week 3 \ art and its times (inspired by Chaplin, amongst other things) \ ben marafino

Oftentimes it has been said that architecture is the most basic – it is certainly the most visible - expression of its times – of course, the same definition may also be applied to art. But while architects exude (at least, one would like to think they usually do, but this is not always the case) the practical, artists are inclined towards the satirical. This dichotomy in purpose arises in yet another form: architects seek to maintain the institution , while artists actively contribute to what some would characterise as its decay, others its see as its improvement or inevitable evolution . In essence, to effectively marry politics with art, the art itself must border on the satirical. Of course, the results will usually be controversial (it basically is by definition; if you can think it up, someone out there will get offended.) – but must this necessarily be so? We’ll think about satire as a mainly political, and to a lesser extent, religious, matter.

Part of the difficulty in thinking about art in this context is compounded by a disappointing divorce of social consciousness from art – and of course, the definition of art itself, but that’s beside the point. Society prefers to view artists as themselves entirely apolitical, but this fails to realise the complexities of reality and of people. People are opinionated, but they may or may not choose to express those opinions in public, but the consequences of expressing them, in a previous vacuum of opinion, really shouldn’t be severe. In actuality, ‘popular’ artists that do publicly take political positions are usually heavily criticised for taking them in the first place (eg Dixie Chicks & the Iraq war, and there are many others) – though those who make their politics apparent through their works are given a pass. Perhaps it turns out that we – not me and you, but society at large – have got no problems with politics in art, but rather with political artists. Why is this so?

A curious, but all too human, phenomenon occurs with most media icons – let’s keep it at that for now – figures that are obviously very popular in the music, television or movie worlds; they may even be sports players. Either way, they certainly are widely admired; otherwise, they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are now. At that point, their fans have imprinted their preferences on them and vice versa – they want to buy the same things that their idols (apparently) possess , eat what they eat, and believe the same things that they publicly believe (noticed any prominent atheists out there lately, aside from Dawkins? I haven’t). When their preferences somehow clash, this apparently comes as an earth-shattering realisation to some previously forgotten but noisy section of society. When it comes to politics and religion – particularly when it comes to these two bugbears of societal decency and implied normalcy - there may be no limits to the outrage that can be unleashed by such groups  in a nation known for its fervent religiosity.  (This is also the reason why advertising is so effective, even if you don’t believe in its coercive powers – that’s all right, because you’re surrounded by a lot of gullible people.) 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.