Posted by: Mish | November 4, 2008

Political Art

Art can be more than just decoration for a room or a pleasant evening out. Oftentimes it is the artist’s statement on politics and society. Subtly or not, people can be pushed to think, to weigh different sides, and possibly change their own views because of art. In whatever medium it takes form, art can be a very powerful force. It is able to move viewers to tears, compassion, anger, and action.

In the past, artists were funded by the church, state, and wealthy to increase their power and prestige. Take for example Michaelangelo, who was hired by the Vatican to paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Those who could afford them, had portraits of themselves and their families because it was a sign of their wealth, which was equal to power. Although commissions still occur for those reasons, life has shifted so that artists have more freedom to do what they will.

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America portrays a lost country and a collapse in morals. Although it takes place in America during the Reagan years, the play transcends borders and time. Similarly, Larry Kirwan from the band Black 47 portrays a decaying Britain in his play Liverpool Fantasy. By using the Beatles’ breakup as a catalyst, he also shows how music can influence society. Aside from purely fun jigs and rock, Black 47 tends to be very political in their music with songs like “James Connelly” and “Free Joe Now”. More often than not, there is a sea of fists raised in the air during their concerts. Even the band’s name speaks of the long-standing conflicts in and around Ireland.

SILENCE=DEATH Since the 80’s, the SILENCE=DEATH poster has acted as a reminder to stand up for basic rights. It became the banner under which people united, found their voice, and helped change government policy. It became a logo for the the organization Act Up and for AIDS advocacy. It became these because six gay men decided to take their feelings of anger and helplessness and speak up

Some use art, not for the viewer, but for themselves. In his artist’s statement, John Robertson says:

I actually may create a piece with a point of view that may be contrary to what I actually believe. But in this way I get a different perspective on the issue. And – instead of demonizing it I come to a more rounded understanding.

Others use their music to remind people to vote because it is their right and their country. Before “Mandolin Holy Man”, gypsy bard SJ Tucker says in the video below:

“Keep in mind that even after we elect the person we want to elect this time, it is our job not to give him any slack…Make the phone calls, write the emails, make some noise…Not just the guy we elect is the one who needs to take care of this country. We’re still in charge…Congress is still outnumbered.”

As Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” says:
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!

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