Here’s What Artists Have to Say About the Future of America Under Donald Trump
Artists were eager to speak out.
In the wake of the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, artnet News has reached out to a number of artists for their thoughts on the event and its potential effects—within the arts, the nation, and the world at large.
For some artists, the election’s unexpected outcome was still too raw, the perceived wound too fresh, for them to put their emotions into words. For others, the chance to reflect on Hillary Clinton’s loss and its ramifications was a chance for catharsis. This means that, for many, the healing power of the arts can offer a way forward as we look to fix a deeply divided and possibly broken nation.
Here is what they had to say.
“Not surprised at all. It’s tragic, but also, more horribly considering the players, tragic-comic. And for all those who felt they had to sit it out or “vote their conscience,” the world is bigger than their narcissistic conscience. I hope they feel good about not tainting their purity by having to vote Democratic.
“The Republicans have been watering the weeds of hatred, sexism, and racism for years, and now it has overtaken their lawns and picket fences. But this is also the failure of the center left to speak powerfully to the fears and grievances of the white working classes. Not only their rage, but also to their growing displacement, both socially and economically. Trump’s con has worked its ‘magic’ on half a great nation. We see this mirrored globally in other acts of murderously epic displacement. Look for the moment when pride becomes contempt.”
“Some data suggests that not since the American Civil War has the country been so polarized. We believe that the seeming binaries propagated by political candidates, their followers, and the media will crumble. Nothing is black and white. Even with the election over, people did not wake up on Tuesday with good will in their hearts toward their political opponents. I personally want to start finding ways to listen more deeply.
“The problems we face are so much more complicated than either candidate has spoken about. Elections are not about nuance and we hope that we can begin to have more complicated conversations about things like America’s role in the world, how our economy is fundamentally shifting, and what justice looks like. These big conversations demand attention and care and time and thought… hopefully these will be in larger supply post election.”
“Feel the pain, until it passes thru you. Regroup get angry, get tough, take notes. Watch his promises fail miserably (manufacturing return, wall building etc). Form coalitions and work and take back the Senate and House in two years! ACT UP/ FIGHT BACK”
“I watched the election results with disbelief and dismay. I feel disheartened to acknowledge that whether by ignorance or hate, or both, a majority of the American voters have embraced xenophobia, sexism, racism, and a candidate with unprecedented narcissism, zero experience as a public servant, and zero ability to relate to the struggles of average Americans. In effect, the voters have rewarded possibly the most uncivil and disgusting behavior from any candidate I can recall. I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans actually share the values of Donald Trump. I think as a people we are better than what Trump represents. However, the success of Trump’s tactics will only invite more movement in an uncivil direction. Creating and implementing policy in a democracy requires a degree of civility. I’m very concerned that we are eroding the civility that is necessary for our government to function for the common good. We have taken a very dark turn as a nation.
“We all know that Clinton and Trump are the two most unpopular candidates to run for president, but their unfavorable attributes are not comparable. Clinton may exhibit careerism, but she has shown a compassionate commitment to vulnerable groups and public service for 30 plus years. There is no doubt Clinton is extremely qualified to be president. Trump was born rich, has a history of reckless and unscrupulous business dealings, is a womanizer, a liar, and his greed and ego spit in the face of common good and equality. I can only hypothesize that the Trump win is a result of voter apathy on one side, as well as voter turnout driven by sexism and low information, on the other side.
“The main reason why my wife Amanda and I founded Make America Smart Again was to combat both of the factors I believe led to the Trump victory: voter apathy and low information. Make America Smart Again urges people to vote, but also to inform themselves about the issues that matter to them so that they may vote for, rather than against, their best interest. I’m horrified that we are now saddled with the results of apathy and ignorance. Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to make America smart again! We need to do everything we can to educate ourselves and others and push back against the culture of Trump. I’m feeling depressed, but not demotivated. This is a wake-up call, and reminder that rust never sleeps, and cancer always grows. Let’s look in our hearts and do everything we can to reject idiocracy, embrace our common humanity and the common good, and push for informed empowerment and GOOD ideas within our democracy!”
Originally published on Fairey’s personal website.
“Well, the United States has historically been a racist, sexist nation. By law and by deed. And that is changing. As that changes, huge numbers of people who are uncomfortable with change, who are a little disenfranchised, who need someone to blame for their unhappiness have found a candidate who suggests to them that all of their worst impulses are acceptable.
“We all have a tantrum throwing toddler inside us who wants things their way, who doesn’t want to consider anyone else, who’s afraid of others, and afraid of the new. In this case, we got a grown man to stand up in front of the country and embody all of those things writ large, and millions of people have responded to that. They want permission to let this part of themselves be openly in the driver’s seat, and Donald Trump offers that.
“There’s more to the story of course, but this is what I can see from here.
“My goal is to get past my bitterness and learn to have compassion for what I see as the misguided suffering of those 60 million people who thought this government was a good idea—to find out why hatred is so attractive to so many at this moment, and start a real dialogue.”
Ebony G. Patterson
“This morning I wondered about the rest of the world in relation to the US. We have lived in a global village for quite sometime. When the US went through the recession in the last of the Bush years, it wasn’t local, it was global. I wonder about the fall out of global relationships that could be spawned by reckless decisions made without considering the greater implications for all. In Jamaica, we say , ‘When ‘Merica sneeze di res’ a wi ketch col.’
“I worry about what has been resting beneath the layers of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, and its implications for us all. And while one may look at the history of this country and say, ‘History is repeating itself,’ we have to ask what does it mean to repeat itself in this way in 2016. As artists we must continue to do the necessary work expected of us, continuing to challenge, engage, and critique… this is not business as usual…”
“We have to fight harder! Fight the misogyny and racism and xenophobia in its cultural manifestations. I come to the US very often to work with museums and universities.
“Looking at the electoral map, I realize that I have never been in most of the red states. Curiously, there is also a lack of contemporary art institutions in those states. I think that even if it’s a small contribution, I would like to see more contemporary art institutions emerge in those states, since they are always a beacon of progressive thought. We need to stop talking to ourselves and reach new audiences.
“I am worried that some of the work that I’ve been trying to do related to weapons will be harder to implement. For instance, in Tampa, we made a project called Amendment to the Amendment, where 200 people participated on a workshop to re-write the Second Amendment. Under a Trump presidency, the participants of these projects may be more scared, but nevertheless I think that we must continue by all means. We must be aware that the worst kind of censorship is self-censorship and we need to be very vocal about compassion and inclusion as the core values of society.
“At the core of the outcome of this election is misogyny, which shows us that a feminist education is more needed now than ever. Everywhere I have worked in the US, I have worked with extremely brilliant, visionary women, and I do believe that women are often more capable. That’s why I was really hoping to see a woman in power. My only hope is that after these four years ahead, we bounce back so we can see a radically opposite person in charge.
“Obviously, Trump is a dangerous sociopath, so US citizens have to do everything within their capacity to block him and bring him down.”
“Trump is a fascist. He has threatened to deport millions, force millions of others to register in a database, seal borders to others. He has proclaimed that he will expanded wars, imprison political opponents, and curtail a free press.
“Whether he can do all of this the first week he is in office, or whether this will take longer to implement, can’t be known at present. But has unleashed a movement of racist shock troops who are already attacking and threatening ordinary people of color. Fascists in power have unleashed violence and shredded democratic rights and this seems well within Trump’s playbook.
“The more important question is not what Trump will do, but will we do. Hillary and the Democrats have called for ‘a peaceful transition of power. ‘ Hell no. We should not transition to fascism at all and we certainly should not be peaceful as Trump and his cabal attempt to cement fascism into place. Others have argued ‘wait and see, maybe his campaign rhetoric was all bluster.’
“In 1933, was it right for Germans to let this fascism thing play out and see if Hitler was serious about what he wrote in Mein Kampf? People of the world are counting on us not to let that history repeat itself.
“We need to confront how serious the situation is and act with courage and conviction. Be in the streets and resist in all areas of society. I do not accept a fascist America, and I do not consent to be dictated to by this monster. Neither should anyone reading this.
“Beyond active resistance and being in the streets, I would encourage two things:
“1) Read the editorial in Revolution Newspaper
“2) Read a book on Nazi Germany. Don’t pretend its not that bad.”
See also Revolution Newspaper.
“Like most people living in the US, I was glued to the news last night, hoping for a different outcome. I’m no Hillary fan, but I believe that racism, bigotry, homophobia, and sexism have no place in the White House. The vote for Trump was huge and decisive. I think the unheard majority, who have been ignored for so long, were angry and they have spoken. Trump’s campaign played to people’s anxiety—and I mean ‘anxiety’ and not genuine fears. And a frightened, insecure people voted for something that meant change… Almost any change.
“It’s difficult to think about my responsibility as an artist. Who vested responsibility in me? I just try to convey my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I never try to capitalize on a collective movement, unless it aligns with my own opinions. I’ve always tried to create art that encourages people to question their beliefs and the status quo and maybe light the fire or [act as] a catalyst .
“The Trump presidency will certainly inspire artists. Art has always aligned with activism. I was hoping for a tranquil and pleasant four years. That’s now out the window!”
“As an artist, I realize that we in the cultural sector have failed to adequately address the feelings of frustration that people of many nationalities—including, as yesterday made clear, many Americans—harbor with their societal structures. There is deep anger and skepticism. Trump saw the extent of this anger and, much to my surprise, by reflecting it he must have appeared to offer some kind of hope—albeit in deeply polarising, populist terms that are clearly racist and misogynistic. This result leaves me with a lot of food for self-critical thinking. It is clear that we have to reinvent the cultural sector from within, further developing its potential to become an agent for social change.
“We must not remain inactive. We have no choice but to use this moment as an opportunity to give rise to new movements built on respect and empathy, and to really listen to those who feel unheard. We can only do this if we embody and enact the values that are essential to nurture out societies: generosity, inclusion, the empowerment of everyone. If we, collectively, do this, we can work towards a future that is sustainable and trust-driven for all.”
Originally published on Eliasson’s Instagram account.
“The corner of Clinton and President streets in my neighborhood, where we had an animated party last night, feels like a cemetery this morning. I had little sleep amidst my disappointment, my anxious concern for the future of the country, and not knowing how to tell my daughter when she would wake up that we would not have a woman president. This election has been a bitter lesson for all of us who consider ourselves progressive, an indictment on clicktivism and the idea that you can change the world from your couch as we comfortably opine on social media.
“I had a very happy childhood, one where I was given a privileged sense of security that allowed me to imagine all sorts of possibilities for myself. As adult, and particularly in days like today, I recognize that the true test in life is accepting defeat and the impossibility (even if temporary) of positive change. I only take solace in two things: one is the inexorable change in demographics in this country, which has to be taken into account by our political parties. Minorities will no longer be minorities in the very near future.
“The second thing, which I know from experience from the election of W. Bush (which I also stupidly failed to anticipate) is that the voice of artists is critical and perhaps has never been more urgent. And of course I don’t mean art as the ornament in the collector’s house, or as the product that entertains and brings pleasure. I mean art art as inserting serious and critical issues into the political discourse, producing discomfort, acting concretely in the world and not merely representing or illustrating. This is where our energies should be focused from this point forward, and this is certainly where I will devote myself to do in the next four years.
“As [a] Latino, I feel that the Latino community needs to become more politically active. We are seeing now the price of not engaging in the political process. This is a country where 100 million people do not vote—that is two thirds of the population. What would the results be if voting was mandatory? We would probably have a very different country. So a priority for us is first to make sure that every single individual is part of the political process and that their voices are heard.
“I think this is a call for artists to become active and real critics of the system, but also active participants in improving the system. Ironically, as it happened in other times, I predict it will paradoxically bring art to the foreground, as there is nothing worse for art than complacency.”
Originally published in part on Helguera’s Facebook page.
“There are stakes involved in everything we do. As artists. As citizens. I think that often gets lost. The outcome of this election is a clarion call. It is an opportunity for us to galvanize as a community to articulate an inclusive politics of joy.”
“I’m terrified and so are the global human rights movements. What I’ve seen in the art world, our shared creative landscape, marketplace, is the most bombastic white straight male artists are exalted. Misogyny is bankable, racism abounds and greed rules. I’ve been grieving about this for some time. That’s what I saw in this election and now the electorate has reflected the art world. Life imitates art. Gold, glitz and selfishness. The bullies win.
“Compassion and empathy are ridiculed.
“God help us.””
“All things fragile are in danger of being shattered.”
“I am reading Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema for class, and I was thinking about the political candidates as real people who take on the quality of images. The Trump supporters really desired Trump; he was such an object of desire to them. Whereas with Hillary, so many people who voted for her were voting because they didn’t desire Trump.
“I felt like the discourse around the election became a question of whether or not the voter desired Trump—people who really really really wanted him, and people who really really really didn’t want him. I don’t know if this is because Hillary’s a woman, or because the campaign didn’t work to beat this kind of discourse (and I’m not trying to blame anyone), but I’m really interested in the way that kind of organically happened.
“Everyone who was talking about the election was talking about it in terms of whether or not they desired Trump. In a way I felt like that in and of itself must have given him the upper hand, because then the election was about him.
“When a big event like this happens … Racism existed in our country all along; what’s scary is that it’s reached a point where people feel comfortable being more overt about it. In art terms, visibility is everything. On the one hand, the racism was always there, and that’s what made Trump’s election possible. But now that those motivations are visible, that’s where art is going to have to do a lot of work.
“I think that right now everyone who wants to continue to live in this country has a responsibility. It just so happens that the most effective way for me to express anything is through art, so that’s my personal responsibility. Other people who have more effective ways to express themselves and make change should do it in the way that suits them best. I think we all have the responsibility to do the most we can with the tools we have to fix this country, to put it bluntly.
“People have already been saying things like you know this is going to be great for art—I don’t what they mean by that. I guess they mean that people with money to invest will be investing a lot more money in art. I think they mean financially good for art. I’m not in a position of knowing whether or not that’s true, but if that’s the case, it means that certain types of art will flourish and other types of art won’t.
“It’s scary—I’m still digesting and haven’t figured out what I’m going to do yet, art-wise, but we have to do it fervently.”
“I feel disappointed and a bit frightened by the outcome of the primaries and especially of the outcome of the election.
“I am repulsed by the new president’s rhetoric, and the overt racist homophobic and misogynistic statements made by he and his supporters, but not entirely surprised. These are deeply rooted sentiments that persist and are inscribed into the fabric of our democracy, and which still manifest daily with a smile in the backrooms of some art galleries and museums.
“People in this country from all sectors have felt disenchanted with the two-party system. Many people have been disenfranchised, and have been left behind and many believe that this candidate will help them.
“As a citizen and artist, I think we must not only make artwork that is politically active in subject matter, but that we must be present and participate outside of art world institutions to assist our communities in effecting real change.
“Many artists have been active and have risen up to create poignant, political art this past year, and I believe these efforts will grow as we find our way forward.”
“How did it happen? If I had to choose one word, it would be racism.
“The first question is not what to do as an artist, it’s what to do as a citizen, what to do as a person—the art will follow.”
Jen Catron (of Jen and Paul)
“It is with such deep sadness that we now see so clearly that the country is divided, that women are still considered ornamental, that the rights of minorities, LGBTQ, those with disabilities are at risk. How did this happen?? I’m not going to pretend that I saw this coming, but we know these sentiments well. This has been brewing for some time. Both of us grew up in areas where extreme right-wing media and talk radio has dominated our way of thinking.
“Religion and politics were so intertwined that I was certain as a child that Jesus was a Republican, that all Christians owned guns, that we were being persecuted (despite being the majority).
“I don’t believe all people or even a majority who voted for Trump are bad, racist, misogynistic, unaccepting people—I believe that without alternative perspectives, this happens. I was taught, in public school, that evolution was false, that science wasn’t to be believed over the Bible, that women weren’t to lead. These teachings are passed on, and no one is there to dissent, to disrupt this way of thinking, to allow people to question. I have a deep love of my home, and am heartbroken that this is the representation of themselves they chose to present to the country, the world.
“But we aren’t that. The art world offered us a refuge for freedom of thought and freedom of creativity. The art world will respond, whether in their work, or their words, or their actions as we fight for progressivism. We know how to fight, we know what it means to be on the fringe, we are accustomed to being there, this is where we shine. We sought progressivism in the government, [and] we failed. But progressivism begins with the people, and if anything, this is a wake up that we must take up the battle in the intelligent, hardworking, and creative way we know best. We did, after all, win the popular vote.
“A Trump presidency will make us bolder, and that has never hurt the world of art. We mourn, and then we take action.”
Paul Outlaw (of Jen and Paul)
“I am sad… disappointed… embarrassed. I am sad that the world I decided to surround myself with is not what the world really looks like. Sad that the other half thinks their lives are so bad that a Donald Trump would make things better.
“I am disappointed that I did not realize the extent of the differences between them and me, or the size of the the opposing view points that exist in this country. Disappointed that what I thought was the far right fringe of radical idealism is just a short vote away from being 50 percent of the country.
“I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed that half of this great country will sell out all of their morals, religious convictions, love for each other, and decency for the tropes and musings of a false idol, celebrity entertainer, carnival barker, clown. Someone who has no true convictions other than those that benefit himself. A selfish billionaire who has had everything handed to him and has lived the life of luxury on the backs of others his entire life. A man who can fool half the people by simply holding up their reflection.
“Moving forward (as we must do because I do not feel that our country is dying), artists will have much to live for, much to fight for. I fear the contributions of art and artist will be trivialized by an elected body that does not value us. We will have to fight even harder than before to get our work and our voice out there, to find ways to keep our community alive and find ways to fund ourselves and our projects, as I believe we will have even less funding and less opportunities than we had before. But I do not weep for us and I do not cry for artists. We are the strongest and most resilient of people. We have never been given anything for free and we have only gained off the sweat from our own backs and the importance of our own ideas. That cannot be changed by the leader our country elects.”
“Dear USA, please maintain heart. We are not our president. We are a part of the whole human race. This country is great, and a lot of it is pretty fuct, but what’s the use of crying or letting this break us down?
“We wanted entertainment and we got it. We manifested this and now we get to live it. The truth is our country has been like this for a long time. Dog eat dog, our system pits us against each other, business vs. people. I’m sad but not surprised. And this will not define me as a human or an American.
“We barely think about our President, hoping they will have our best interest in mind, and that kind of thinking landed us here. I agree it does feel like a bad dream and what a horrible symbol for the world. But this is what it is. And I for one won’t be crying and saying it’s not fair. I am a citizen of the world and our world is still very ugly[. T]he racism is real, the misogynist country we live in is real and it’s time we accept it.
“I don’t blame anyone for making this happen. I accept the blame as a US citizen, and I will use all my love and power to be better and love harder every day. Maybe if we all did that every day, rather than blaming or feeling sorry for ourselves, just maybe we will make a brighter future for ourselves.
“I love you all dearly, and I know this will pass, but I’m not going to be a victim. I choose love. I’m still with all the Hers, Hims, Blacks, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, Whites, Christians, Gays, and most importantly planet Earth. I will never stop fighting with art as my weapon and love as my shield. Love yourself and everyone you can; today is a sad day. But the truth is never easy to look at. But look we must. I love you, and I’m with you all out there.”
Originally published on FriendsWithYou’s Instagram account.
Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly
“It’s now clear: the US has a deeply under-served poor population. It seems the Anglo-descendent slice of this group feel like their country has been taken away from them, while the non-White portion (rightfully) feel it was never theirs to begin with. The first would vote for the hope of a former America (represented in the 2016 election by Donald Trump), the second, seeing themselves as targets of the police state, voicelessly poisoned (i.e. Flint), and relentlessly put down (All Lives Matter) may likely not vote at all.
“Our feeling: the 2008 banking greed created this first demographic, ossified their rage. The white underserved need and their contempt for establishment corruption is real and identifiable and 100% legit to us, even if their ideological plus ones (xenophobia, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, etc.) are unforgivable. In our view, the Democratic party establishment did nothing to invite these people into its fold. It wrongfully and un-strategically (one could say ‘undemocratically’) regarded them as ‘deplorables.’ It did not distance itself from the view of political corruption (by continuing to support Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, by giving half-way apologies for breaking their charter, for bolstering a potentially bunko Red Scare). It also could not find the right dialog with non-White populations of economically oppressed, which have also been deeply effected by our country’s economic whims (possibly the reason why the African American population had low 2016 turn out). We had a media, conservative and liberal, that exploited this vulnerability in impoverished white people especially, lampooned it daily by featuring high coverage of Donald Trump as a sideshow act—it’s true embodiment—and thus promoting Trump and White rage by proxy.
“In our view, this election underestimated the people hit hardest by the 2008 Banking greed, a greed that, in its constant support of Wall Street, the Democratic party actually defended. Those disenfranchised by this corruption in our view could have had an outlet of revolt through the positive and inclusive voice of Bernie Sanders—perhaps even as Clinton’s VP. Because Sanders was not an option, our sense is those sitting on the fence joined the candidate more aligned with their pain. The DNC’s and Progressive Movement’s dismissal of these real needs of a huge number of Americans provoked this outcome. Yes, we believe there is misogyny at work here, and White Supremacy, and other forms of hate. But that sliver (of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people) who just felt the American political establishment left them behind could have turned this into a Democratic win. And the DNC bungled it royally by dismissing the impact, the vision, and the inclusiveness of Senator Sanders, and by not seeing the importance of a constituency of working class folk.
“Despite our role in the art and creative sectors, the two of us come from blue collar and working class families. We believe: the more these worlds intersect, the better things get for both. Class and racial disparity in this country need a voice. If that voice is found in art, is universal through many populations, it finds redemption. Sadly, in 2016, we believe it has found a false home in president-elect Donald Trump.
“Culture is the staging ground of politics. It is the first stand, where ideologies are rehearsed through narratives, forms, and content. This makes it of paramount importance and our First Amendment right. And the actual inception that prompts real votes after hours of contemplation by proxy.
“We actually think the shock of the Trump presidency will bring us together, in its absurdity and its fear. The blind indifference hosted by the DNC (albeit, with very enviable privileges of protected women’s rights, gay rights, non-Christian religious freedoms) will now give way to a woke backlash from the counter culture with the possible dilution of those Liberal freedoms. Where a Clinton presidency (which we both voted for) may have been more comfortable for our ilk, a Trump presidency has reminded us not to grow soft, that our voices will be needed more than ever. And in grime of his rhetoric, these voices will be louder than song.”
“Why did the vote turn out the way it did?
“Trump is the genie out of a bottle; America has been swept up in the media excitement and went straight into the storm of the Trump reality show—I am surprised everyone is surprised. Trump recognized a niche market and ran a focused target marketing campaign on issues that touched all Americans, problems that no politician dared to talk about that openly; coupled with his Trump-brand hairstyle and a very smooth media delivery (plus his orange, badly-put-on tan).
“He based his rhetoric on fear of immigration and distrust for the establishment… he gave a voice to the ‘forgotten ones’—not the politically correct ones for sure—he made them important. His delivery tapped into a style of reality show TV with a thirst for a cruel panelist style host—come president—who promises tangible changes; non establishment, post-truth era of politicians; he appears to say it how it is… even if he doesn’t believe it—he has excellent media training and a nose for the people—the cruel panelist style. The narrative of his reality show is running for president and then becoming the president .
“And what does it say about America?
“The love of media manufactured public figures, celebrity and presidents! A deeply divided country. Trump has tapped into the ‘other side’ that hasn’t been addressed before and largely disowned by the establishment.
“What responsibility do artists have moving forward in this political climate?
“We find it hard not to take positions, but most importantly we must raise questions about public figures or anyone who has a public duties with a responsibility to the people. We mustn’t fear repercussions.
“What will he do? How will he run his office?
“At this stage, we can only imagine. How do we reconcile our image that we have of him with that of a president?!
“How will a Trump presidency will affect the art world?
“The Trump presidency will be unpredictable, and I am sure a target for many artists… how else can you address profound issues without being arrested?”
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.