Politics and Art: Power Gently Resting In The Palm Of Your Hand

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Let’s get this out of the way: Politics definitely belongs in art.

People are inevitably political; we form alliances and tribes, we try to figure out how to reach our goals. We are political with our friends and family, co-workers and enemies, and everyone else. Politics is human, and humans make art, and all art is a statement on the person and the time it is made – politics is always there.

Politics is human, art is human, all art is political.

You cannot remove art from politics, and anyone telling you that you can wants you to obey their politics. They’re not telling you to “take something out” when they say they don’t want politics, they want you to conform to them. They’re liars (which often makes them poor artists)

Attempts to remove politics from art really is an attempt to make art conform to someone else’s politics.

If you attempt to remove politics from art, even sincerely, you flush it of everything that makes it real. It is unemotional. It lacks context. It avoids cause and effect. Not only is it essentially impossible, any attempt to do so makes it boring.

Even if you try to remove art from politics, you will only destroy the art while trying to conform.

Therefore the only thing you can do is embrace the political in art, to take it all the way. Dive into the experience and make good art. Good art stands on its own, speaks for itself, and is true – even if the truth might be hard, or worse indicate your art is bad. At least you know.

We might as well dive deep into politics in our art because it will make good art – or reveal our own flaws.

It is inevitable if we dive into making art sincerely, to embrace ever side of it including politics, that we will surprise ourselves. Art is a process of realization, and as we all know a work inevitably changes as we create it. That surprise is a sign we’re doing it right – as we express things (including politics) we learn about ourselves, our ideas, and what they mean (or that our ideas aren’t so good).

Good art shocks you and surprises you because as you make it you are learning.

If you are not surprised by your art, if it does not lead you to new paths and thoughts, then something is wrong. You’re not creating, you’re just churning things out, you aren’t learning. If your art is exceptionally political, then it’s likely you’re not exploring your ideas.

If your art, especially art that is intensely political, isn’t surprising you then you’re not learning anything.

I find the best way to approach art and politics is to hold your work “lightly.” Don’t grasp it tightly and try to force it into one form, but let it grow and evolve, let new ideas flow into it and lessons flow out of it. By letting your work grow you grow.

Don’t cling to your art much, let it grow, so you grow as well.

Finally, be ready to let your art into the world. Each time you create you grow and expand. Each work created that way will affect people and make them think. From this you’ll learn even more – to make your next work.

Let art have contact with others so they and you can grow to make your next work.

Of course, you may realize that a work created sincerely, openly, evolving and growing could be a very dangerous work indeed. What can you make without giving in to fit current politics, or to fit into your current ego? What dreams can you make that may change the world for the better?

Well, why not find out? Don’t be afraid . . .

. . . but people that should be afraid of what you can create should fear that somewhere out there, someone is making the art that will challenge them.

Steven Savage