The Art of Politics

It is safe to say that art and politics have made for comfortable bedfellows throughout the history of both. It is much harder to say whether artists are inherently political. Or whether they become political, or if the very nature of art - that is to say the expression of one's perception of the very surroundings they live in - has been and will always be inextricably linked to, and inspired by politics.

I am reminded of just how political art can get, as I work on the portrait of the King's son by Goya. As a royal painter for the King and court, Goya had to carefully cater to the King's wishes, and yet Goya also found the room to display his discontent with Spanish policy through his personal artwork.

Of course, there is also political play within the art world, as it were. Of course in a world of inventors, creators, and massive egos there will always be power plays, and boycotts, blacklisting and fast tracked success dependent on who you know, rather than skill level and what style you adhere to.

And of course, who swims to the top, and who sinks into oblivion is also highly dependent on the actual politics of the time. Dissenting artists, until recently have been shunned by the art world and political world throughout history for the very reason speech is impeded for those who speak out. Art is a very powerful tool in creating waves of action - the visual aspect is the fastest way to ignite emotional reactions.

At the very bottom of this blog I have posted a copy of Picasso's Guernica, a specific reaction to the wars in Spain, during his lifetime. It is undoubtedly a hugely disturbing piece, once deciphered that sticks in one's mind and slowly chips away at one's moral sensibilities.

Goya had several paintings of which he used to show his concern, discontent and blatant outrage of the current political climate he was in.

So too, did many artists I went to school with, myself included. It leads one to wonder however, would art be the same without politics? Would politics suffer without art? Just how much political sway does art actually have?

It is food for thought, at the very least.


Alex Mcone said...

When you think about it, I guess politics and art have a near perfect symbiotic relationship. Each thrives on the other.

Politics has brought out the best in the arts ... and the arts have had the power to influence politics.

Sadly though, I dont see any of that happening now. Media influences everything and the arts rarely make an impact.

Unless you classify media as an art.

JafaBrit's Art said...

Goya was brilliant! Great post Anok. My husband asked me if I make weird or political art on purpose and my answer is no. It just happens that I need to say something (and I say lots of things) with my art that disturbs/interests/intrigues me politically or socially and wham there you have it.

I think political art has a lot more sway than people imagine. Just have to look at the imagery kings, church, dictators have used to manipulate public opinion. Or the art used by corporate interests or photography in the media. Or how about a cartoon that was used to fan the flames of religious hatred.

I think back on some of the most powerful photographs from the vietnam war and how they changed impacted how people viewed the war. Yes I think political art has a lot of sway.

RickB said...

Generally artists need patrons and they are rich people/institutions thus it it has long been biased towards conservatism- landowners, the church and now capitalists- even if individual artists tend towards general liberal sentiments. The art market/dealer world is the most nakedly capitalist entity outside of dealer floors. In recent history direct intervention by the west was used to crush dissenting art movements and promote complimentary ones (or at least ones with no overt political/left/revolutionary statement). Check out Frances Stonor Saunders' "Who Paid the Piper: the CIA and the Cultural Cold War." (recently referenced by Chris Floyd ) for the post WW2 skewering of western Art.

Houseonahill.org said...

Great post Anok! Art without politics would not be as passionate for sure. Your post also gives light to time periods and how observation can encourage one to delve into the history, the political climate and opressions of the era...things I had not thought about, so thanks!

Daniel Owen said...

You should check out William Morris' article "Art and Socialism":


Naj said...

This is a topic I am somewhat invested in: how does art become political.

I think the politicization of art is not always in a dissident direction; art is often exploited in service to the tyrants. Germans surely mastered politicized art with their good instincts developed by expressionism. And the Russians, the romantics; and together, I think Germany and Russia own a large wealth of political art; in either direction: pro- or anti- status quo.

But I think war makes a good bed for great art. Don't you?

Naj said...


I think I would classify media as an art. The fact that it is gluing people's minds and spirits to numbing portrayals of untruths ...

Art elite are often dismissive of popular and mass art; but one needs to always keep Benjamin in mind: the empowering of the masses by popular arts.

Paul Baines said...

As an arts student I was temporarily suspended for similar beliefs that the arts elite were in fact the greatest allies of social and governmental censorship, having historical allegiance with monarchy and since the 20th century plutocracy. I think that the argument for the most part is settled by the benefit of hindsight, hence no matter what status an artist or their work's provenance, eventually the public consciousness dictates both the message and its importance to society.