Art Is Not, Has Never Been, nor Should It be, Apolitical

When Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended the musical “Hamilton” on Broadway, he was addressed from the stage by the current actor portraying Aaron Burr with a message from the cast, crew, and producers. Essentially he said that the cast were representative of the diverse America that hoped Pence and the administration he was representing would protect all citizens of America. Pretty innocuous, if you’re not a conservative who thinks that diversity and equality means oppression.

The reaction from the Conservasphere was fast, predictable, and oh so wrong. They denounced the cast for their actions and for making the performance “political” like art should not be political, and isn’t inherently political. Here’s a tip, art has always been political. From the earliest attempts at art on cave walls art has been political. Hieroglyphics? Political. Greek Statues? Political. Roman Architecture? Most definitely political.

This idea that art has ever been apolitical is just wrong, and the belief that comes with it that art should not be political is dangerous. Believing that there’s nothing political in art leads to complacency, and an inability to look at art critically. Every piece of art, be it movies, music, sculpture, painting, embroidery, theater, television, books, newspapers, comics, everything, is political. There is always a message behind a piece of art, some of them aren’t as open about their message as others, not everyone is “Hamilton”, but all of them have a message. Even those that say that they “have no message” have a message. The fact that they are professing to not have a message is a message unto itself. Terry Pratchett was specifically talking about Fantasy writers and their dependence on Tolkien, but his point is extremely relevant. “J.R.R. Tolkien has become a sort of mountain, appearing in all subsequent fantasy in the way that Mt. Fuji appears so often in Japanese prints. Sometimes it’s big and up close. Sometimes it’s a shape on the horizon. Sometimes it’s not there at all, which means that the artist either has made a deliberate decision against the mountain, which is interesting in itself, or is in fact standing on Mt. Fuji.” The idea that your art is apolitical is itself a political statement.

And for that matter, art shouldn’t be apolitical. Art has the unique ability to change culture, and influence people. If you aren’t making a statement with your art you have no story. Themes are political by nature, and if you don’t have a theme in you art you have no plot.

Art is political, realize that, and stop being disingenuous about what it is.

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