The Art Department Moves with the Times


This week at the university which employs me, I filled a dull afternoon by adding new courses to the degree audit rules for the Art BA.  The Art advisor had sent them over with a plea for immediate update.  She’s a good “customer” of my unit, and I like to give her priority.

The degree audit program produces an academic progress report: it tells the student what they’ve taken so far, and what they still have to take to complete their degree.  It had better be accurate, or there’ll be screaming down the line. And yes, justifiably.

Here’s the course description for one of the newly-offered art classes.  It made me smile.

COURSE ID: 122568

EFFECTIVE DATE: 06/03/2019



LONG COURSE TITLE: Art, Power, and Politics

Explores strategies artists use to engage political subject matter in the 21st century. Students create their own projects, research and test approaches, techniques and strategies learning from the ways national and international artists encode and convey information in creating political work.

Methods range from community collaboration to tactical culture jamming, participatory collaborative projects, activism and intervention, symbolic and gestural work, artist-led projects, performances and community projects. Students are billed a materials fee.

Well, why not?  Interesting times lie ahead.  Why shouldn’t the art students of today build activist skills that they may need tomorrow?  Relevant art: what a concept.

I posted this course description over at the Daily Kos, the website for activist Democrats. The Kossacks were not impressed; it got a few grunts and a teasing reference to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

They’re mainly establishment Democrats over there.  They think that everything of import takes place within the party.  Even though the party keeps shooting itself in the foot. Too many big Democrats like the big money from big donors, and it tends to ruin your aim.

My thought is that the establishment Democrats will deliver for America — when they’ve been kicked around and frightened enough. Giant blood-spattered heads of Donald Trump and Jamie Dimon, carried down Wall Street by a screaming mob? That might just make an impression on the comfortable big-donor “liberal” grandees.

If so, my university’s art students will be ready with enthusiasm and paper-mache skills, hit-and-run murals on the walls of the Establishment, and so on.  Get the network TV cameras pointed in the right direction at the right time, and who knows what might happen?

As the great cartoon subversive Boris Badenov once said, “I do the best I can with the tools I got.” I do believe that he was holding a bomb at the time.

Just kidding. Really.


BoriscycleLast year, on a whim, I searched for images of Boris Badenov online and found very few.  This year, Boris, the grinning bad-boy spy from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, is everywhere.  There are vintage images by the dozen.  Artists are drawing their own original Boris cartoons, and there’s even a site that teaches you how to draw Boris Badenov.

Boris is in again.  And now he belongs to the people. What does this tell you about the times?  Break into groups and discuss.  Submit a 1000-word analysis by Thursday.



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