Art and Politics

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Art and Politics examines how the combination can be detrimental to the integrity of the artist and to the quality of art produced by a culture as a whole. Art and politics in my view are like mixing oil and water. Great ingredients for salad dressing but lethal for art.

Granted that many old master paintings would depict political or religious themes. Their sponsors were either church or state. That was not the painter’s primary objective though, as evidenced by the quality of their works.

If their objective was only to produce propaganda on behalf of their benefactors, we would not have the exquisite paintings hanging in the world’s museums today that convey a transcendence over subject matter, suggesting the sublime universal answers to human existence.

To produce propaganda the artist must subordinate his personality and artistic theories to that purpose. The old masters were painting for the purpose of their own understanding of the world and of art.

Art and Politics – Totalitarian Propaganda

My first college level art class was taught by a young professor who distributed to the class, although not as required reading and distributed innocuously, the writings of Chairman Mao on Art. Was it a subtle form of indoctrination? Probably and I am glad to have dumped them in a waste basket where they belonged.

The point being is that art is a powerful medium which those with political aspirations or already in power, want to manipulate toward their own ends.

Totalitarian regimes will attack art and artist upon their seizing of power and dictate an aesthetic afterwards that would serve as a propaganda tool to further their political ends.

The results are barren cultures such as Nazi Germany or the former Soviet Union from which not one significant work of art was ever created.

Art and Politics – Art for Art’s Sake

Art for art’s sake is an idea I subscribe to. If the purpose of a work of art is subordinate to an agenda it becomes an illustration. A means to an end such as a Madison Avenue advertising campaign promoting soap or the next dictator.

Art history demonstrates how artists, when freed from the sponsorship of church or state, became more creative than any other time in human history. A free economy and a free mind are corollaries.

Today art is becoming more political. Not in the way of promoting political parties but by promoting social agendas. There is a plethora of niche art promoting everything from feminism to environmentalism. Some of these artists are supported by government grants administered by those with an agenda.

Could a young Vermeer today receive such a grant? Not unless he stopped depicting women as domestic servants. Could a barbarian who sprays graffiti on private property get a grant? Absolutely, not only a grant but accolades from the art elites who will applaud him as a voice attacking the evils of capitalism.

Art and Politics – The Artist as an Independent Thinker

The lives of most painters are an economic struggle. Most take jobs unrelated to their profession, some are fortunate to find employment related to their profession and then there are those who will take government money.

Those that take government money should realize that you are not your own master and are being manipulated. The money you accept came from fellow artist’s taxes. Why should they subsidize you, their competitor? Why not compete in the free market? It worked for Vermeer.

Once an artist abandons his integrity for the rewards offered by a benefactor who sets the terms as to what the purpose and meaning your art is to be, you cease to be an artist and become a tool.

Art and politics are a lethal mix for the artist. An artist needs to be an independent thinker. The politician needs to be a manipulator.


Source by Victor J Gruberth

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