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How do artists turn news into art? Rabe leads Crawford Family Forum discussion July 26

Hunters and elephants in Cederberg, South Africa
Hunters and elephants in Cederberg, South Africa

Ever since a cave artist sketched the first Saber Tooth Tiger Bites Man picture thousands of years ago, man has been using art to interpret the news.

Some of it, when the art comes before the message, is very good art. Much of it, is not so good.

On Thursday, July 26, at the Crawford Family Forum, I'll be leading a discussion called The Art of News, in which we'll get at how artists interpret the news – politics, war, global warming, the economy, immigration, and more.

I'll also ask our panelists how they avoid making bad art about the news. Let's look at some examples.

Here's some very old art from Cederberg, South Africa, that tells the story about an elephant hunt. Of course it's fascinating to us because it's so damn old. But the art holds up because the artist captured something real. Maybe just "They're big. We're little. It's scary."

Next, Picasso's masterpiece, Guernica, which specifically depicts the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, and of which the artist himself said, "I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death."

So if Picasso admits his motives were to get the message across about the war, doesn't that make it bad art? No, because obviously, it's good stuff. Somehow, he put the art first and the message second. Which winds up making it message first, because the art is so damn good.

But this next piece, The Forgotten, by Debora Prum, from an anti-hunger exhibit in Mexico, is pretty dreadful ...

... simply because it's so damn obvious. We're not allowed to think anything but, "This is sad. Poor kids." There's nothing left to ponder, no unanswered questions. And you can't even criticize it without risking people thinking you're against fighting hunger. I don't like that kind of pressure.

Besides the discussion and Q&A, the Art of News event at the forum will also feature an exhibit of artists who interpret the news in their art, including Shepard Fairey, Edward Walton Wilcox, Enrique Castrejon, and Lalo Alcaraz.

The doors open at 6:30pm on Thursday, July 26, and the program starts at 7:00pm. Admission is free, but RSVPs are required, and you can do that here.

Please come. You'll find out how artists' minds work, and you'll have a chance to tell me I'm full of it.