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Are artists simply virtue signalling?

2020 seems to be quite the year of historical events, and we’re only in June.

First Coronavirus, and then the tragic death of George Floyd. Both of these major events had something in common… it divided people.

It seems sad to us that this could happen. That these two monumentous (which apparently still isn’t officially a real word but should be) incidents would result in divided camps rather than unite us.

When Coronavirus hit the world, social media became awash with experts (we use the term very loosely), and when George Floyd died, the same thing happened.

These divided camps dusted off their soapboxes and launched their opinions into the endless social media void.

The virtue signalling card is an easy one to play

Now you might be starting to think what the hell has this article got to do with art?

Well let us explain. As we have pointed out in previous articles, we believe art isn’t always about being pretty, or matching the colour of your curtains. It’s about using it as a medium to express a point of view. (Check out our article, ‘Propaganda – It’s time we had a proper gander’.)

With the current events fuelling emotions, some have been accused of simply making hollow virtuous statements in a desperate attempt for attention, more likes and free press.

This has apparently been coined as ‘Virtue Signalling’, a term, which we would like to confess, is something we’d never heard of before. And yet, a quick Google search reveals its actually been around for quite a while.

Some claim that the term was invented by The Spectator’s James Bartholomew in 2015, but according to an article in The Guardian it’s been in use since around 2004.

The first time we noticed it was on June 13th in a post by artist Mr Charles Uzzell Edwards aka Pure Evil, it read…

What is virtue signalling?

The sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.

Then today another artist, we greatly admire, Guy Denning posted an article he had written involving the same topic titled “I’m virtue signalling am I? Shut the fuck up.”

Guy Denning has been accused of Virtue Signalling through his work such as ‘Public Servant’

In Denning’s article he explains how he has been accused of ‘exploiting political and social turmoil to prop up revenue’ aka Virtue Signalling.  As he quite rightly argues he has been creating politically charged pieces for almost a decade and sees his work as a form of expressing his views on the world.

The comments that followed since posting the article on social media certainly show support for Denning, but this ‘Virtue Signalling’ card does seem to be an easy one to play.

Only you will know if you’re authentic

If we’re completely honest, it’s crossed our minds at times. Not the term, as we’ve only just learnt it, but the feeling. The feeling that someone is doing something for the wrong reasons. That they are taking advantage of a situation for their own gains.

Many street art pieces could easily be accused of this. Mason Storm, the man behind the ‘devolved parliament’ controversy cheekily questioned ‘let’s see who will be the first street artist to paint Keith Flint’? On the announcement that the front man of The Prodigy had passed.

Numerous art pieces emerged following the death of Keith Flint

Although the question was clearly a humorous pop at street artists, it raised an interesting point, that of authenticity. Were the tributes that began to appear genuine adoration for the talented pop star or were they created in the hope they may feature in a popular news article?

The same can be asked regarding the numerous NHS hero artworks, or the influx of anti-racism pieces that suddenly appeared post George Floyd.

Let’s be honest, the NHS has always worked incredibly hard on low wages, and racism has sadly always been lurking, so have artists simply jumped on the latest ‘bandwagon’?

Are they just playing the PR game in order to self-publicise, and is there anything wrong with that if their positive message catches people’s attention and makes a difference? After all, we all need to make a living and pay our bills.

It’s easy to understand how one might start to question the authenticity of some artists but at the end of the day, only the artist themselves can truly know the reasons behind why they produce their work.

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