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

No More Heroes, All The Heroes

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

After it became obvious Biden would indeed fairly win the 2020 election, I saw praise for the “heroes” of the election. This activist may be lauded one day, the next a bureaucrat doing their job, and later an elected official showing a shocking amount of integrity. The heroes changed from day to day, but in all cases the praise felt the same – “this lone person/persons was all that stood between us and Dictatorship!”

Which is bullshit and I wish to discuss the bullshit. In fact, after the 2020 election we need less bullshit and consider this my small contribution to reducing the amount of bovine feces in political discourse.

Too many times I witness Americans seek the hero or heroes, the single person or small group that changes the world. There is doubtlessly a great deal of psychology and cultural analysis to be done here, though for me that may be for another time. I suspect it’s a combination of national myth, remnants of the Great Man theory of history, our media, and a large amount of parental issues. I would also add there’s plenty of ego as well – if there is a Great Hero Astride History you can be that person – or pretend to be online!

But the Lone Hero or Lone Small Group of Heroes really doesn’t stand up to reality and is cruel to those doing good things.

A functioning world depends on many people, as we have learned during the COVID-19 crisis when we suddenly discovered “Essential Workers” (and have in many cases unforgivably forgotten them). Our election saw activists texting and phone banking and protesting and their names are rarely in the news or even known. Legions of people processed votes, provided security, monitored for discrepancies, and no one is interviewing them or writing books about them. Even elected and appointed officials doing their jobs are legion, even if we’re surprised they show anything close to actual principles.

This is a terrifying reality for us to accept. In some ways there are no heroes, no one person is coming to save us, there’s no one to look at and say “they have it under control.” If there are no real heroes, then there is no chance for us to be praised and lauded. If there are no real heroes then all we have is each other, and that’s messy and complicated.

It also means we better get to work because life is all hands on deck.

But also this is a wonderful reality to accept. There is an army of people out there ensuring things work, often unappreciated – but we can appreciate them. There are legions out there doing the right thing – and these are people we can help and amplify our own power. This also means the world doesn’t have to hinge on one hero – or one villain – if we only remember that there are a lot of us out there who frankly don’t need them – or can prevent them.

Heroes give the world shape as we can understand the laudable. Heroes give us role models, and we certainly need all we can get. But we need to recognize that pathological ideas about heroes only harms us, makes us seek perfect parental figures. Instead let heroes be humble so we too can be humble, and let them be swappable so we can find the hero we need as opposed to clinging to one.

Besides, it is is cruel in the end to rely on others to save us. Now in the age of COVID-19 we try to ignore the exhausted doctors, the working people in masks and goggles hoping not to get ill, the scientists operating on no sleep. But because they are legion, because it’s hard to find that Special Standout Person among so many, they are oft ignored. If we didn’t seek heroes so much, maybe we’d roll up our sleeves and help all the people doing important things.

Hard work sounds better to me.

Steven Savage

Consuming Creativity

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

Tyrants and those that would control us fear creativity. They can be out-imagined, out-thought, and thrown down often by means they didn’t foresee. Tyrants fear creativity.

Though tyrants may try to ape it, or own it, or redirect it, tyrants also try to hold people in their iron grip. Those they cannot deceive or bring over to their cause, they gladly terrorize. Indeed, such people revel in power anyway, and will do so until overthrown and thoroughly broken.

That terror can consume creativity.

When you are afraid, your resources rally to survive. In the terror produced by tyrants, your creative abilities easily focus on simply getting through the day. This can sap your creative powers, as you are spending so much effort surviving, you can’t imagine what is needed to overthrow a tyrant and give them the fate they deserve.

I don’t think tyrants entirely do this by design – terror is the coin of their realm. But they certainly are glad to have you so worried you can’t scheme against them.

Therefore it is the duty of a creative person to maintain that creative spark at all costs, because losing it costs all.

The simplest way is to make space for creative work – to draw, to write, to speak, to joke. To keep that area of your life where creativity is more than survival doesn’t just keep the flame of imagination going, it powers it. As long as you can see new vistas and make new songs, you can find new ways to survive the tyrant’s rein, and do your part to end it.

A creative should also remember that by keeping their creativity going, they help others. A song can soothe those terrorized by would-be rulers. A joke can lead to laughter and release, giving people a moment to see how small the tyrant is. A game can inspire and lead people to new ideas to resist and defeat a dictator. Remembering what your creativity does for others aids you.

But there is one other path – to use survival to inspire you.

Turning your creative energies to survive and prosper under a tyrant, to work towards their just reward, can be a great motivator. To dream of ways to communicate to others, to undermine evil, to free the imprisoned harnesses your creativity. It also gives you a sense of power – you have gone from surviving to finding the potential of triumph.

We should take joy in the ways we creatively battle the evils of the world.

But one should always cultivate a diversity of creativity – we should sing while we scheme against the king, the acid words of a good joke can be turned to the clever worlds of a good polemic. We should always keep that raw fire of creativity burning, not only taking pleasure in the eventual defeat of a dictator. Keeping that primal creativity keeps the infinite potential at the ready.

Besides, if one focuses only on the overthrow of a tyrant richly deserving defeat, then one may loose touch with all the creative things they can do. If you do that, you might become a tyrant yourself as you loose that vital, human, imagination.

Steven Savage