It has always bothered me when a well-loved (by me) singer or actor decides to use the fame they have gained through art-making for political ends. I don’t necessarily fault them for feeling like they ‘should’ do something to better the world given their money and influence.
It just makes me….want to classify them as something other than artists. Activists, maybe? Activism is a productive and rewarding way to spend a life. But, it’s not art making. And I’m not sure the two can be combined without tainting either the activism or the art.
I just finished James Joyce’s, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man‘ and although admittedly this is a better book to study than to read, I found his views on the philosophy of art very enlightening.
He says, ‘The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. These are kinetic emotions. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion…is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire or loathing.’
Proper art then, according to Joyce, is one that creates stasis in the mind of the viewer. It does not promote action or hatred, desire or loathing, it’s not propoganda or oversimplification. It is complex enough to force one to think about the piece before reacting to it, to try to understand it before making judgments.
Johnny Cash, after describing the depressing fate of a folk singing group that disintegrated after a brawl over politics, says, ‘Now this should be a lesson, if you plan to start a folk group. Don’t go mixing politics with the folks songs of our land. Just work on harmony and diction. Play your banjo well. And if you have political convictions, keep them to yourself.’
What’s your opinion on the mixing of art-making and politics? How easy/difficult is it to combine the two?
Have you done it? How?
***And speaking of successfully (?) mixing the two, Anne Lammott is featured in last week’s podcast of ‘This American Life.’ Go listen, you won’t regret it.
***And I highly recommend the ‘Writer’s Almanac,‘ a podcast hosted by Garrison Keillor as a great resource for new poetry and information about authors (and a great listen). It’s short and succinct and if you like to read or write, it might be worth a try.