Being an artist today means something very different than it did just two weeks ago. As the nation collectively struggles to come to terms with what a Donald Trump presidency means, we call upon artists as activists, optimists, truth-tellers and revolutionaries, to resist the normalization of hate and prejudice, to stand up for the communities that have been marginalized, and advocate for an America that serves all of its citizens.
Shortly after the election, we reached out to artists whose work we admire, asking their opinion on the role of an artist over the coming four years. Our questions were simple: What is your mission as an artist today and what is your advice to others in the field?
The answers we received are full of the emotions many of us have been grappling with over the past week. Feelings of pain, anger, sadness, fear but also of hope, unity, compassion, motivation and strength. We have compiled the responses and artwork of 19 artists, ready and willing to accept to challenge of making artwork today.
Their words and their visions are important reminders of the creativity, energy and resilience that make this nation worth fighting for.
1. Natalie Frank
”Despair has become anger which is a wonderful tool to help mobilize. I’ve thought about what I can do: for me, becoming involved in Planned Parenthood in a meaningful way is a first step. Throughout the election, Trump waged war on women, like we needed another body on that ship … I’m fearful that our rights could slip away, and fearful for so many others who have been targeted by Trump, whose rights aren’t as solidified as ours. I am hopeful I can work with a larger organization that safeguards these rights (access to healthcare, counseling, mammograms, abortions), if only by my small contribution. Numbers add up to a voice and power.
Despair has become anger which is a wonderful tool to help mobilize.
”I’ve always been interested in women’s bodies, our stories, desires and the sexuality and violence that intertwine. I’m also hopeful that in using portrait in paintings, I can start to represent real women, real stories and convey to those who might not understand, that these issues of self-determination, feminism, humanism are shared and NOT bound by gender.” Natalie Frank, painter
2. Vivek Shraya
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In the aftermath of the Trump win, the role of the white artist is to continually name white supremacy.
”In the aftermath of the Trump win, the role of the white artist is to continually name white supremacy, and to recognize their privilege by supporting and amplifying the work of artists of color. The time for quirky, white indie covers of songs by black artists is over.” Vivek Shraya, writer and visual artist
3. Tona Brown
”Since the beginning of time artists have been able to use our various art forms to inform people of issues in a way that is more impactful then politicians. Often times people vote without really understanding the issues but because of party lines. Rarely are we seeing in today’s society voters who take the time to study the issues.
As a person of color, who is also transgender, our community has always felt the way that people are feeling today .
”As a person of color, who is also transgender, our community has always felt the way that people are feeling today with almost every presidential election. A fear and hope that the new president will care about us.
“But the time is now to fight! […] There isn’t a woman alive that has not felt the way Hillary Clinton feels right now in the classroom, in corporate America, or even in our households.
“What I am doing to help spark change is to start a college tour around the country to help teach young people that their voices matter! We need them more than any other time in history! […] I will also be performing at more fundraisers and events to encourage women, minorities and LGBT Americans to fight for what’s right during this painful and confusing time in history. I will also collaborate with artists of various genres and get back in the studio to let my voice be heard. To the nation: stay encouraged, get more involved in your local politics, read and study the issues so that something like this NEVER happens again.” Tona Brown, violinist and mezzo-soprano
4. Irena Jurek
”Our current political and social climate is arguably the most divisive, chaotic, and turbulent period that anyone of my generation or younger has ever experienced in this country. Still, I remain optimistic about the future, since dark and challenging times often lead to positive change. Sexism and racism are endemic to the art world just as they are to the larger world that we inhabit. We should each consider how we are contributing to the problem, and ways in which we can level the playing field.
It is our responsibility to visit studios and to seek out artists who are often overlooked because of their racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“Curating is one of the most effective ways that artists can subvert the power structures that are in place, and it is also a direct way to take matters into our own hands. Sadly, apartment shows often suffer from the same lack of diversity as museum shows. It is our responsibility to visit studios and to seek out artists who are often overlooked because of their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Let’s work together to make the art world a more inclusive place. My suggestion extends not only to artists, but to other people involved in the art world as well, since we are all interconnected within the prevailing structures of power.” Irena Jurek, visual artist
5. Roxanne Jackson
”I think the role of an artist in general, and especially during this time, is to question the status quo. This can simply mean questioning notions of beauty as definitions and expectations of this idea are too often merely passed down from generation to generation without question. This mode of non-thinking has consequences and leads to prejudice.
I think the role of an artist in general, and especially during this time, is to question the status quo.
”I think dealing with abjection is one of the most powerful and effective roles of contemporary artists. Transgressive work is a more accurate expression from a culture that has been engaged in war as long as we can remember, one that has a severely unequal stratification of wealth, a culture that disproportionately locks up poor minority groups for maximum sentences (while the same crimes from white offenders are penalized with rehab), religious groups that denounce science and inspire their congregation with fear and hate not love and tolerance. In this polarizing climate, abject work is relevant. Its holds a space and gives us permission to be outraged, to feel deep emotion and to express vulnerability. To cry out. And, ultimately to unite and stand against oppressors as humans have always done.” Roxanne Jackson, multimedia artist
6. Genevieve Gaignard
”As an artist, I’m constantly responding to popular culture and the political world around me. It’s how I make work.That being said, the news of a Trump presidency is scary and upsetting but this type of upset isn’t new these kinds of tragedies happen all the time, every day, constantly.
I think this election is just forcing a lot of people to confront a dark reality that so many others already face on a daily basis.
”I think this election is just forcing a lot of people to confront a dark reality that so many others already face on a daily basis. Art has always served that same function for me and it will continue to. I also think there’s a lot of collective grief happening and art is a really powerful space for expressing that anger. If you’re not the type to protest on the streets or don’t have the words to express your outrage, your voice can still be heard through your art.” Genevieve Gaignard, photographer and installation artist
7. Emma Sulkowicz
“In a lecture two days after the election, Gregg Bordowitz said something along the lines of: ‘Many people are wondering is art enough? That depends on how you define ‘enough,’ and what you expect art to do. If you expect art to do what art does, then yes, art is enough.’
“Everyone has different superpowers. For those whose superpower is helping people through their art, it’s important that they now put that superpower to use. Too many people abstract the meaning from their work. More than ever, artists who have the privilege of any audience must speak clearly about the issues that matter most.
Everyone has different superpowers. For those whose superpower is helping people through their art, its important that they now put that superpower to use.
”I disagree with those who believe that we all have to make art about Donald Trump now. That approach might work for some, but there are many of us who have intimate and personal knowledge about specific topics. If you have one pointed thing to say about, for example, misogyny, it might be more powerful.
“I believe that bad things happen because people desire to do them. Legislation can punish people for being bad, but can’t prevent their initial desire. Art is powerful is enough because it can make people feel differently. It forces people to be sensitive to others. It creates compassion. Our mission as artists is to remember that we have the power to make each other feel.” Emma Sulkowicz, performance artist
8. Katya Grokhovsky
”I am finding words are failing my mouth, leaving me in an increasingly non-verbal state of existence. Fingers twitching, feet bound, dust settling in my eyes and ears, my languages are not sufficient. Scrambled thoughts, galloping forward, pulling my body through the thick mud. My mission is to rise eventually and keep working. Art, in a guttural radical battle cry of communication and expression, must simply dare to persevere, to keep keeping on, to participate, criticize, analyze, improve. Artists, please do not isolate, hide, retreat. Instead, speak through your work, however softly. Be brave.
Artists, please do not isolate, hide, retreat. Instead, speak through your work, however softly.
”Refuse the apathy, reject the hopelessness, engage, connect, change perceptions. Overcome and expose the bitter cynicism settling in the crevices of civilization, elevate, educate, uplift, ascent: generate hope. Expand your vision and dialogue, protect the vulnerable and ask for help, ignite a light, be a catalyst for powerful thought and ideas, muster up the courage.” Katya Grokhovsky, visual and performance artist
9. Sylvia Maier
”The day before the election I had been working on my painting of the mothers who’ve lost their children to police brutality and institutionalized racism. I had been working on this project with Hawa Bah, Constance Malcolm, Kadiatou Diallo, Iris Baez, Valerie Bell and Sybrina Fulton a project meant for healing relationships between the police and community by working together to prevent this tragedy from reoccurring.
Be the voice of the voiceless. Shine a light in this darkness.
“As I am working I feel a stronger calling to counter all the darkness this person has stirred up. I have made my mind up to counter the hate against the LGBT community, xenophobia, sexism and racism with paint. To paint our people together fighting for everyone’s freedom. Painting women as the major characters and catalyst for change. Painting women with admiration and respect.
“Be the voice of the voiceless. Shine a light in this darkness. Using art to preserve our ideals and beauty of humanity in spite of this whirlwind of negativity that has been unleashed and condoned. I think of artists like Goya who lived in turbulent times and documented them anyway.” Sylvia Maier, painter
10. Marilyn Minter
”Not all artists are politically minded, and they don’t have to be, I wouldn’t want to see a lot of bad illustrations. But for those who are politically engaged, it’s often when they do their best work. Keith Haring was a product of Ronald Reagan (who wouldn’t even say the word AIDS). In my experience, great art emerges from the marginalized and the angry. No one is saying it better than Jerry Saltz.
In my experience, great art emerges from the marginalized and the angry.
”Right now I’m licking my wounds, and allowing myself to feel the pain and get on the other side of it. Then I’m going to get angry and get tough. I’m taking notes. We have to start organizing. The gods have given us a HUGE target all of his ideas are going to fail miserably. Manufacturing is never coming back. The wall will never be built. Let them try to overturn Roe v. Wade! I hope this WAKES EVERYONE THE F**K UP!” Marilyn Minter, multimedia artist
11. Aaron Johnson
“The Trumpocalypse came as a severe shock to me. How could the people of America be so duped by this conman? I spent the first few days after the election just glued to my couch, paralyzed, reading countless articles online, trying to make sense of it. Is this alt-right-embracing sociopath going to start WWIII? How much is his regime going to squash our freedom of speech, freedom of the press … how soon until my access to empowering myself with information is revoked? How soon, if history repeats itself, will degenerate artists come under assault by the government? It’s nothing short of horrifying.
Its time for artists to be activists, I truly believe that.
”Getting into the studio was hard. I began by spending Friday painting protest signs, and Saturday handing out signs to fellow protestors as we marched up from Union Square to Trump Tower. It’s time for artists to be activists, I truly believe that. Personally I’ll be following Shaun King’s Trump resistance platform, Bernie’s Our Revolution, and Michael Moore as directives for how to fight back. It’s also time for artists to keep making art. Keep painting, otherwise the fascists win! I’m trying, today, a week after the election, to get my painting will back. The visions are dancing in my head. I can take on this autocrat monster and his cabinet of hate mongers in my paintings, and I can be vicious.
“If this oncoming Trump blood bath is as brutal as it threatens to be, I can go right there with them and retaliate in my paintings. At the moment I’m a little scared to even put those gloves on, or reluctant to fill my head with all that evil. The other road, escapism (certain modes I work in when I’m turning away from the political) has its allure as well. To be decided. This week it’s one day at a time in the studio.” Aaron Johnson, painter
12. Eric Yahnker
Standing still is not an option.
“The artist’s job is the same as it’s always been, only now on a Viagra/steroids cocktail: Feel, react, repeat. Standing still is not an option. We’ve all been thwacked upside the skull by a flaming, ass-soaked sack of tangerine, barbed, electric jellyfish dicks. If a time like this doesn’t move you to act, then get the hell out of the way, or go apply to fucking dental school, or something.” Eric Yahnker, visual artist
13. Zoe Buckman
“Personally I’m drawn to art that aims to spread critical thinking, inspire discussions, and challenge the status quo … but today this kind of art needs to reach and expand much further than it has done to avoid us continually preaching to the converted.
“As artists we need to stop making work only for gallery or museum walls, or the coffee tables of collectors. Rather, in tandem with these shows and pieces, we also need to make work for the people. For free. On billboards, train stations, public parks, etc. In order for that to happen, public art organizations need to be braver and stop highlighting work that is safe and decorative. The boards that control them need to give more power to the curators, and American cities need to lift much of the red tape that hinders and prevents artists from making challenging public art.
As artists we need to stop making work only for gallery or museum walls, or the coffee tables of collectors.
”Personally, I’m not on a ‘We need to feel good and heal’ flex right now. I don’t judge those that are, and of course I believe that we do need to come together and collaborate and repair. But my stance is more ‘We need to continue to feel uncomfortable, get our hands dirty, and clean out this gutter.’ Racism, misogyny, homophobia, intolerance, anti-Semitism and xenophobia have now risen to the surface and it’s time for a major extraction. I believe that artists can and must play a role in that, but we need both the resolve and the opportunities to take our work much, much further.” Zoe Buckman, multimedia artist
“Like most people, I listened to big media and thought Nov. 9 would be like any other hangover. Take a few Advil and try to recover from a shitty election cycle. And then Donald was elected.
In hindsight I could have done more positive work. We all could have.
”I spent a good portion of Trump’s horrific presidential candidacy focusing on tearing him down. Most artists did. Because the negativity bandwagon is always much more fun to ride, right? Rather than uplifting and pushing for Bernie or getting out the vote, I put down Trump. Of course it was lighthearted, but it was much easier and bound to get more press. In hindsight I could have done more positive work. We all could have.
“But I played my hand over a year and a half ago. I randomly painted a mural that ended up taking on a life of its own. Now that he’s the next President-elect, that silly image of Trump as a poop emoji will be around forever. For better, for worse.” Hanksy, anonymous street artist
15. Stephanie Sarley
My advice to other artists is to not let fear change your process.
”I’m staying strong, continuing to create art like I always have. My advice to other artists is to not let fear change your process. Art is a language, use it wisely.” Stephanie Sarley, multimedia artist
16. Maureen Drennan
“I believe the role of an artist is more important than ever and ideally should compel and challenge us to think in different ways. Artists can be powerful dissenters and transgressive to political and societal conventions.
“Good art often comes from an uncomfortable place. While it can be painful to explore, the creation and consumption of such art can be very therapeutic. In such a divisive time that we live in, the hardest thing we can do is to show compassion to those in opposition to our beliefs.
My goal is to deepen my understanding of other peoples experiences and share those stories with a wide audience.
”I feel enormously privileged to be an artist and to have met and photographed such inspiring people. My goal is to deepen my understanding of other people’s experiences and share those stories with a wide audience. Stories and narrative foster empathy and compassion, something that is sorely needed during this contentious time of anti-immigrant rhetoric. My advice to fellow artists is to not be afraid to explore things that are uncomfortable.” Maureen Drennan, photographer
17. Natalie Baxter
Art creates an alternative context for dialogue on issues that elsewhere divide us.
”I strive to create work that is approachable to a wider audience than just those who share my political beliefs. Art creates an alternative context for dialogue on issues that elsewhere divide us.” Natalie Baxter, multimedia artist
18. Rebecca Goyette
“The art world needs to confront its own systemic racism and misogyny. Our cultural institutions have made progress, but there is so much more work to be done, before we are truly representing and monetarily backing diversity. In order for us all to form a united front against racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia, we need to act in solidarity with each other. We need to form tighter bonds.
Together as artists, we must use our power and creative capital to address the violence against people of color and LGBTQ happening now.
“Resistance must become our way of life. Together as artists, we must use our power and creative capital to address the violence against people of color and LGBTQ happening now. We must protest, organize, reach out to Muslim organizations, immigrant rights groups, protect services for people with disabilities.
“I have been struggling with my emotions as many have, since the news that Trump was elected last week, volleying from rage to sadness. I was inspired last night when I went to work with a group of artists with developmental disabilities. The artists had already formed an activist team and were gathering letters to share their thoughts, feelings and fears of Trump’s presidency with their local and statewide officials. They are fighting to keep funding for their services that are vital to their daily lives. […] Anytime I feel stopped by emotion, I need to remember last night, where we stepped out to continue not business as usual, but stronger than ever.” Rebecca Goyette, visual and performance artist
19. Nina Chanel Abney
“In the coming years, I do not foresee anything magical, per se, happening with art. Art is constantly in flux, it’s always changing and moving. If anything, we will see and hear more truth-telling. Personally, I’m going to use this time to take a more radical approach to my work, take more risks with the hopes to incite more conversation.
Personally, Im going to use this time to take a more radical approach to my work, take more risks with the hopes to incite more conversation.
“Artists should not be safe. We are in the unique positions, through our respective mediums, to elicit a response without using violence or direct action. Why not push the boundaries?
“As far as my mission: I plan to continue what I’ve been doing just on a grander scale and hopefully to a larger audience. I think now more than ever people are open to dialogue on issues thought to be taboo or subjects once left unspoken of.” Nina Chanel Abney, painter
These responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.