Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond

Front Cover
University of California Press, Jan 9, 2006 - Art - 298 pages
Art of Engagement takes the first comprehensive look at the key role of California's art and artists in politics and culture since 1945. Tracing the remarkably fertile confluence of political agitation and passionately engaged art, Peter Selz leads readers on a journey that begins with the Nazi death camps and moves through the Bay Area's Free Speech Movement of 1964, the birth of Beat and hippie countercultures, the Chicano labor movement in the San Joaquin Valley, the beginning of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, and some of the most radical manifestations of the women's movement, gay liberation, Red Power, and environmental activism. It also deals with artists' responses to critical issues such as censorship and capital punishment. Selz follows California's outpouring of political art into the present with responses to September 11 and the war in Iraq. In the process, Selz considers the work of artists such as Robert Arneson, Hans Burkhardt, Jerome (Caja), Enrique Chagoya, Judy Chicago, Llyn Foulkes, Rupert García, Helen and Newton Harrison, Wally Hedrick, Suzanne Lacy, Hung Liu, Peter Saul, Miriam Schapiro, Allan Sekula, Mark di Suvero, Masami Teraoka, and Carrie Mae Weems. Abundantly illustrated and beautifully produced, Art of Engagement showcases many types of media, including photographs, found objects, drawings and prints, murals, painting, sculpture, ceramics, installations, performance art, and collage. Readers will come away from the book with a historical sense of the significant role California has played in generating political art and also how the state has stimulated politically engaged art throughout the world.

Copub: San Jose Museum of Art

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

After graduating from Art Center College in Los Angeles in 1966 I went to live with my sister in Fresno, California. It turned out that despite my cum laude degree I was not some one that would be hired by an advertising agency, nor would I have a gallery showing. I simply wasn't part of the system, and therefore not "saleable". I went to work for the Welfare department. In driving around the County I ran into a small office in Del Rey of a group called El Teatro Campesino, directed by Luís Valdés. I was enchanted by their performances in the middle of the César Chávez grape strike. Having grown up in Mexico, I saw something authentic in the Teatro, a kind of carpa, not those sorry excuses for Chicano life portrayed in the Hollywood media with their gang-driven violence (totally fake, although it endures as a kind of incubus in the colonializing culture), and I immediately joined. My purpose in painting the mural was twofold; to educate people on some aspects of real Mexican culture, not the fake "Hispanic" culture popularized in the US, and to integrate the Chicano movement within the wider movement of civil rights and ethnic identities. I found it absurd that Americans still considered Blacks their property in the US while denying the obvious--Blacks are Latinos, too, and as much a part of Latin America as Mexicans are. On the left I painted a panel of Mayan figures from Bonampak, with a sly ahistorical branch of weed in one of their hands. On the right was the Soldadera, Villa, Zapata, Murrieta, Chavez, Tijerina, Malcolm X and Dr. King. I painted it expressely for the farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley, my people, and never dreamed it would get the wider attantion that it did. The mural is listed as the first Chicano mural, and I am grateful for the attention it has received. It has been published and mentioned in several publications and has a place in the Wight Gallery at UCLA.  


The California Context
A Personal View of the Interaction of Politics and Art
Paths to Engagement
1 Against War and Violence
2 Countercultural Trends
3 On Racism Discrimination and Identity Politics
4 Toward a Sustainable Earth
Selected Bibliography

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 224 - Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
Page 89 - I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...
Page 224 - God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
Page 190 - Rather, using their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur and outsiders in the realm of ideology as a vantage point, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought — and true greatness — are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown. NOTES 1. "Women Artists," Review...
Page 190 - The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education...
Page 119 - Because you see the main thing today is — shopping. Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn't know what to do with himself — he'd go to church, start a revolution — something. Today you're unhappy? Can't figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping.
Page 34 - Suppose we regard art as a mode of human communication, as a discourse anchored in concrete social relations, rather than as a mystified, vaporous, and ahistorical realm of purely affective expression and experience. Art, like speech, is both symbolic exchange and material practice, involving the production of both meaning and physical presence. Meaning, as an understanding of that presence, emerges from an interpretive act.

References to this book

Max Benavidez,Steve La Ponsie
Limited preview - 2007

About the author (2006)

Peter Selz is Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his many books are Nathan Oliveira (California, 2002), Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sculptor (1999), Beyond the Mainstream (1996), and Art in Our Times (1981). Susan Landauer is Kate and Drew Gibson Chief Curator at the San Jose Museum of Art and the author of many books.

Bibliographic information