All Art is Political-Discuss

I have an essay to write for an art class. The instructor wants us to explore the idea that ‘All Art is Political’. I am at a loss. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. I love to look a beautiful work and can appreciate its beauty, but I would never be able to ascribe a political position to its creation. Not only that, but I hate politics. I avoid it if at all possible, preferring to focus on the problems that are directly in my sphere.

I am looking for ideas that either support or deny this concept to reasearch for my essay. Any ideas of where to look for information on the web would be helpful as well. I do love historical art, especially that of the dark ages.

Hold your nose and look up the Frankfurt School. Then dispute everything they had to say.

The idea makes no sense at all. And it is an extreme claim, one that demands some strong evidence to be taken seriously. No one in all of human history, in all of civilization draws or sculpts or sings anything except for political reasons? Never just because they want to make something pretty, or just for fun, or for a celebration, or as a school project, or even just because they are paid to make it to sell a product? Some little kid draws a crayon drawing of Mommy, and it’s political? Come on.

Seems to me to be not so different from claiming that “all ideas are political”; a claim which, if you stretch the meaning of “political” far enough, I guess you could argue.

If you wish, then it is merely a matter of defining art sufficiently narrow or politics broadly. The stick-men drawing any child will make. Perhaps it is not art, because it is not politics by any usual definition of that word. I just made a drawing of some lines and circles. It can’t be art, because it sure as hell isn’t political.

Ah, but you, of course, are part of bourgeois society, and therefore bourgeois politics influence everything you do, including the art you just created.

Yes, ok. It is a silly discussion. But to play along, then there is a difference between being influenced by politics and making a political statements oneself.

And in any case can a thing be political if it isn’t seen by anybody but its creator? It seems to me that politics must reach out to other people and try to change the world. But a man can, for instance, write a brilliant poem and put it in his drawer where it’s never seen by anybody again. This doesn’t detract from its art qualities, but since it will never have an effect on the world, then I don’t think it is political. Art is innate, politics is interactive.

“No” makes for a very short, but accurate essay. However I suspect that is not what your tutor is wanting.
As someone mentioned before, you can stretch the definitions of “art” and “politics” as far as you like and any conclusion would be valid.
I suspect your tutor is just prompting you to come up with something that is at least internally consistent and leads to some interesting conclusions (because there certainly isn’t any objectively “correct” answer)

I hate that kind of stuff. If all art is political, and everything is art (another fatuous belief), then the term political has lost all meaning as it can not be used to differentiate one thing from another.

It’s like saying all colors are blue. How about red? It’s just a shade of blue. Yellow? Just a shade of blue. Green? Nope, still bluish.

It reminds me of some of the arguments I’ve heard in the past from extreme feminists and animal rights activists that make men/humans out to be ruthless exploiters by defining every possible relationship with another creature as being about power and exploitation. And then acting as if that proved that men/people are ruthless oppressive exploiters.

Okay my idea is art like politics because they both draw you in to a subject matter. Make you want to hear more, see more. And when you like when you see, hear you go out and seek this person and find more out about this person and learn about them and red about see what else they have done in the past.

            Ok see I know nothing about art really that was a bull shit. So what you have to do it think about the subject. matter you know the most about and word it in a way that doesn't make the other sound off.  This makes me miss college.

It shouldn’t be too hard if you define your terms and stick to them. Take the definition of politics as something like the study of relations between people or groups of people. Define art either in a sufficiently restrictive manner to provide yourself with focus, or so broadly as to encompass practically anything produced by people. Then write about how one group’s work is relating to, or commenting on, or influencing, or getting a reaction from another group.

There’s an endless supply of things you could focus on. To rehash well-covered (but relatively modern) ground, read some on Dadaism and see where that takes you. Or think about Sasha Baron Cohen’s material, or Lenny Bruce. Heck, Maine Governor LePage’s mural removal could be worked into your essay as a near-literal art/politics nexus.

But an example that’s cooler than those – I just watched (and highly recommend) Exit Through the Gift Shop. I had thought it was a retrospective of Banksy’s material, which I’ve “stumbled upon” on internet sites and always enjoyed. I expected to see some Banksy graffiti, listen to some interviews with him, and just spend an enjoyable hour and a half on a (relatively) current topic. But, oh, it was so much better than I expected, ending up – IMHO and interpretation – as a meta-commentary on an entire part of the art world.

Or, you could always reject the premise and go the other way, which might require different definitions. I hope some of that is helpful, at least providing some ways in for thinking about the topic; seems like an assignment full of potential to me.

I’m pretty sure the flowers, ducks, and bunnies hanging on my fridge have no political agenda.
You may not call this art but to my 5 year olds it is indeed a true and deep expression of what they feel.

Art is political because it is based entirely on opinion. And everyone looks down their nose at anyone who disagrees with their opinion.


Consider the use of art as propaganda. Look at the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the Church, Venice, etc.

Well, that would support the premise that some art is political, which is a much less controversial claim.

This is immensly helpful. I usually have no problem with essays, but I felt I had nothing to grasp with this one.

This is so true. I will make this point in my paper somewhere

Fantastic. Glad I could help.

Careful, though. If you use something like the definition of politics that I gave above, a 5 year old’s scribbles are, perhaps, the closest one can get to an individual’s expression of their relation to and influence of others (assuming some high degree of the blank-slate-ness of human development).

I thought about this question a bit during the day. One (potentially) creative way to make the case in the affirmative is to do so negatively – that is, come up with a set of dichotomies relative to “art”, then show that all of them have an artistic element to them (and are political in some sense). So, for instance, oppose “art” and “science”, or “art” and “craft”. If you can successfully make the case that even the things most unlike art are still art (and don’t forget that bad art is still art), you’re golden.

Interesting question, thanks for posting it.

I guess one could argue that since art is subject to multiple interpretations, and it is almost always possible to put a political “spin” to an interpretation, therefore all art is political. That does mean that it is always intended to be political. But there is always the capacity for someone to take it to that level. If there are enough drugs around.

Well… one could perhaps argue that they do have an agenda.

(Perhaps silly… but bear with me here…) :slight_smile:

When my cat brings home a mouse or bird what is she trying to communicate? Some people might argue that the cat is trying to prove her worth to her family… a way of saying: “keep feeding me, I’m a productive part of this group”.

Could an argument be made that the flowers, ducks, and bunnies serve a similar purpose? That they are an attempt to demonstrate worth? :wink: