ⓘ The arts and politics


ⓘ The arts and politics

A strong relationship between the arts and politics, particularly between various kinds of art and power, occurs across historical epochs and cultures. As they respond to contemporaneous events and politics, the arts take on political as well as social dimensions, becoming themselves a focus of controversy and even a force of political as well as social change.

A widespread observation is that a great talent has a free spirit. For instance Pushkin, who some scholars regard as Russias first great writer, attracted the mad irritation of the Russian officialdom and particularly of the Tsar, since he "instead of being a good servant of the state in the rank and file of the administration and extolling conventional virtues in his vocational writings if write he must, composed extremely arrogant and extremely independent and extremely wicked verse in which a dangerous freedom of thought was evident in the novelty of his versification, in the audacity of his sensual fancy, and in his propensity for making fun of major and minor tyrants."


1. History of art and social and political change

According to Groys, "Art has its own power in the world, and is as much a force in the power play of global politics today as it once was in the arena of cold war politics."

Pertaining to such politically-intractable phenomena as the Modern conflicts in the Middle East, however, some artists and social critics believe that "art is useless as a tool for political change." There are, nevertheless, examples where artists employ art in the service of political change.


2. The role of poetry

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

The Italian poet Ungaretti, when interviewed on transgression by director Pasolini for the 1964 Love Meetings documentary, said that the foundation of poetry is to transgress all laws: "I am a poet and as such I begin transgressing all the laws by doing poetry".


3. Examples

Poster art

"Not content with claiming leftwing music", posters for the Conservative Party in the UK recycled iconic art styles of "socialist revolution" to communicate its political message in 2008.


3.1. Examples Situationist International

The Situationist International SI, a small group of international political and artistic agitators with roots in Marxism, Lettrism and the early 20th-century European artistic and political avant-gardes formed in 1957, aspired to major social and political transformations; before disbanding in 1972 and splitting into a number of different groups, including the Situationist Bauhaus, the Antinational, and the Second Situationist International, the first SI became active in Europe through the 1960s and elsewhere throughout the world and was characterized by an anti-capitalist and surrealist perspective on aesthetics and politics, according to Italian art historian Francesco Poli. In the works of the situationists, Italian scholar Mirella Bandini observes, there is no separation between art and politics; the two confront each other in revolutionary terms.

Historically, revolutionary ideas have emerged first among artists and intellectuals. Thats why a precise mechanism to defuse the role of artists and intellectuals is to relegate them into specialized, compartmentalized disciplines, in order to impose unnatural dichotomies as the "separation of art from politics". Once artistic-intellectual works are separated from current events and from a comprehensive critique of society, they are sterilized and can be safely integrated into the official culture and the public discourse, where they can add new flavours to old dominant ideas and play the role of a gear wheel in the mechanism of the society of the spectacle.


3.2. Examples Poster art

"Not content with claiming leftwing music", posters for the Conservative Party in the UK recycled iconic art styles of "socialist revolution" to communicate its political message in 2008.


3.3. Examples Russian aesthetics

According to Esti Sheinberg, a lecturer in music at the University of Edinburgh, in her book Irony, Satire, Parody and the Grotesque in the Music of Shostakovich, in "the traditional Russian perception of the arts", an "interrelationship between artistic technique and ideological content is the main aesthetic criterion" ix; cf. Blois.


3.4. Examples Classical music

Ludwig van Beethoven did not use the original title "Ode to Freedom" of Friedrich Schillers lyric, known in English as "Ode to Joy" 1785, in setting it to music in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony 1824, which "Napoleonic censors had forced the poet to change to Ode to Joy." After the fall of the Berlin Wall, on 9 November 1989, that Christmas Day, when Leonard Bernstein conducted a performance of Beethovens Ninth at the site of the former East German–West German border in Berlin, a concert telecast nationally in the United States, he substituted Freedom for Joy to reflect his own "personal message".


3.5. Examples Folk and protest music

In February 1952, the United States Customs Service seized the passport of Paul Robeson, preventing him from leaving the United States to travel to the Fourth Canadian Convention of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; but, after "The convention heard Robeson sing over the telephone", the union organized "a concert on the US-Canada border". According to the account of the "Paul Robeson Centennial Celebration": "Robeson sang and spoke for 45 minutes. He introduced his first song stating I stand here today under great stress because I dare, as do you - all of you, to fight for peace and for a decent life for all men, women and children …. Live music is now a threat to the prevention of terrorism. In response, Detective Superintendent Dave Eyles from the Mets clubs and vice office told us that 10.000 such Risk Assessments would be processed this year. He said they werent compulsory. We cant demand it – we recommend that you provide it as best practice. But youre bloody silly if you dont, because youre putting your venue at risk.

By early March 2009, over 16.000 British citizens or residents had signed McClures E-Petition, which remained open to potential signatories until 1 December 2009.