Politics’ Role in the Arts


By Paola Guzman

Politics is everywhere, hidden in the most unexpected places, and drives most people to do what they do. Essentially, politics is a set of guidelines to help people thrive as a society. The beginning of politics came naturally to civilization- Ancient Greeks, Native Americans and African tribal systems; therefore, it would be expected to expect politics entrenched into art, literature, cinema, theater, and music. Things that are supposed to be entertaining and abstract, are usually parallel to the current state of the world, intentionally or unintentionally.
Creativity, as defined by Agustin Fuentes, an anthropologist of the University of Notre Dame, is “to look at the world around us, see how it is and imagine other possibilities that are not immediately present or based on our immediate personal experience.” Writer Jeffrey Kluger of Time magazine in an article on the science of creativity wrote that creativity is nothing but “moving matter around.”
To be creative seems like an innate and magical thing that happens within certain people. But, how much of what we create is actually summoned by things that don’t exist, or parts of things that don’t exist. Our minds rely on our empirical knowledge to create, to “move matter around,” so when we see the world, we feel we have the power to change it.
A sculptor who looks at a block of clay and molds it into a bust, didn’t create the clay. Or, a writer did not create words, but created a story. Or an accountant didn’t create numbers or money, but created a budget proposal.
It’s only natural that we create from what’s around us. Some things may be more prominent than others. But what is a recurring theme in the arts is politics. Our personal experience….
Artists like Jenny Holzer’s truisms and inflammatory essays were specifically targeting social and political issues in the 70’s. Picasso’s famous Guernica painting was a representation of the horror of war, a commentary on society and politics. The Whitney Museum had a whole floor dedicated to protest art called “An Incomplete History of Protest,” against racism and homophobia in Summer 2018.
How about musically? Kanye said “Bush hates black people,” initiating a political dialogue in his music for years to come. J.Cole, who is known to support Colin Kaepernick, makes politically-motivated statements in his music all the time.
Cinema and plays are filled with political commentary: “Angels in America” comments on the LGBTQ community in the 80s, and “Hamilton” initiates a dialogue on immigration, U.S. history and politics.
We cannot create from things that don’t exist. We pull, bend, break and rearrange from our immediate personal experience. And recently, a lot of people see the role of politics affecting their lives.
So, does that mean that art is supposed to be political? Should the artist have that responsibility?
In Albert Camus’ essay “Create Dangerously” he discusses the artist’s responsibility to use their platform as a singer, artist, filmmaker, creative to open a politically-motivated dialogue.
He states that not doing so, would be to create meaninglessly. To not have your creative projects be influenced by current political or social issues would be to create a negation. And whether you believe that or not, you will be judged for either. If you decide to speak up, you’re criticized, and if you don’t you’re also judged for that.
Not only is there social isolation to worry about, there’s physical danger that artists endure when making their art public. How will people interpret it? What will it add to the political climate at the time?
Camus wrote, “it is obvious why we have more journalists than creative writers, more boy-scouts of painting than Cezannes, and why sentimental tales or detective novels have taken the place of War and Peace or The Charterhouse of Parma.”
Creators want to create, and those creations will always have political value. Every art piece makes a political statement, and just because you’re oblivious to it, does not mean it doesn’t exist.



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Politics in Music

October 11, 2018