Are Ridiculous Pro-Trump Drawings Art? A HuffPost Discussion.
President Donald Trump has inspired a range of famous artists across different mediums to create works criticizing his administration and make a statement about his place in culture.
But there is also a lesser-known group of amateur and professional artists who laud the president and depict him as a strong, sometimes superhuman leader. Largely rejected from established art venues, these pro-Trump images proliferate on social media and have staked out a place as the Trump administration’s unofficial iconography.
A few months ago, we assembled a group of editors and reporters from HuffPost’s culture and politics teams (some who are no longer with the company) to discuss pro-Trump art. Some of the images below are not safe for work.
There’s a bunch of pro-Trump artwork that mostly exists on the internet, but from time to time seeps into the real world. A portrait of Trump playing poker with former Republican presidents is now hanging in the White House, for instance.
I looked through a lot of this art and talked with historians, art experts and critics ― many of whom argue that it’s probably wrong to call this “art,” but we can get into that later. What I found is that pro-Trump art kind of boils down into three main categories: more traditional painterly works, alt-right meme images and political cartoons.
In terms of the first category, the most prominent artist is a guy called Jon McNaughton, whose stuff looks like this:
The weird thing about the football one is they kind of included his gut:
The gut of a successful man.
Ashley Feinberg Usually, they paint him like they want to fuck him, though.
Nick Robins-Early Mostly Trump is insanely ripped, yeah.
Ashley Feinberg Also, curiously, he appears to be shitting himself in the football one, which is unusual.
Nick Robins-Early It’s true, most of these do not depict the president shitting himself.
Claire Fallon That’s just what it looks like to strain towards victory.
Ashley Feinberg So why aren’t these considered “art”?
Nick Robins-Early There’s some debate over that, but a lot of the experts tended to call them “visual culture” or just propaganda.
Ashley Feinberg Visual culture sounds like a fancy term for art.
Claire Fallon Is this a “no true Scotsman” fallacy? “Real art doesn’t suck, we’ll make up another name for art that sucks.”
Nick Robins-Early They argued that real art tends to be in dialogue with the history and world of art, whereas these are more intended to be disseminated as propaganda or be in dialogue with far-right media.
Sounds like something an art history professor would say.
Ashley Feinberg Yeah, this beautiful painting of our football-playing, pants-shitting president is more art than anything else I’ve ever seen.
Nick Robins-Early These are also the most art-like of the styles. They all kind of look like some mix of Norman Rockwell and the art that came from fascism and Soviet socialist realism.
Honestly, if people were painting tender images of me making love to the statue of liberty, I’d hang them up too.
Claire Fallon Are they not? surprising.
Nick Robins-Early Another thing that some experts argued is that these works are just outright propaganda, along the lines of art under authoritarianism. But a few essentially said that this art is too bad to warrant comparison to the more interesting Fascist and Soviet art.
Priscilla Frank So much of art history is portraits of nobles and royalty and rich patrons, so I don’t think that necessarily disqualifies something from being art.
Ashley Feinberg What makes this art bad?
Claire Fallon Where does it stack up next to Hitler’s paintings?
Ashley Feinberg I’m unclear on how this is better than the ones above:
Priscilla Frank Better frame.
Nick Robins-Early Going back to the Nazis for a moment, the other main type of this art is the alt-right memes of Trump. An example:
Claire Fallon Accurate depiction of his hair.
Nick Baumann Why is his head so small relative to his body?
Ashley Feinberg Also my question.
Nick Baumann Is he just in the body of the suit … like is it a mech or something?
Nick Robins-Early These seem to be Don Jr.’s favorites, by the way:
Ashley Feinberg If it’s what you say, I, too, love it.
Nick Robins-Early This is the style where things get extra weird and amateur, and also gets into what some experts talked about as this pro-Trump art really being a kind of fan fiction that also functions as overt propaganda.
Marc Janks How do you differentiate the ironic from the real? Some of these could go both ways.
Claire Fallon That’s sort of the foundational question of the alt-right.
Priscilla Frank It’s the classic alt-right move of “joking” while asserting what you really mean. They’re the visual equivalent of Trump using Twitter as his primary platform, they make the paintings look outdated and irrelevant.
Nick Robins-Early With the alt-right memes, there is a sense of knowing how ridiculous they are and trolling actual art. The McNaughton ones seem pretty earnest, if also partially a way of grifting people.
Claire Fallon The cruelty (to our eyeballs) is the point. Also the cruelty.
Nick Robins-Early Some experts also argued that these pieces are a way of mocking art as this sort of high brow thing that only liberals enjoy.
Priscilla Frank They’re classic “unpresidential.”
Nick Robins-Early The final category is political cartoons, which has some overlap with the memes but is a little more professional. A guy called Ben Garrison is the king of this.
Ashley Feinberg This is my shit.
Nick Robins-Early Here’s some of Garrison’s work:
Priscilla Frank This is the best medium for his hair
Ashley Feinberg My favorite thing about Ben Garrison is how subtle he is ― really lets you interpret the art for yourself:
Claire Fallon Very fitting that Trump is basically just a private sewage businessman with a machine that will take care of everything.His hair is also like TinTin’s.
Priscilla Frank Great historical art reference.
Claire Fallon Another racist cartoon.
Ashley Feinberg Can we see one of the Ben Garrison ones where he is clearly horny for the president?
Priscilla Frank It’s fun to compare what all the artists do to make him look hotter.
Ashley Feinberg That’s pretty good but I was thinking more like:
Priscilla Frank Trump clearly has a bigger bulge than Mitt.
Claire Fallon He had to write “POTUS” on his briefs because he no longer resembles Trump even slightly once you take away the jowls and the paunch.
Nick Robins-Early Ashley you raise a good point, that pretty much all of these depict Trump as a hyper-masculine hot strongman. Here is a Staten Island artist who put a giant installation of Trump on his lawn, which looks like if Tom of Finland drew Mussolini:
Nick Baumann His forearms are the size of tree trunks.
Claire Fallon It’s important to remember that when Trump was young people thought he was hot, and yet he has zero remaining hot traits.
Nick Baumann He’s the most powerful person on the planet — some people find that hot. Depends what you like!
Nick Robins-Early Another thing I asked experts is what makes this fawning art different from the art that praised Obama, Hillary or past presidents. Horniness? White supremacy?
Ashley Feinberg Seems like Trump’s is based more on shared obsessions and anxieties, whereas Obama was more just straight hero worship.
Nick Baumann There is definitely horny art of both of them.
Claire Fallon Of Hillary?? Never mind I don’t want to know.
Nick Robins-Early One thing that experts argued was pretty much what you said: that the art establishment is extremely anti-Trump. There is, for example, a ton of anti-Trump art including an acclaimed Vanessa Baird mural of MAGA pig men crawling around in filth while Melania projectile defecates into her son’s face.
Nick Baumann Nick, can you share that?
Nick Robins-Early Just a moment. She won Norway’s top art prize.
Priscilla Frank There’s also this from Ilma Gore:
The way both sides manipulate trump’s body is very ART. Trump is the canvas.
Claire Fallon Both anti-Trump and pro-Trump art are very clear that being a big strong well-hung man is good and other things are Bad.
Ashley Feinberg Wait sorry, why is Melania pooping on Barron?
Nick Baumann Where is this image?
Nick Robins-Early This is proving harder to find than I thought for an image you’d think is haunting many people’s minds. The only image I can find of it crops Melania out, but you can kind of see in the bottom right-hand corner:
Claire Fallon Uhhh, well I have to go to therapy.
Nick Baumann What does SpongeBob have to do with this?
Nick Robins-Early It’s all a rich tapestry.
Claire Fallon Weird cartoon figures are also big in Trump fanfic! Like him, they have oddly shaped bodies and big personalities.
Nick Robins-Early As one of the final points of discussion, some experts argued that it is extremely easy ― I would say fun, too ― to dunk on pro-Trump art or dismiss it as fascist kitsch.
Ashley Feinberg I feel a but coming on.
Nick Robins-Early BUT, even if it’s “dreck,” what is the purpose of this stuff and who is consuming it?
Ashley Feinberg It’s just such a beautiful depiction of how warped these people’s minds are. That’s why I like the earnest stuff more than the memes ― they really fucking MEAN it.
Priscilla Frank These kinds of images fit nicely with right-wing values; they’re either traditional, reverential, patriotic, old fashioned (conservative) or grotesque, half ironic, offensive, hyper-contemporary (alt-right).
Nick Robins-Early One thing that NYU professor and historian Ara Merjian argued was that they also show how the right wing in culture wars has essentially given up on most high culture.
Ashley Feinberg Tell that to Ross Douthat.
Priscilla Frank Yeah, they definitely veer away from ambiguity, abstraction, complexity, and lay it all out there. No wonder they don’t want to fund culture programming and arts education when this is what they’re exposed to.
Nick Baumann I mean, the Kochs are huge patrons of the arts.
Priscilla Frank That’s true! Actually, museum boards are super conservative. Old white rich people.
Nick Baumann For some reason, some liberals get mad when the Kochs spend their money on ballet instead of politics.
Nick Robins-Early At a state level though, the modern Republican Party stance on the arts seems to just be defunding councils and grants.
Priscilla Frank Yea,h that’s what I meant.
Claire Fallon Isn’t this sort of just how the right works? The wealthy elite has certain self-interested priorities and they are very deeply invested in pushing something else on their base.
Nick Baumann Maybe just how money works.
Claire Fallon The Kochs want opera and ballet to exist as a status symbol, not as art everyone can appreciate. The Kochs spending money on ballet is not a non-self-interested act any more than spending it on charter school lobbies is philanthropic.
Nick Robins-Early Another question I have is how much of deriding pro-Trump art is an exclusionary liberal circle jerk, and how much is warranted because pro-Trump art is deeply racist, misogynist and conspiratorial.
Ashley Feinberg I mean it’s warranted in the sense that lionizing a racist autocrat is objectively bad. Unfortunately, that art is also extremely funny and I love it. A land of contrasts, if you will.
Claire Fallon Also, Trump owns this art and his son shares it on Instagram, so the bad Trump art is basically part of the administration. It’s not a fringe thing.
Nick Robins-Early Yeah, its trajectory is the same as a lot of the alt-right movement in general. It’s no longer something you can ignore as fringe because it’s in the White House, even if it’s aggressively hateful and poorly composed.
I should also note that Ben Garrison’s website states “Ben Garrison is neither racist nor anti-Semitic,” so don’t worry about that. Anyway, does anyone have any final thoughts? Als,o thank you all very much and I am profoundly sorry.
Claire Fallon I’m so glad I had therapy scheduled right after this.
Ashley Feinberg I had mine yesterday, nice to ruin a clean slate.
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