• Jenny Xu

Art in Politics

Society has generally advanced throughout history, but this does not always feel true in current times where there are many pressing issues at hand. Art has been present since prehistoric times. Through all of the most significant social movements and turning points in humanity’s history, art has always been there to be a vehicle of discourse and catalyze rebellion.

Some say that art always contains some level of politics, and others argue that politics corrupt art. However, art has no true form or definition since it exists only within artists' and audience’s minds. All art certainly has meaning, which makes it political, and what is the point of art if it has no meaning?

Meaning is open to interpretation, but art often conveys a message about humankind. Although some art may be purely for visual pleasure, true art speaks to the soul. It explores emotions that simply cannot be expressed with words. Art appeals to other’s emotions to change public opinion. Sometimes, it is easier to identify with something that expresses feelings rather than thoughts. Artwork can depict the warmth of love and the emptiness of loneliness. It takes a stand against injustices, takes on unknowns, challenges social norms, and celebrates the wonders of the world and humanity. By tackling social issues, artists break down assumptions.

True art challenges status quos, so, to this extent, all true art is political. But, consciously “political” art is propaganda that tries to control. The activist-artist aims to create art that stimulates discussion as opposed to art that propagandizes. The Adbuster’s Occupy Wall Street campaigns mobilized their audiences. Art serves many purposes during political protests, some of which allows protesters and others to communicate their purpose with outsiders. In tumultuous times, art has influenced political demonstrations. Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” and Picasso’s “Guernica” both exemplify this influence, and Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series commented on the media’s role in desensitizing violence. Through art, people better understand their place in the world and history and engage in different thoughts.

The Occupy Wall Street Campaign

Liberty Leading the People


Death and Disaster

In the grand scheme of society, art helps people communicate and share information. Unlike debate, art transcends the barriers of language and time and can sculpt minds. It has both driven and passively observed social change. A single piece of artwork with a strong idea can influence people, spark conversations, and influence society as a whole. A picture is worth a thousand words, so, even more so than textbooks, art shows a lot about the origins of the world and previous civilizations. For example, The Potato Eaters by Van Gogh shows peasant life through his use of subdued colors and dim lighting. The rough details on their skin show the laborious life of rural peasants.

The Potato Eaters

The recent movement of protests sweeping across America show the increase of people who are politically engaged, which is a good thing. However, the country has become too divided. A community has failed when people lose respect for one another. There will never be a unanimous agreement on specific issues, but that is how a democracy works. Both the left and the right should voice their opinions on important topics such as women’s rights, climate change, LGBTQ rights, and gun violence. These issues impact everyone, and everyone has a right to protest for what they believe is right. How people protest is vital. Nothing productive will come by devaluing someone else’s beliefs. America’s strength comes from the productive discourse of diverse opinions, not putting down those who do not hold the same beliefs as us.

Although art does not hold the answers to all of our problems, it is a fantastic starting point. Through art, people can see old issues from new perspectives and open their minds. The current political climate is dangerous due to the fear and resentment that spur it. Artistic expression is bold, powerful, and greater than fear. It is an excellent way of demonstrating passion efficiently.

The world can be frighteningly uncertain. The role of art is mainly to raise questions of significance in society. It would be very concerning if art was ever restricted and people became afraid to express their thoughts since we always need an outlet for new ideas. Art is not meant to please everyone but to engage viewers proactively. Art is usually a more productive and healthy way of expressing political views than violence and confrontation.

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