Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Taking the politics out of art

  • Ellen Efenricea

    Great post. Arts are perfect media for politics.
    My mind is now spinning of tangentially on the notion of silence as consent and how exploitative politics links to rape culture…

  • rowan

    When people say they want politics out of art they mean they want politics that they disagree with out of art. If the work backs up their worldview there’s not much to complain about.

  • manonbicycle

    I always think it is important the way the arts relate to the wider community they arise in, to me context is very important. That is the way most traditional arts arise, rather than “art for art’s sake”.

  • caelesti

    Art, music & literature are only apolitical when the political structure allows them to be. There’s all kinds of art that we wouldn’t think as obviously political that has been censored- like abstract art. That said, I think sometimes art is used to promote various messages in ways that compromise the quality of the art, but that’s more a matter of taste. It sounds like you were mainly discussing creators that say political things & then fans get mad because they just want to be entertained & not have their thinking challenged. Always awkward how the people with more money find that the most challenging, and yet that’s who we all (artist or non-artist) tend to depend on.

  • pr0m3th3us42

    In the United States at least, it is the civic duty of every citizen to be involved in politics. Therefore it is absurd that someone who isn’t a politician should be told to shut up about politics. Our amendment on free speech alone is reason enough for artists to be political.

  • lornasmithers

    Yes this bugs me, also when people say to take religion out of art…

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