Art has always allowed humans to express themselves, right from the time of the ancients who used to paint on walls and caves about the world around them. It goes a long time back as well. More than 45,000 years in the past, early humans had used ochre to paint pigs, which makes it the world’s oldest artwork. Over the centuries, art has become even more closely connected with all spheres of human life. It has brought people together, sparked cultural revolutions, social change, and even civil war. It is often an instrument to force social justice. Modern art continues to influence politics and other spheres. Politics in art has brought about new thoughts and encouraged change.
Art and design share the same fundamental creative principles of color, shape, contrast, line, rhythm, balance, etc. However, art is much bigger. Art is about self-expression, whereas design is a way to communicate to the target audience. This means, design is a part of art.
Relationship between Arts and Politics
Art, whether it is literature, movies, a poster, or painting, can achieve various things, including affecting politics. Commenting on how art and politics influence and shape each other, this source claims, “Art serves as a tool for changing existing political and social realities”. And rightly so! Hundreds of artists and performers over time have tried to change the world, including W.B Yeats, George Orwell, and recently Tom Wolfe and Bob Dylan. They have all commented on the politics of their time through the medium of art.
Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors”. This is not that true anymore. Today, there is a very strong intersection between art and politics. Thanks to social media platforms, young artists are showing off their work and making political statements. The popularity of social media platforms is also encouraging the youth to get involved with politics.
For example, Kingslee James McLean Daley, the British poet, author, rapper, and activist, who is better known as Akala started the ‘#Grime4Corbyn campaign to endorse the politician Jeremy Corbyn. ‘#Grime4Corbyn promised that young people will make Jeremy win the election.
Some artists are endorsing political leaders. Others are just conveying their political message through their artwork. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in 1819, wrote “The Masque of Anarchy” political poem for commemorating the Peterloo massacre. This was a harsh criticism of the government and a call to bring about a new kind of politics.
What is Political Art?
Political art is a form that has overtly political messages or subjects. It is created to criticize the existing condition, whether it is national, local, or international. But this is nothing new. Political art always have created an impact. For example, Aristotle and Plato’s work have often disputed various thoughts and models. Art and politics have been interwoven for a long time.
This art form is used to communicate with the people and make them understand a particular political or social issue. The artistic work is used as a tool to explain the social and political concerns. You will see art as political propaganda both in fine arts and street arts. There is sometimes political art censorship as well against this art activism.
In the 20th century, both the Nazi regime and the United States during the world war used political art as propaganda to garner support for their causes. This exists to this day in America and elsewhere in the world.
Many citizens use political art to protest against totalitarian rule and to protest and let their governments know that they are not happy with certain issues. During the 1980s, AIDS activists created posters to convey their dissatisfaction to the United States government.
The famous Indian movie director and Academy Award winner made the “Heerak Rajar Deshe” film in 1980, which many believe is a political satire. Again, Jonathan Swift uses satire through character, setting narration, and the plot in the classic Gulliver’s Travels.
There are many such examples of art being used to make a political statement, whether it is to protest against the work of the government, satire, to rebel against the status quo, to make demands, or just to convey the displeasure about an issue or the general state of affairs.
Politics of Arts Today
Arts and visual works continue to impact people and society through their political activism. Here are some of the works and their impacts:
● Man at the Crossroads, 1934 – Diego Rivera
The process of painting the mural and the fresco’s life “Man at the Crossroads” caused a controversy as the painter included motifs of the May Day parade from the Soviet Union and images of Lenin. It was meant for New York’s Rockefeller Center. Eventually, Nelson Rockefeller asked for the painting to be destroyed even before it was completed. Only a few black and white pictures of the photo remain.
● Massacre in Korea, 1950 – Pablo Picasso
Picasso was a big critic of America’s war in Korea. This painting of Pablo is his finest political art work.
● The Problem We All Live With, 1964 – Norman Rockwell
This painting addressed America’s racism directly and how harmful politics affects people. It touched upon one of the most important cultural aspects. The artist here raises a voice against racial segregation, limited freedom of movement, and racist graffiti at schools.
● We Don’t Need Another Hero, 1987 – Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger is best known for her work on women identity politics, feminism, gender sexuality, and consumerism. In this painting, Kruger focuses on imposed gender roles from the earlier times.
● The Kiss, 1990 – Dmitri Vrubel
Originally named ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’, this famous graffiti on the Berlin Wall depicts the historical kiss between Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev while the German Democratic Republic was being established. It was created after the wall was brought down.
● Flower Thrower, 2003 – Banksy
The street artist Banksy uses stencil art to depict a man bombing an establishment with flowers. This political artwork is a statement on the street and campus riots of the 1960s and is connected to the gay parade of Jerusalem.
Why is Political Art Important?
Political artists, painters, and writers raise important political issues, create awareness among the masses, and comment on current political climate. This achieves two purposes. On the one hand, it checks political action, even though there is at times adverse political action, and on the other, involves the audience to become a part of a bigger movement. In this way, political and conceptual art plays a very important role in modern society.