Art as Social JusticeJun 26, 2015 07:59AM ● By Kim Carpenter
During one of Tim Guthrie’s exhibitions, a woman commented to one of his friends, “Tim is such a great photographer!” The friend replied, “He’s a really great painter, too.” The woman, somewhat perplexed, asked, “He can paint?”
That conversation encapsulates much of Guthrie’s work. The Creighton University professor who teaches in the department of journalism, new media, and computing can be classified as neither painter nor photographer, but as an artist who focuses on concepts rather than media—an approach that leaves many struggling to describe his work.
“I’ve been criticized about that ever since college,” Guthrie says. “My professor told me to pick a concentration. I chose painting, sculpture, and photography. He said, ‘No, you’re supposed to pick only one.’ I still did all three. I didn’t like the classifications. I didn’t want to be a painter. I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t want to be a sculptor. I wanted to be an artist. The medium isn’t relevant.”
What is relevant is Guthrie’s message. While his mediums vary widely, he uses them all to advocate for social justice, often by focusing on controversial issues.
In Extraordinary Rendition, a 2010 exhibition in collaboration with performance artist Doug Hayko, Guthrie created large-scale drawings that called attention to the CIA’s secret detention program and use of torture. For Big Art Giveway (2012), he commented on the one percent by creating more than 500 artworks that he gave away to local members of the 99 percent—people who typically can’t afford art. In 2013 he curated The Museum of Alternative History, an exhibition inspired by the Texas school board’s reinterpretations of history that are often included in textbooks nationwide. He invited writers and visual artists to create their own versions of history, which were presented to the public as authentic.
Although all his subjects are potentially provocative, Guthrie’s work has been acclaimed by the public and critics alike. Over the past eight years, he has received Omaha Arts & Entertainment Awards for best show, best new media artist, best visual artist, and best group show. He has shown his work regionally and nationally. Guthrie’s experimental animated film, Recalling the Trinity, which focused on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, went international with a presentation in 2010 at the Sorbonne in Paris and was shown at the Hiroshima Animation Festival that same year.
Guthrie’s current work continues to address social justice issues. For Koch Money, he overlays images of the billionaire Koch brothers—known for donating millions to finance conservative political campaigns—onto the faces of the founding fathers on U.S. currency. It’s an unconventional way to bring attention to campaign finance laws and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United, but, Guthrie notes with a smile, “No one’s ever turned down my money.”
No matter the media, Guthrie remains committed to using art for a specific purpose. “There is a consistent thread,” he explains. “I want to make information available to people.”