June 10, 2020

Art and Politics


Art and politics are mutually exclusive realms. While art may care for politics, politics doesn't really give a damn about art. In the broad, diffuse, Aristotelian sense; man is / people are political animals because living together is an endless negotiation. But in the specifics of existence, politics is an expedient, it is strictly functional. Politics either does or does not deliver a live well lived. By contrast, art is another creature altogether.

Subject and medium are fundamental component aspects of art, and the torque of power between them is regulated by emotion. The range of feeling in existence is profound, reflected and refracted as it is between humans. It's calibrated to the cycles of planetary time and arcs of human life. Politics, by contrast, pursues specified objectives. Politics manipulates emotion towards its' own narrow purposes. Politics is automatically obliged to control art and this compulsion is never quenched. Politics is awash in emotion and seldom is it easy to discern the cynical from the genuine.

Poles Apart

One must be careful in the use of the political ordinates of right and left. There are nuanced differences across the Atlantic. In one sense, the Right and Left, the Communist Left and the Fascist Right, are socialist twins locked in an endless sibling rivalry. This chiral divide stems from the Tennis Court Oath in the French Revolution. The life they deliver is roughly the same, while the method of delivery varies. The former is distinguished by a common ownership of the means of production and a classless society. In the latter, a one party dictatorial government blends public and private economies and regiments the population. In Europe, a parliamentary democracy is the negotiating plane between these two political ordinates, Left and Right. However, as different the twins may be, both deliver roughly the same common civic product in socialist terms.

There are transatlantic commonalities, however. In another sense, the Right and Left represents the Conservative and Liberal. Closer to the normative definitions of these terms, the former is preoccupied with preserving accumulated wisdom from enduring social structures across generations. It wants to build onto to what was built before, to stand on the shoulders of giants, as Newton famously said. The latter yearns to be unconstrained, it is expansive and prefers to see the world anew, to be free of the sinews of history. Liberalism tends to ask the troubling questions, to transgress established boundaries, to yearn for what lies over the horizon.

The Constitution of the United States of America precedes the French Revolution and the European conceptualization of the Right and Left. The political DNA of the USA lies outside of the bipolar paradigm of the Continent. The Constitution was pragmatically engineered to resist tyranny via a governmental structure of checks and balances. As such, it makes no promises towards paradise, leaving that task to each citizen. And as such, it lies outside of the scope of the Continental orientation of Right and Left.


Some wags like to tease those who choose the political center by saying that those who stand in the middle of the road will be run down. I have come to abhor both political extremes in any sense. I believe that the further one travels down either road, you arrive at an unquenchable lust for power, ideas be damned. I do believe that the center of gravity for the arts is to the Liberal Left since creativity requires the solvent of transgression for its initiation. But without access to the conserving instinct, the wisdom of generations are lost to us, and so creative pivot and balance must have access to that realm. It is the median territory that requires the most intellectual resources to manage its' dynamics. The center ground requires rationality, the space where we can reason things out, persuade one another. Empathy. Vulnerability. Compassion. Note that the root word within rationality is ratio, as in ratiocinate, to form judgements by the process of logic and reason. Through the awareness of contrast, consciousness arises.

Those who commit all to one side or the other merely flop around in circles, getting nowhere. Miasma. Disorientation. Dissolution. Unchecked, the loss of fulcrum renders one useless. The further you travel in either direction away from the center, the more one gets fenced in with cultish dogma. By the way, a cult is a group you can't leave without being inflicted with grave damage. Much like the cults such as Scientology, plumbing the ever deepening layers of dogma delivers you to the most absurd places, so much so that all reason must be abandoned and you are left prostrate to the idol of power.

Art and value.

Art isn't good merely because it is ardently political. Politics isn't good merely because it is artful. Art is its own sovereign realm. Art is emotion made concrete. Art history is charged with moving art that were generated by political preoccupations. And the argument that all that we do as asocial human being has political content. But politics is extremely temporal, contingent on the social dynamics of its' historical moment. Within this understanding, even the Mona Lisa possesses political content... but it is as enigmatic to us today as her smile. Politics is hard enough to understand as it is minted in the moment, and exponentially harder to comprehend in the wholeness of its' truth the farther we are from the time of its' manifestation.

It's hard to say what makes art good or great, and this is why it has an eternal aspect, linked as it is to human destiny. This is why the greatest art critics are poets, paralleling as they do their subjects with their own parallel art form. Hippocrates aphorism VÄ«ta brevis, ars longa has travelled some distance from the original meaning, but today's understanding has purchase still.

Politics is short, too.



A snip from a previous post bears repeating:

I know both worlds wherever they are. I love them. I know them all intimately. I know their shortcomings. I know just what kind of wretched they can be. I know them in their glory. I criticize them and defend them from each other.

Civil war sickens me.

Postscript 2:


That is all.

Posted by Dennis at June 10, 2020 3:46 PM

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