johnsu01 (johnsu01) wrote,
johnsu01
johnsu01

Art in the US Political System

Making art that is appreciated by only a small group of people --- poetry, for example --- is particularly political. Other forms of art --- ugly bronze park bench statues, for example (fuck Robert Frost) --- are less political because there is an economic incentive that will power them forward. They have the protection of the patron saint of Profit. Their freedom will disappear after ours. It's the stuff at the margins that really needs to be done.

But I'm sick of feelin' impotent
watchin' the world burn
in the era of apocalypse
waitin' my turn

(Immortal Technique, Harlem Streets)

There is a fear among artists with a political conscience that instead of doing art, they should be doing something to directly help reform the political system.

They shouldn't be painting or writing; they should be lobbying, collecting signatures, going on hunger strikes, kickin' it with Cindy Sheehan.

Most of us could probably lean more in that direction. We could do more. We should do more. But not necessarily at the expense of art.

The usual response is to rise to the challenge by explaining how one's art carries political content; it makes some statement, communicates a message, pushes some boundaries.

But, the fact is, art in the US American political system is inherently political.

Lobbying for a free society entails two things. One is working to get the right rules in place --- this is the part where we feel guilty. But the crucial second part is to exercise the freedom we think we should have in a free society. Use it or lose it. Doing art is an exercise of that freedom, whether or not there is a message being communicated. Rights and freedoms are containers we are given to fill. If we don't fill them, and show what things they can be filled with, it's harder for anyone to argue that we should have them at all.

Don't we need some criteria? Drinking a beer on my couch is an exercise of freedom. Is that political?

There's a good chance that if you're having a beer on my couch, I'm there, and we're complaining about the Republicans or the Democrats, so --- maybe. But it's pretty tough to say that the mere fact of sitting on my couch and drinking a beer is political, no matter who brought the beer.

The difference is the context. Art is at risk. Artists are at risk. Making a piece of art, being an artist, is political because it and we are an endangered species.

When they start corralling beer drinkers into Free Beer Zones and requiring permits, then only political criminals will drink beer on my couch.

Making art that is appreciated by only a small group of people --- poetry, for example --- is particularly political. Other forms of art --- ugly bronze park bench statues, for example (fuck Robert Frost) --- are less political because there is an economic incentive that will power them forward. They have the protection of the patron saint of Profit. Their freedom will disappear after ours. It's the stuff at the margins that really needs to be done.

Tags: art, economics, poetry, politics, united states
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