by Max Brantley
This isn’t the first time the suggestion of violence against a US president has been used as an artistic statement — it isn’t even the first time this presidency.Vox delves into other artistic expressions.
For example, in 2012, the first season of Game of Thrones featured a scene in which a prosthetic model of former President George W. Bush’s head could be seen impaled on a pike in the background of a shot. The showrunners claimed it was an accident devoid of political meaning, and HBO distanced itself from the action.
That same year, conservative provocateur Glenn Beck submerged a bobblehead doll of President Barack Obama in a jar of urine as a way of mocking politicized art. (Beck was responding to another famous piece that featured a crucifix in urine.) And most recently, rapper Snoop Dogg provoked a media cycle’s worth of controversy — and the ire of the sitting president — after filming a video in which he assassinates a clown stand-in for Trump.
The violent nature of the Griffin photo is also in keeping with its creator’s artistic tradition. Shields’s photographic art often flirts with violent themes, even when it’s not actively targeting political figures. For instance, in 2011 he collected blood from celebrities for use in his art, and later drenched his studio, Lindsay Lohan, and other performers in it.
While it’s arguable that none of these artistic statements were as shocking as the picture of Griffin holding Trump’s decapitated head drenched in fake blood, it’s also important to understand that Griffin and Shields’s photo recalls another artistic tradition: images of women beheading men.I doubt this will change any minds about Griffin. But I wonder how many on the alt-right would have started showering lefty complainers in snowflakes if a bloodied Hillary head had been held aloft by Ann Coulter.
The artists Lavinia Fontana and Artemisia Gentileschi painted recurring images of the biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes. For Gentileschi in particular, the story allowed her to assert her empowerment through the metaphorical beheading of men with positions of political and sexual power over her. Modern artists like photographer Cindy Sherman have also turned to this theme.