How Fox News Weaponizes Art + Two Other Illuminating Pieces of Criticism From Around the Web – artnet News

Posted: February 1, 2020 at 8:43 am


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As January comes to a close, here are three pieces from around the web that I particularly recommend. Enjoy!

Representative Darrell Issa in the basement of the Capitol with a painting of Ronald Reagan by artist Steve Penley. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty Images.

Have you ever heard of Steve Penley? I havent, but then I guess the fact that I dont know his colorfully dappled paintings of US presidents and American flags just means that I dont watch much Fox News.

Penleys art is more than just a regular feature and symbol of all that is patriotic on Fox. You have seen his patriotic paintings all over Fox & Friends, and actually Fox News channeleverywhere you go, we see your pictures hanging up in the halls, the shows cohost, Ainsley Earhardt, enthused to an audience a few years ago, during an appearance by the world-famous painter on the show.

Its all over my radio studio nowwe took em all! another one of the friends, Brian Kilmeade, added. Its brainwashing!

That level of media exposure surely makes Penley one of the countrys most high-profile painters, whether youve heard of him or not. In a funny way, the right-wing mediasphere has a lot more use for artists than its liberal cable-media rivals.

Wetzler wades through a lot of Fox News (so you dont have to) to find the Fox News Theory of Art, and its pretty much what you think it is: Only three kinds of art exist for Fox News: patriotic, stupid, and obscene.

Any way you slice it, its a mainly instrumental view of art: a given artwork gets the spotlight either because it is useful as propaganda for the Fox News worldview; because it serves as an illustration of how dumb and empty-headed liberal elites are; or because it outrages conservative sensibilities, and so can be used to rally the troops for the culture wars.

The favored patriotic aesthetic tends to channel Norman Rockwell by way of Andy Warhol, a late-Pop recycling of comfortingly clichd American symbols. (Like Penley, the late Thomas Kinkadealso took direct inspiration from Warhols Factory and described himself as Warhols heir apparent.) The best you could say of this work is that its probably more aware of how it operates than the art-loving public thatdoesnt watch Fox Newsgives it credit for.

Conservative aesthetics are stereotypically all about taking a stand against decadent experimental art and for real traditional art. Ive made a version of this point before (about neo-Jungian philosopher of the manosphere, Jordan Peterson), but by putting this art into the context of Fox News, Wetzler makes the point even more forcefully: it shows just how classically postmodern this conservative art is, if by that you mean art reduced to hollowed out signifiers, mutable performances, and stripped of any sense of a reality outside of media.

The Fox News view of culture may slam contemporary art as deliberately valuing offense over enlightenment, spectacle over skill, ugliness over beauty. But beneath a very thin Rockwellian veneer, all of this is equally true of the Through-the-Looking-Glass sensibility of Fox Newss rearguard. You cant understand superstar Fox News artist Jon McNaughtons One Nation Under Socialism, a painting of Obama burning the Constitution, outside of the value it puts on offenseaka trolling the libs.

And you cant understand Joe Everson, whose shtick is live-painting the Statue of Libertywhile singing the national anthem, outside of the appeal to spectacle.

Patriot artist, nationally acclaimed flag muralist, and frequent Fox visitor Scott LoBaidos 20-foot-tall image of a musclebound Donald Trump isabout as farfrom the profundities of real traditional art as Andres SerranosPiss Christ.

Whats it all mean? Probably that you should take Fox News art a hair more seriously than it is normally taken. Not in the sense of plumbing it for deep meaningits meaning seems mainly to be its appeal to Fox News audiences. But as simplistic and easily mocked as it is, its much more savvy and finely calibrated to be effective than it gets credit for.

The blur in action: Donald Trump speaking before a luncheon with US and African leaders at the Palace Hotel in New York. Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images.

Petrovich, by contrast, reads political meaning in a phenomenon that youve probably seen everywhere and not read much into: the increasing presence of the blur in mainstream political photojournalism. That we dont fall off our chairs when we see this tells us how far we have come, photographically, in a very short time, he writes. We are a long way from Pete Souzas languid, almost classical compositions on the Obama-era White House Flickr account, which in retrospect feel tinged with approaching horror.

Its an observant and nuanced essay, with the implication being that all the blurring is an almost an unconscious aesthetic symptom, registering a widespread, unnamable sense of looming dread. On the other hand, such blurry images are also slightly virtuosic and carry the blush of pure expression. Petrovich writes: I have been told that what I was seeing was just the increased prowess of the telephoto lens, or merely the resurgence of shallow depth of field.

I left the essay thinking it could be both. Photojournalism is in dire straights, images are cheap and everywhere, and it stands to reason that the dedicated professionals who remainwho are going to be focused in high-profile beats like political coverage and disaster reportingfeel pressured to register the individuality of their images with an arty shot. Wonky blurring is one way to do it. Whats interesting is that either wayas a symbol of an audiences general sense of unease, or as a symbol of the photographers intensified need to register their subjectivitywe arrive at the blur through a sense of a system in crisis, just by different routes.

Peter Schjeldahl at the 2011 New Yorker Festival. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New Yorker.

Like a lot of people, Ive been thinking about New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl and what makes him an important figure, since his essay, The Art of Dying, was published last year. Earnests essay puts a commanding knowledge of his subjects writinghe edited Schjeldahls recent book,Hot, Cold, Heavy, Lightto try to explain Schjeldahls Olympian everyman style.

There really are few writers who have the effect Schjeldahl has: his writing is almost untouchably on-its-own. But hes also exceptionally engaging and reader-directed, and focused on connecting the circuits of artist biography and personal experience to make comprehensible a thought, an experience, a way of seeing.

Earnest describes his articles as detective stories about feelings, which gives a name to what I feel about them. He mentions Schjeldahls own account of his method: Looking at art is like, Here are the answers. What were the questions? he once told me. I think of it like espionage, walking the cat backwhy didthathappen, andthat?until eventually you come to a point of irreducible mystery.'

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How Fox News Weaponizes Art + Two Other Illuminating Pieces of Criticism From Around the Web - artnet News

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February 1st, 2020 at 8:43 am

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