An earlier version of this piece was published in The Epoch Times

By Evan Mantyk

When Jon McNaughton released his new painting, “Crossing the Swamp,” on July 31, he probably wasn’t expecting to get as much attention as he did, including over 14,000 Twitter comments, 20,000 likes, and news coverage from major outlets like Fox News, USA Today, and ABC News. What the incident reveals is a new awakening in the arts world.

McNaughton’s painting is conservative art. It depicts the Trump administration in a positive light: the president and his cabinet navigate the swampy waters of Washington DC’s bureaucratic corruption. In classical fashion, it is realistic and is directly modeled on the 1851 painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” by Emmanuel Leutze.

Today, news on fine art is usually reserved for the extra weird art that tears down boundaries and disrupts traditional aesthetics, like a giant bamboo art installation at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston that you can climb and robot-made art that is judged by public voting. Such art does make for an interesting news story and public spectacle, but it also falls short when judged based on the aesthetic standards people around the world have held for thousands of years.

Instead of disrupting traditional aesthetics, McNaughton’s “Crossing the Swamp” literally crosses a new boundary into uncharted territory: contemporary conservative art. Generally speaking, these two words “conservative” and “art” do not go together—not if you want to be taken seriously or receive any kind of funding anyway. As dance artist Shawn Lent wrote earlier this year, while at Art Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, “As I look around in my artist circles I wonder, are all artists liberal?” Writing in the Clyde Fitch Report, she warns against the growing echo chamber that left-leaning arts is finding itself in and outlined four reasons that conservative arts need more consideration.

The rise of conservative art is also seen right now in a battle that is being waged in Washington DC over the future of the long-delayed Eisenhower Memorial. One side, led by the likes of classical sculptors Sabin Howard and Michael Curtis, favors classicism that builds on past traditions such as the accurate and ennobling depiction of the human form. The other side favors a gigantic and weird sort of geometric playground designed by contemporary architect Frank Gehry. The new conservative art trend usually favors tradition while the entrenched liberal establishment usually favor progressiveness.

The debate over the Eisenhower Memorial is exceptional because it is a debate that simply wouldn’t have happened in the past few decades and highlights the rise of conservative art.

“In the giddy days of the Progressive era, America’s progressive architects and theorists wished to replace the eternal classical with a presumed zeitgeist, ‘spirit of the times,’” writes Curtis in his newly released book on DC architecture. The giddiness of the post-World War II era, peaking in the 1970s, has turned to artistic languor and is now being uprooted by conservative art, said Curtis.

Moving to the realm of poetry, the state of conservative art in the shadows was expressed perhaps best when New York Times poetry editor David Orr wrote in his 2012 book: “Almost all poets, including myself, lean left. There are maybe five conservative American poets, not one of whom can safely show his face at a writing conference for fear of being angrily doused with herbal tea.”

Within the poetry establishment, Orr’s words are true enough but they beg the question: are conservative poets being (ironically) oppressed and persecuted? Replace the word “left” with “white” and the word “conservative” with “black” and you get a statement most would denounce as unfair: “Almost all poets, including myself, lean white. There are maybe five black American poets, not one of whom can safely show his face at a writing conference for fear of being angrily doused with herbal tea.” The takeaway here is that no one should be treated this way and the establishment is oppressive and due for a change. People love an underdog and conservative art is the underdog of today.

As president and editor of the Society of Classical Poets, I have published poetry from different political leanings and, most often, poetry that is about beauty and isn’t political all. However, in terms of sheer reactions from the public, I have seen a huge yearning for conservative poets who cherish tradition and do not agree with the angry left-leaning establishment described by Orr.

When we published an inaugural poem by acclaimed poet Joseph Charles MacKenzie on the occasion of President Trump’s inauguration, it spread like wild fire, like McNaughton’s painting, it received an unusual outpouring of comments and was reported on by major media in the United States and the United Kingdom. Most recently, a poem by MacKenzie we published last month on the jailing of conservative journalist Tommy Robinson in the United Kingdom received an outpouring of positive comments from across the world. And, perhaps a result of the positive momentum, shortly after the poem was published, Robinson was indeed released!

Whether its art, poetry, dance, or any other art form, the newest and freshest perspective is a rediscovery of the traditional and conservative, and the general public is starting to realize it. Sound strange? It shouldn’t. It was the Renaissance, or literally Rebirth, in Europe that also reached into the past and reshaped the establishment. In conservative art, we look now upon nothing less than a second Rebirth.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

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20 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    It’s been a long time since I read something so encouraging about the arts. Thanks, Evan!

  2. James Sale

    This is a very accurate and illuminating description of what is going on in the Western world as it seeks its own demise – its art reflects its own death wish. But one further point to make is, of course, the hijacking of language, which Orwell so accurately predicted so long ago. Just to take my favourite in Evan’s article: ‘progressive’. We all know that this means and what it refers to, but it is exactly the opposite of the meaning of the word: the so-called ‘progressives’ are in fact not reactionaries but ‘regressives’ – they take us back to art forms that are less than art, and invariably formless. So how do they ‘progress’? Answer – naturally – in the virtue-signalling that they are possessed of a superior, non-bourgeoise morality. How smug most of them are: they are all saving the world with their superior perceptions and ‘skills’, but not many help the beggar stranded down their very own street. Huge and proud possessors of intellectual ethics; but mostly on the make, pitching rubbish as if it had value.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      It’s even worse, Mr. Sale, in the sense that American conservatism, the flip-side of a coin that liberalism minted in the 18th century, is reduced to a kind of reactionary status, because it, too, has discarded those intellectual traditions in the name of “constitutionalism” and other false substitutes for genuine moral theology.

    • Patricia Redfern

      My Dear James,
      I am very touched by your comments. I had just written an email to a progressive and indeed, the Western World cannot get its demise, soon enough!!
      Not only hell bent on saving the world, but in the ugliest ways possible. I refer to the damage of our children in public schools. That they are NOT the sex they are born. I really cannot bear this insanity.
      It floods churches as well. I do not see how America can survive without caving into to the CCP.
      We have lost our moral bearings.
      Respectfully, Patricia

  3. J. Simon Harris

    The art world is certainly in a self-contained bubble. The problem is, much of the art being produced today isn’t appreciated by the general public, but only by members of the community producing the art. It makes artists and poets seem like this elitist group of privileged experts, producing material which only they can comprehend. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if it were confined to specific communities (avant garde art can be hit or miss, but it often drives innovations in popular art), but it seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

    Nowadays, your average person seems to have a distaste for art and poetry, because the popular perception is that most artists are painting abstract squares and triangles, and most poets are writing incomprehensible free verse (and the popular perception isn’t that far off from the truth).

    I don’t think this necessarily has to be tied to politics, but it makes some sense that it is. Even so, I consider myself to be a moderate politically, not a conservative, but I agree that there is a popular yearning for a return to old forms. I also agree that there should be room for both liberals and conservatives in mainstream art: diversity, rather than self-reinforcing egotism. For instance, I don’t share the unbridled enthusiasm for Donald Trump implied by the McNaughton painting, but I can still appreciate it as a great piece of art with a strong message (and I reject the model of politics enshrined by the 24-hour news media outlets that you must religiously endorse one side and vehemently object to the other, or even that there are “two sides” to every issue and every person).

    So I don’t necessarily share the politics of everyone on this site, but I think we nonetheless share a common vision of where the world of art and poetry ought to be going. Thanks for this well written and illuminating essay. I hope a new Renaissance really is at hand: a return to realism in art, and a return to form in poetry.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    Thank you, Mr. Harris, for expressing my thoughts more succinctly than I could have done myself. As for sharing the politics of everyone on this site, I must confess that there are days when I am not convinced that I even agree with my own political point of view!

    Also, re Mr. Sale, a well-made point concerning the Left’s self-descriptive term, “Progressive.” I suppose the shift to this new, somewhat disingenuous, term was necessary given that the traditional understanding of the word, “Liberal,” was no longer applicable.

    And, Evan, thank you for the thoughtful, insightful article.

  5. David Paul Behrens

    I enjoyed this essay. Whenever I have gone to art museums or galleries, I have always been much more impressed by the masters of classical art, depicting reality. Sometimes modern and abstract art can be somewhat interesting, but not at all on the same level as the great masters of long ago.

  6. Sharmon Gazaway

    Excellent and encouraging article! It’s a shame that what used be thought of as taste now has to be referred to as “conservative”. As an aside, I reject the term “politically correct” and refer to it as “liberally correct”. Here in the South it’s simply known as manners, and the Golden Rule. Hard to be prejudiced when you treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
    Thanks for all your hard work.

  7. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    The world owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Mantyk for having sustained not only the vibrant online forum, but also the gorgeous, annual Journal of the Society of Classical Poets (which I recommend to all and sundry as an excellent series to collect, as its literary value will only increase over time).

    I am greatly honored that the President of the SCP had shown the courage to publish both the Inaugural Poem and the Letter to England—this latter continuing to draw attention on social media in Britain.

    As I write not as a conservative, but as a Catholic whose sole ideology is the Cross, the Society of Classical Poets has proven all the more brave in allowing some of the Sonnets for Christ the King to appear in its pages at a time of ferocious anti-Catholic persecution both here in the United States and Britain.

    For, the first condition of excellence in a nation’s poetry is a sense of literary honor in its editors—a quality Evan Mantyk possesses in abundance.

  8. James Sale

    Yes, I agree with Mr Mackenzie here in that the editor does have wide-ranging, catholic and empathic tastes which really do support the quite amazingly diverse types of poets that appear on these pages. I think the concept of ‘classical’ has been extremely helpful in this respect: the link in the word seems to be the respect for tradition, forms, and what can only be called, if the word spiritual is avoided, then transcendental must be invoked.

  9. Evan Mantyk

    Thank you all for your kind remarks! A special thank you to Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Michael Curtis, two visionaries who have written part of this article with the sweat, ink, and blood of their lives. Everyone participating in the Society has in fact contributed. Like the relatively better poems and parts of poems that I think I have written, the words, ideas, and connections on the piece above were almost effortlessly written, as if the words were there already, hanging in the air, and only needed me to transcribe them. These are truths that are self-evident and are becoming more evident to more people every day that passes.

  10. David Watt

    Thank you Evan for continuing to provide a positive impetus to traditional poetry and art. The rediscovery of traditional poetry, in particular, has a long way to go in Australia. At present, traditional poetry is almost a taboo subject, except for within small groups of older enthusiasts. There is light at the end of the ‘left-leaning’ tunnel.

  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    Let me make one point that is almost always overlooked in the “liberal vs. conservative” argument.

    This polarity is invariably viewed as two sides of a political disagreement. In fact, that is not the case at all, except tangentially.

    Conservatism is not political. Conservatism is health and sanity. It is the normal mindset in every healthy culture and society, from the highly civilized down to the openly savage. Every human society conserves and protects what it is and what it loves, in a reflexive and unconscious manner. This happens in the same natural way as one’s lungs pump air, and one’s arteries pump blood. To be a conservative is to be a healthy, sane, rational human being, whether you live in London or in the wilds of Siberia.

    Liberalism is what is political. It is a form of insanity (sometimes comparatively mild, and sometimes rabidly psychotic) that seeks to overthrown and upset and rearrange the society in which it operates. Conservatism is the natural state of a healthy society; liberalism is a parasitical intrusion that undermines that health. Liberalism always functions politically, since that is the primary way to obtain power to effect changes.

    It is a major rhetorical mistake to buy into the liberal argument that the fight between liberalism and conservatism is a conflict over “political ideas.” That play directly into the hands of the enemy. Liberalism is a poisonous political parasitism that is attempting to upend social structures and norms. Conservatism is just the healthy reaction of a society that seeks to fight this poison. It is not “political” — though in the current situation it must make use of political tools.

    Conservatism only becomes “political” as a method of resisting liberal infection. It takes on a political coloration and it uses political tools AS A MEANS OF DEFENSE. Since the outbreak of the French Revolution, conservatism has had to act politically, just as antibodies or white blood cells work in the body to fight off disease.

  12. Laura Donovan

    As I listened to the book of Esther while weeding my lavender bed the phrase, “Paint a pretty picture.” popped into my head. I played with it for a minute and then ran in the house to work it into this little poem.

    Paint a pretty picture of a royalty
    The hearth and home filled with majesty

    Paint a pretty picture of the delicacies
    Served on trays made of golden filigree

    Paint a harsh stroke of a woman bold
    A heart lifted high and a shoulder cold

    Paint a handsome picture of a king so true
    Loving you, wondering what to do.

    Paint a smear of a vain, wifely defect
    Seven nobles work to restore respect

    Paint an abstract of a heart undone
    The parents dead there is only one

    Paint a pretty picture of an Uncle kind
    A friend to mentor soul and mind

    Paint and edict from the palace royal
    A wife must be found true and loyal

    Paint a masterpiece, one of Mordecai
    He honored God and lifted Him high

    Paint with acrylic a man filled with hate
    A temper and rage, he would not wait…

    Paint a watercolor of a land undone
    A people bewildered at the setting sun

    Paint a portrait of a girl caught between
    The kingdom throne and her nationality

    Paint a sleepless night and a heart to examine
    The book that chronicles your fame and famine

    Paint a dark descent of a boastful man
    Who thought he’d won the kings own hand

    Paint the sour grapes of humility
    How can it be? That horse was for me!

    Paint the conceit vast in its extreme
    To manage the king for your own scheme

    Paint a rainbow of God who knew
    Who watched and waited to rescue you

    Paint a pretty picture of the possibilities
    Of plans and paths which you do not see.

  13. Laura Donovan

    A Sestina, my first incorrectly done. Yes, I am being presumptuous posting here.

    My heart is beating out a measure as I wait.
    I sit quietly beside this glassy shield …and long.
    A ship that sails through the night waiting for its harbor.
    When peak and valley will level and become one, I will drink!
    On that day as I sit at the table prepared for me I will eat!
    My eyes turn neither to the left nor to the right but rest on my Beloved.

    Yes, on that day my eyes will take their fill of my Beloved.
    For persevering, the race I ran, the pace–I must wait.
    The warrior staunch within me, Thy Word’s were found and I did eat.
    The dark night raged yet fiercely did I battle hard and …still long.
    For there will be no satisfaction for me unless my thirst is quenched and in Him I drink.
    At that time, I will think of rest, of safety, tucked within thy breast, my safe harbor.

    An appointed hour is set for me to cross the waters of the divide into my safe harbor.
    Your voice is calling me, leading me, drawing me in great anticipation to my Beloved.
    O, the victory, the taste and the pleasure of my Overcoming Drink.
    It seems the clock has locked, the hands set still as we each with impatience wait.
    Maidens check your oil; singers lift your voice in praise! For time hastens He will not be long!
    This mouth will receive from His own hand a savory morsel from His table and eat.

    Some say, “Come, listen, learn from me, I will give you something good to eat”.
    I receive the warning not to tarry for these are not the ones to carry me to my safe harbor.
    What a fallacy to listen, on my face the tears glisten as I continue on my journey, and long.
    The struggle wearies, the heartache grips, yet it is all worth the wait.
    Now I must search the path to see where I missed the sign that leads homeward to my Beloved.
    For in great anticipation my mouth waters for just a taste of His Drink.

    His wine is a vintage of suffering, still, He called it a joy to bear my pain; of His cup I chose to drink.
    His blood poured out a sacrifice, his bruised and torn body given for me to freely eat.
    I chose to be watchful with my face held up in grave and joyous anticipation, yes wait.
    A cloud of witnesses is anchored there upon the Rock within my safe Harbor.
    I recognize His likeness in those around me and see creation declare the glories of my Beloved.
    How near yet distant the time can often see, a day or a thousand years for one to long.

    To each their own scale a measure, judge for yourself what you will treasure and I will long.
    Until with thirst quenched by mysteries revealed and stories told–this too I will drink.
    For reserved and waiting is a priceless treasure trove to be joyfully laid at the feet of my Beloved.
    So many invitations waiting to be received please come and eat.
    There is room for one more to find rest for their soul and anchor in His safe harbor.
    I fear the longings of someones own heart will make him or her wait.

    We hear tales of Christ coming, does it make you long to eat?
    Do you wonder if there really is a drink to partake and a place to safely harbor?
    I know my beloved adores you, I hope you will not wait.

  14. Ron Whittle

    This is just another
    sign of the times
    In laws, Outlaws, Thieves, Looters
    and Patrons
    must wear face masks
    before entry is allowed
    per the order of the Governor
    The Police are not allowed to know
    who you are
    and you must keep your distance
    six feet a part and only use
    the appropriate direction up or down
    or back and forth in the isles
    as so marked on the floors
    Anyone caught changing the
    directional arrows
    will be shot at sunrise
    Looting is only permitted
    during the late night hours
    which is somehow different than
    out and out stealing
    during any hours
    Arson, Looting, Murder, rape
    and destruction of property
    is releasable offense
    providing directional arrows
    are followed
    according to the legal system.
    Anyone caught running a fever
    will have to self quarantine for
    fourteen days no matter your
    Present day felons
    are to be given every chance to
    escape arrest by whatever means
    they so chose and who ever’s life
    they must take
    and we must somehow lay the
    blame at the feet of the President
    for the failure of local government
    to do what needs to be done
    to end the riots
    The truth is out there
    but you gotta find it
    it’s hidden itself mostly in the burbs
    not wanting to be recognized

  15. Laurence P Burris

    I am very excited in not only reading articles, essays, and poems on your site, but also contributing some poetry.


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