Editor's Note: Envato Tuts+ does not endorse any particular political belief in the publishing of this article. This article intends to offer insight into art and politics in modern times.
Before History Was Tweetable
Long before the first photograph or dissolving SnapChat story, and certainly before the first presidential tweet, there was always the 2D illustration.
And when you think about it, it's a shame really. Because the role that art plays in history far surpasses our modern, late night awake-a-thons, sourcing endless Wikipedia pages in support of our arguments or papers.
We have, in a sense, trivialized what was once the definitive snapshot of our culture.
And even with the currency we keep in our pocket, we still often forget how important artists are to encapsulating moments and people in time.
How else would we have related to the clenched jaw expression of the first US president if it weren't for the iconic oil paintings of artist Gilbert Stuart?
Or that the U.S. Capitol once lay in ruins, following British attacks that nearly cost the country everything during the War of 1812.
You see, artists like George Munger and Gilbert Stuart embarked on creative solo missions so that these pivotal scenes would never be forgotten.
Today, technology has, no doubt, played an important role in shaping how we get information and the legitimacy of our sources.
But art is still and will always be an important reflection of the issues and people that matter most. And no matter how subtle or cheeky or controversial a piece may be, artists continue to band together in fighting the world's battles one brush stroke at a time.
So today I'll shed light on 12 amazing artists whose work speaks incredible volumes.
What's set to become the next iconic image in history? Who knows...
Let's learn the political, economic, and social issues of the world through the eyes of artists.
Who Is the Winner... Really?
The 2016 US election was, for some, like ripping off an old band aid. And as quickly as it passed, we inevitably winced at the outcome. Some rejoiced in a monumental change for American history, while others continued to pick at the scab, unconvinced that the world was now in a new time of healing.
And in the daze of January 20th, 2017, the feelings of the American public were hugely divided. This can't be felt any more clearly than in the art that surrounded both the election and the results.
Hillary Clinton for Politico Magazine
Like any election, we were bombarded with beautiful pre-iconic pieces of both candidates. This Politico Magazine Cover by Tracey Ching, for instance, was one of two incredible vector illustrations she created for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions (she did an equally gorgeous Donald Trump Cover you should definitely check out).
And while one artist communicates bold, unapologetic strokes of optimistic patriotism, other artists refuse to hold their tongue.
Antonina Aleksandrova begs the question, quite literally:
"Who is the Winner?"
Perched in a romantic parking spot, we see presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a gentle embrace as destruction ravages the American landscape. A mysterious shadow lingers on with an even shadier agenda.
How would you interpret this piece? And what would you take away from the third shadowy figure?
If I could sum up the 2016 election with one quote, it would probably be, "Can we just get a do over?" This is a common sentiment among many Americans, and it seemed like we were in a lose-lose situation no matter the outcome.
Dark Times of America
But once Trump was finally elected, the narrative shifted yet again. A somber attitude wafted into the air as people stood by with unclear feelings towards the impending future.
Here's a quick look into his process:
This piece was from an article about how this might be one of the darkest periods in America, according to the policies being considered by Donald Trump.
I led the eye to focus on emotions only so the work had to be in black and white. Then I thought about what creates an absence of light and wanted to make people understand that this absence was caused by Donald Trump.
But before you think that's all there is to this illustration, he pauses before continuing:
On one side of the illustration, I created a beam of light―as if to say that the light still exists outside. This is my way to stay positive!
And this subtle detail, this gentle reminder of our everlasting hope to always remain positive amidst adversity becomes what I think is the most valuable symbol in this piece.
The Disappointer in Chief
But Republicans weren't the only party to feel the heat of criticism. Even before the election, 44th President Barack Obama faced immense criticism and frustration from all parties alike.
It was published with the story running in the Sunday paper (The Washington Post) about President Barack Obama, and how he just hasn't lived up to the expectations of many people.
It was a very short deadline―like 2 days. One day for sketches and another one for the finished work. I managed to create this on such a short notice.
In this cramped and claustrophobic image, headlines swarm Obama's head, shouting clips of campaign promises and more. The viewer can't help but feel a sense of helplessness as it becomes apparent that power isn't always at the hand of one individual.
Artists on Immigration Policies
There is this weird thing
that happens with developed nations. It's the appearance of being
welcoming to outsiders without actually meaning it. Their open arms and welcoming smiles are often contradicted by complicated immigration policies.
We see this even in the current narrative. It's a controversial topic for many, and we're forced to come face to face with humanizing people who don't look like us or practice the same religion.
I don't really like explaining my artworks too much. I want them to speak for themselves. Often the viewer's outtake is unique and I don't like robbing them of their conclusions.
This philosophy is common among artists because art is subjective. When coupled with the title, though, the meaning of this illustration can certainly be perceived as obvious. But what are some of the underlying issues that can be seen here?
And how can we, as a society, learn from such openness in art?
Offlife Comics - Yellow Series
I produced this piece for Offlife Comics, for a book they published last year called, "Yellow." The idea behind the book was to ask 52 artists to illustrate a different week of news from 2015. This was the only brief given, and I was given free license to do whatever I wanted with the top events that happened in my week.
Here is what she wrote to accompany her illustration in the book:
The migrant crisis made a resurgence in the news this week. My piece reflects on the fragility of the migrants’ situation as they arrive in countries across Europe by boat.
The power is in European hands to either help or squash their hopes, as we’ve seen over the last few days with the violence faced by migrants trying to enter Macedonia.
Even powerful words can fall upon deaf ears. But the sincerity and heart behind an illustration like this create a much-needed dialogue about immigration.
Artists on International Issues
If you sail out into international waters, you will be greeted with some of the same political, economic, and social issues found in your very own backyard. And artists from around the globe actively take on the task to voice their opinions through their work.
Greetings From Russia
Greetings from Russia depicts Vladimir Putin's fuck-you attitude towards Europe and the rest of the world. Regardless of whether this is justified or not, I can only judge Russia's situation from a European/Dutch point of view.
In reality, Bart sounds like any of us when faced with a passionate topic. He goes on to say:
I made this picture on the occasion of the MH17 disaster, and the continuous denial of Vladimir Putin that Russia had nothing to do with it during the several investigations that followed this plane crash.
Great comedy often comes from incredible anguish, and art is certainly no different. Putin's blasé attitude as he stands alongside missiles is emphasized with a classic "selfie pose", signaling that the days of "Is this really happening?" are far from over.
Another important issue faced by people around the world often involves an attitude of the people vs. the government or major corporations.
For this piece I wanted to create a beautiful image that hides an insightful message. The woman in the scene has a glance of superiority. She represents the upper class of society. Behind her are fruits and food that represent abundance. She waits for the bull to come. The bull is huge and mighty, however submissive and tamed. The bull represents the working class. Fruits and abundance also surround him and are brought to serve the woman. She touches its head with one hand and sings a song of gratitude for the food he brought. However, with the other hand she is holding a dagger, and she will kill the bull after being served.
An analogy for the politics in his country of Colombia, the bull represents the people and the woman his governors.
Bullfighting is an event where not many people assist while the spectators are usually of the upper class in society. The last time this event happened, thousands of people protested against the killing of an innocent animal for the amusement of just a few.
In the end, the government favored the views of the majority, dispersing thousands of police officers to contain the protestors, and neglecting the rest of the city where police might be needed. Once again, power and money had the last word.
And as strong and resilient as the bull may appear to be, he will always be at the mercy of his governor, a tragic reminder from the eyes of Ricardo.
Of course, the huge connection between big money and politics becomes a topic for artists too. As powerful corporations lend their hand in major policy reform, everything from sports to climate change becomes severely affected.
"Mosquito" is part of a series of small drawings I started in 2015. All these works feature a politician as the central character. I use this character as an archetype for specific narratives, to transform him, and morph him in order to tell a compelling and vivid story.
This particular piece sees the politician as a blood-sucking creature, probing the Earth for its "blood," and exploiting its resources as much as possible. I use a lot of dark humor and pop culture references. I try to tell stories in such a way so that they can transcend the present moment whilst incorporating surrealism and common symbols to make up my own symbolic language.
When things go wrong, we often want someone to blame—a physical embodiment of our anger and frustration. Aleksandar does this effectively by symbolizing the political world as one bloodsucking central figure.
Big Politics, Money, and Football
Even sports can become a victim of political change.
This illustration is about the relationship between football and politics. I created this artwork for the football magazine called Kopalnia. It was illustrating an article that was about how modern football is ruled by money coming from sources that are "immoral." While the journalist analyzes the situation, they also point to its origins, and why there's no one trying to change the current situation.
Politics has the power to affect every fabric of our daily existence. From the food we eat to the sports we watch, there's no end in sight to its reach. Though cleverly illustrated, this piece tragically shows how even our most innocent daily activities are steamrolled by big money and politics.
Me & EU
Needless to say, the world went into a frenzy over Brexit. And the confusion surrounding the UK's withdrawal from the EU provided a great subject for UK artists.
My relationship with politics is a bit of a funny one, I try to shut my eyes to as much of it as possible as a sort of emotional self-preservation. Everything seems so bleak and so hopeless at the moment that just reading the news can be quite the overwhelming experience and really affects my creative impulses.
The driving intention behind this illustration isn't so much resistance or protest, but rather my absolute exasperation with the hyperbole, hypocrisy, untruths, and us-vs-them mentality that seems to have dominated all political debate in the last few years.
He goes on to say:
I tried to articulate this exasperation, and in working through my thoughts, the phrase that kept sticking out in my head was a bit of an idiom: 'cutting off your nose to spite your face.'
And Chester makes a great point here. In today's age of political rivalry, it's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by chaos. Terms like "alternative facts" are being coined every day, while mass hysteria for opposing political views usually ends in the melodramatic "unfriending" of family, friends, and neighbors.
Brexit, Free From Chains
This is a political illustration I created for the Brexit event, which I highly applaud and support. The illustration is based on a famous Prometheus legend, the titan who was captured by Zeus and the eagle who ate his liver.
In my version, the eagle represents the high German state (politicians), which destroys European nations due to its aggressive financial behavior. Through Brexit, Great Britain (depicted as Athena), snaps her slavery chains to claim her freedom against her suppressor, the EU/German bureaucracy.
Ilias's illustration offers an interesting perspective on a narrative we don't often hear. It is through art that we are able to shed new light on old topics, allowing us to learn from one another.
Art teaches us that we can either navigate the sea of politics carefully or convey our ideas with passion. Which route you decide to take is ultimately up to you, but if you document it through art, it may last for generations to come.
Create a window to the present with your own political illustrations.
Do you have a piece expressing your political views? Feel free to share it with us in the comments! Or tackle a fun poster project in Adobe Illustrator, like the iconic Obama-inspired poster seen in: Create an Inspirational Vector Political Poster.
I'd also like to extend a warm thank you to all the artists who allowed me to feature their work. Check out the following links below to see their amazing portfolios: