Preston Cram - Artist Statement (May 2021)
My work explores the extremes of the social and political divides within the United States and the ways popular narratives about public figures begin to feel like tall tales and bogeyman stories more than honest, objective evaluations of reality.
I'm particularly inspired by for-profit news media, which I believe disregards morality and objectivity in favor of financial gain -- stoking fear and animosity among adherents of each political party through hot takes that inflate the importance and danger of the events they report on.
As a reader and viewer of contemporary political journalism, I see sensationalized and often vitriolic content from both political parties mingling with conspiracy theories to paint adversaries as monstrous, vile creatures out to destroy democracy -- or even humanity. Meanwhile, citizens take to the streets in violent and deadly protests, their anger inflamed by a relentless, fear-based news cycle.
Horrifying and fantastic, these stories stimulate the same part of my brain that has traditionally escaped into dark fantasy. In the stew of my imagination and subconscious mind, depictions of Donald Trump embracing a deadly virus at superspreader events and tales of Joe Biden's cannibalistic pedophilia mingle with the sounds of heavy metal and images of undead medieval warriors.
I stir those ingredients together in my artwork as a means of exploring and satirizing common public perceptions and our collective cultural tendency to lionize or villainize public figures in ways that blur the line between objective analysis and fictional storytelling. Through the lens of my lifelong love for old-school metal, horror movies, and comic books, my artwork embraces tales of the absurd, the grotesque, and the fantastic in our present-day world.
Last week I shared a finished piece called The Plague King that marks the start of a new creative direction, one that bears more focus and intentionality behind it than anything I've worked on in the past.
One thing I feel is worth expanding on around this artist statement is the topic of "fake news." It is not my intent in any way to suggest that contemporary journalism is "fake" or that writers are deliberately concocting pure fiction. Certainly, I believe there is dishonest reporting, though I genuinely believe most liberal and conservative news stories work upon the premise of some amount of reality and then blow it out of proportion. (Politicians are another story -- they lie through their teeth.)
I believe both sides do this, and I agree with Bob Woodward when he says there is no bias-free journalism left in the United States. Why would there be? There's no money in it.
For-profit media cares about clicks and views to stimulate advertising dollars, and they know the neuroscience well enough to know that humans receive powerful dopamine rushes from reading perspectives they agree with, dig in deeper into existing beliefs when presented with counter-arguments, and perhaps most bafflingly of all, actually enjoy feeling frustration and mild anger.
Tune into any evening cable news channel and all of this is abundantly clear. I can't recall the last time Fox News and CNN even remotely agreed on a perspective. It's like the First Take of the political world where each side agrees to choose an opposing perspective and then argue it vehemently with one another.
With my art, I'm less interested in parsing out fact from fiction or making claims about the validity of any particular news outlet than I am in poking a stick at the absurdity I perceive in the presentation of all of it, even when I happen to agree with the perspective or believe the underlying information is accurate.