Sharon Butler

Sharon L. Butler is a practicing artist and a professor of visual arts at Eastern Connecticut State University. She maintains a blog about painting at

Recent Articles

Art in the Age of Obama

A new era may be dawning in which artists, strongly supported by the president, will develop new forms of enduring art.

Like much of America, the art world has fallen for Barack Obama with unguarded sincerity. From Shepard Fairey's widely reproduced poster to Robert Indiana's HOPE sculpture based on his well-known LOVE statue from the 1960s, artworks created to raise cash for the campaign manifest a partisan earnestness rarely seen since the graphics of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In one popular print, Ron English depicts Obama's face morphed with an image of Abraham Lincoln. Visual art, explicitly or implicitly, broadly reflects the politics of its generation. The art world has embraced Obama not only because of his soaring message of hope, firm anti-war stance, and strident call for change but also because he was the only candidate whose campaign explicitly embraced the arts as a policy concern. The Bush years have been a deeply despondent period for American art. With Obama's presidency, though, a new era may be dawning in which artists, strongly supported by an administration as culturally...

The Super-Sizing of American Art Museums

The art world is trending toward mega-museums, with more capital investment in high-profile architecture and fattened collections. But bigger isn't always better.

American art museums are experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt, from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento to smaller museums elsewhere. Museum directors argue that the expansions will better serve the public's need for more exhibition space and modern amenities. Less altruistically, they maintain job security by ramping up fundraising and construction requirements, and gild their résumés with impressive credentials. Art collectors queue up to donate money for stylish wings that will bear their names. Cities herald the projects as cornerstones for mammoth downtown development and revitalization projects. The media provide the fanfare, lavishly covering the initial announcements, building progress, and grand openings. But all this capital investment in high-profile architecture and fattened collections and programming -- this super-sizing of museums -- does not necessarily reward the art-viewing public. Museum directors and...

Arts and Minds

The State Department wants to fund artists to create works for overseas museums -- so long as the art promotes U.S. foreign policy.

The United States government wants to enlist members of the art community to help win "hearts and minds." This fall, the American Association of Museums will award almost $700,000 -- half of it from the State Department -- to American grant applicants for overseas artistic outreach projects. The idea isn't new, but the level of control the government may assert over the actual art is. At first blush, this program, Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad (MCCA), appears to be an earnest extension of U.S. "public diplomacy" efforts, intended to help our country regain the international admiration it has lost during the Bush presidency. Under closer scrutiny, however, it is less benign. For one thing, the State Department requires that each proposal explain "how this project promotes U.S. foreign policy." For another, it turns out that U.S. embassies and consulates are allowed -- or, one might guess, encouraged -- to preselect foreign museums for participation. The application...