I just saw a headline on the Glasstire RSS feed that reads: “Current event protest art is finally making a comeback.” I have to confess I have an instinctive revulsion to most political art, which I generally find manipulative and cynical. My favorite example from recent years is this Richard Serra print of the famous photograph of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner standing on a box. As a political issue, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the following revelations about torture were appalling to me, but I find this print to be a banal and unproductive form of political activity. Richard Serra may be a minor deity in the art world, but does he really think he can shift public opinion by reproducing an image that has been printed in magazines and newspapers all over the world? This Economist cover, for instance, was much more powerful for me, because it was backed up by actual political analysis. What we need in our politics is thoughtful critical discourse, not shrill activism. What we need in our art is depth of feeling, not emotional manipulation. Arthur Danto took up this issue in more depth with his essay Beauty and Morality. I feel about this Richard Serra print roughly the same as Danto felt about a Chris Burden piece called The Other Vietnam Memorial, which listed the names of the Vietnamese victims of the war: “It does not help the dead and it does not move the living, and in the end it seems merely a clever idea, almost a gimmick, a kind of moralizing toy. Everything about it as art is wrong, given its subject and its intentions. And because it fails as art, it fails morally, extenuated only by the presumed good intentions of the artist.” Danto may have changed his mind about the conclusion of this essay (”the time of day appropriate to action and change may not be appropriate either for philosophy or for art”), but my feeling is still that protest art is much more likely to cheapen the artistic process than to improve political or social conditions.