May 23, 2019

Do Conservatives Care About Art?

“Conservatives, crack open some champagne and celebrate. A remarkable renewal of traditional painting and sculpture has taken place in the American art scene over the past 10 years. At last, a cultural movement has emerged that builds upon time-honored practices instead of deconstructing them. In cities all over the country, new atelier schools are teaching classic methods of sculpting, drawing and painting, giving students solid foundations in techniques dating to classical Greece. The art they produce is exquisitely made, and also unmistakably of this time.

This flourishing community of 21st-century representational painters and sculptors is deeply concerned with making—in the simplest possible formulation—“stuff that looks like stuff”: imaginative but realist paintings that point their audience toward traditional subjects and ideas, but with refreshingly novel conceptions. These artists are using the Western idioms of art-making praised by America’s founding fathers themselves—George Washington, John Adams, James Wilson and Thomas Paine. Washington collected paintings of the sublime American landscape before such paintings were considered credible art. Adams was enthusiastic about historical paintings. He also found delight in art that was edifying, even moralizing—a taste shared by both Wilson and Paine.

I hasten to add that the conservative art I am speaking of here isn’t bland Norman Rockwell-style Americana. Sex, violence and horror are sometimes the vehicles of narratives that reinforce conservative values. Bible stories of rape, slaughter and death—which inspired many of the great Renaissance painters whose work fills the traditional artistic canon—testify to God’s power to shape human destiny. The story of the crucifixion, in particular, is hardly a cheery tale, but it carries the heart of the Christian message of self-sacrifice and redemption.”

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