. It is a powerful and equally terrifying form of activism as artists delve into the depths of emotion and political views to conjure feelings amongst others that are bound to be poignant and powerful. It is however an equally liberating way of expressing political views and we will begin to tread on dangerous ground if political art is restricted for fear of it ending up influencing the wrong people.
Art exudes personality and ideas in a society where politics have quite literally become a life or death issue and as I read recently in a powerful tweet; ‘ “not being political” is just “being political in support of the status quo.” The continuation of the political ‘status quo’ in America is an impossible concept for many Americans therefore art in this capacity acts as the mouthpiece for a generation who see this election as an opportunity for change.