I remember my first and only piece of agitprop, which happens to be forever linked with my first feelings of artistic regret. I was in seventh or eighth grade. Reagan was president, the Cold War in its final years of escalation. Mr. Levitt, the school art teacher, ruled over a spacious corner of the second floor littered with easels, tubes of paint, and jars of rubber cement. Unlike any other teacher, he wore jeans and long, frizzy hair, and though he played classical music all day, he often told stories about pop stars like Bob Dylan and Keith Richards as if he knew them personally. Our assignment: to create a poster for Art Class with a message.
I sketched my project in pencil on a large piece of white poster board, then painted it with bright water colors: a red devil complete with goatee, forked tail, and evil grin, holding the Earth, green and blue, like a medicine ball. Right over his crotch. A very phallic nuclear missile, also devil-red and decorated with the stars and stripes and hammer and sickle, burst out from the globe. Subtle it wasn’t. Mr. Levitt asked me if I wanted to enter my “Rape of the Earth” in the school art show, to be judged by the principal. I demurred. He nodded understandingly and left it at that. My chicken-shit response still rankles to this day. The poster resides in my parents’ attic.
-Langdon Cook is a writer, instructor, and lecturer on wild foods and the outdoors. Join him in a discussion with Spilled Milk co-creators Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg on March 22 at 6pm.