Hiding ideas in plain sight
Sometimes the obvious idea won't be obvious to everyone.
When Lady Gaga sang Born This Way during the halftime show of Superbowl 2017, the message was clear to me. The song is basically a hymn to inclusion. If anyone had any doubts, she lists the things that are OK: "No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track baby / I was born to survive".
And yet, she managed to appease both sides: after the performance, many people thanked her on Twitter for "not getting too political" during Superbowl. How did people miss it?
I think the answer is in the multi-layered message. You could enjoy the music without understanding the lyrics. And you could even enjoy the visuals without hearing the music behind them. People might choose to see one aspect of your art but not the others.
This is a small collage I made from parade confetti. It looks festive and abstract enough to be politically neutral.
The parade confetti has a story. It came from the Pats' previous victory celebration, two years ago in January 2015 in Boston. I collected some of the pieces from the snow that time because even though I don't follow sports, the event felt special.
This year, with an exciting victory, the Superbowl felt special again. I rmembered about the confetti I had stored away. Time to use it! And as I arranged the pieces, they seemed to have an order to themselves. The most harmonious composition read as a rainbow from top to bottom. So I kept it.
Kasimir Malevich, a Russian avant-garde artist, pulled a similar trick with his images of peasants. His message was dangerously anti-government: the identity of individuals being erased in favor of collective labour. But his work was not suppressed, and even enjoyed some official recognition. The very same aesthetic of confirmity to a larger ideal suited the Communist government. The message was hidden in plain sight, and was embraced by the authorities.
2017 is a crazy political year. It feels more dangerous than I've felt in a long time. But I also feel hopeful. And it feels interesting to see parallels to today's protests back from the 1930s. All that art history is starting to sound really useful.