TIME’s “person of the year” was launched in 1927. Since that time the rating has been dominated by male politicians (like, 90% of all the covers), with only 5 women chosen to be the person of the year (and most of them were wives of politicians anyway).
Businessmen, groups of people (like astronauts), and generalised characters (The American Soldier, The Protester or the Whistleblower) were used to add some colour to the bland landscape of presidents, kings, and dictators. Twice the chart was topped by bizarre ideas of The Endangered Earth and the Computer, with the honorifics changed to the Planet and the Machine of the Year, respectively.
Never an artist.
I’ve met a lot of people who BELIVE art is doing something good for the humanity, changes people for the better, influences societies, et cetera.
I’d love to be among these believers, but I really doubt any of the featured politicians, generals, or dictators have even been influenced by art in a way that would make them change their political decisions. And even if they were, the benefits were not obvious. Churchill (Time Person of the Year in 1940 and 1949) and Hitler (POY in 1938) both used to draw and paint.
Yet, as time passes, we realise that Wallis Simpson (POY in 1936), a woman charismatic enough to make the king of England abdicate, was not as important for the future of our civilisation as, say, Picasso’s Guernica painted a few months later.
Perhaps, we simply can’t see art effects in the short term?
Lately, I think Pussy Riot got closest to be the Persons of the Year, as artists. I will justify it, but let me first quote Robert Hughes, an art critic and writer I admire.
“It seems obvious, looking back, that the artists of Weimar Germany and Leninist Russia lived in a much more attenuated landscape of media than ours, and their reward was that they could still believe, in good faith and without bombast, that art could morally influence the world. Today, the idea has largely been dismissed, as it must in a mass media society where art’s principal social role is to be investment capital, or, in the simplest way, bullion. We still have political art, but we have no effective political art. An artist must be famous to be heard, but as he acquires fame, so his work accumulates ‘value’ and becomes, ipso-facto, harmless.”
Pussy Riot have pulled the trick of acquiring instant fame and making their message heard without being corrupted by the art market. They avoided the trap of becoming harmless, but they had to pay for it with 2 years behind bars.
It does not matter that their texts are not poetry. It does not matter that their music is rap wrapped in crap. What matters is that their actions rejuvenated thinking of the role of women, oppressive governments, and about freedom in general – across the globe.
Time will tell if they qualify. Oh, not the magazine, just time.
PS Again this is one of the thoughts that may have never got typed, were it not for those brilliant people at the WordPress Daily Post who keep thinking up clever daily prompts.