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The Politics of Art

Art for art’s sake—much more than a cliché—is a misconception. We construct reality through a seamless blend of arts and politics. This is the only way we can identify ourselves as a society.

Everything You Can Imagine Is Real - PABLO PICASSO
Image: Tweaked from an original shot by Ashley Tellis

A subjective statement, like that of art—on its own ground would be lacking reason.

However, we can get hold of the nuances in certain occasions—for instance, when we listen to music for music’s sake or perform for performance’s sake. The problem is in the deficiency of meaning. Reasons are too insufficient to tell us about ourselves. And we are never logical and always live in a chaos. We can arrange the narratives through a creative process. 
Nature - The Ultimate Artist
In the pic: Lena River Delta in Siberia,
from Anonymous ART of Revolution


Again, it might sound like a contradiction that an element of this generalised term of art, like music, originated when man found leisure time and started experimenting with evolutionary-cognitive-and-whatever-growth skills. It was seemingly for its own sake and existed in an apolitical setting. Now it has grown to such an extent it can be sold and bought at a price. But there is a catch. Even from the most earliest chronology, it tells the politics of a time when life was all but recorded in the rawest form. We have now come a long way from those troglodyte days. We don’t only recreate but let the processes place a mirror in front of us. 

Art exists as a part of life, entertaining as much as provoking us. And the understanding does a somersault when we talk about it location-wise. For instance, its space in a Manipuri life might be entirely different from how it prevails in a city like New Delhi. The apparent hollowness, in its incompleteness of purpose, strikes out when we state that it is a means and an end in itself. In such situations, art does not exist for its own sake.

Politicalisation always invites derision and cynical feedback, which is even harsher in a small backward region like Imphal. The problem is in us: We speak and hear more than we do. It will be unsurprising when anybody accuses us of applying naharolese (that is the expression with the vocabulary of those in the armed rebellion, locally known as the nongmei-paiba naharol or loosely, armed youth). more That would be missing the woods for the trees though that’s the thumb rule of the Manipuri mentality. For clarity, we have only word; we have no gun. This is so obvious. And this, hopefully, makes sense.

The same kind of misunderstanding will crop up if we find all the people are sharing the same view. It’s not necessary, for all the people with individualised dreams and aspirations, to perceive from a single angle and understand the whole from just one perspective. It is not simply possible to maintain uniformity when there are differences from the consciousness of the term itself. In the A Man Without Country, Kurt Vonnegut, puts it succinctly: 

‘If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be happy, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.’
KURT VONNEGUT, A Man Without a Country
With Wing Suit: It Is a Luxury
Only Some People Can Afford

Image: A pubic-domain pic from Wikipedia


If we come back to the point, we can see more reasons why the apolitical groups stand on such a shaky foundation. All along the best we can do is to be a burden on each other physically, socially, politically and economically. This also shows accidentally that art cannot be independent of the boring daily life or even the most happening existence equally. Art imitates life and vice versa.

Another point. Just for the sake of clarity, take the example of some of the American and European countries’ craze for extreme sports. The most pathetic sporting events have meanings because that is what they can do when they have nowhere else to spend the time and they can afford to do. The implication is that it will change meaning if we do it in our prevailing condition.

It will be playing dumb if art is interpreted for its own sake. Unfortunately we only love to play dumb because that’s the sign of a gentleman, that’s the sign of a lady—to be politically correct all the place, all the time. When there is fire, our thoughts will be on the fire. When there is flood, our thoughts will be on the flood. This is just a natural order, yet we have broken the chain in the garb of being global and liberal; alternatively, in seeing art independent of the surroundings. When abnormality prevails, we get a society like ours, where the leaders loot in some sort of a daylight robbery, the gunmen are always trigger happy, the society is ready to fuck us up all the time and us, we are just expressionless as if everything is alright.
‘The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically.’
JEAN-LUC GODARD
The Height of Vanity
From Anonymous ART of Revolution
And when there is chaos galore, what should be the best way to realise truth? The existing art forms and styles are full of promises. In Picasso’s word, ‘Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.’ This also explains why pop art is literally called pop, as in popular. So if we are speaking for speaking’s sake, however, we need words no more, for any sound or silence would mean the same thing.  

Even at the cost of becoming a pamphlet or promoting sloganeering, this written piece is a testimony to the easiness of relating art and politics. Creativity can solve a whole lot of issues dogging us today, while we remain aware of our own story, both the history and the ‘contemporary’. Besides it would be too lame to be apolitical that will only show our naiveté; and ironically, that has always been the case. Pride is overt when we say we hate politics though, as we have seen earlier, it is a profound political statement though there is no realisation—it is no surprise in a hometown like ours.

We never realise why other people, especially the youth, and other societies can lead an impressive collective life on one hand. We unite, on the other, only when there is violence and agitation. It’s a tragedy that only blood is the unifying force. Nonetheless art has a role in both construction and devastation. We can say objectively now: art is realistic and demands the impossible. The aesthetics can be overwhelming at times. So it is not only about the beauty but also the functionality—not necessarily for functionality’s sake. Concluded.
Image from Anonymous ART of Revolution

Further Reading

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Poetic Principle” http://eapoe.org/works/essays/poetprnd.htm On Finding the Value and Purpose of Art: Art For Art's Sake http://ailikurtis.com/ArtForArtsSake.html Art for Art’s Sake http://arthistoryresources.net/modernism/artsake.html Guernica: An E-magazine of Arts and Politics http://www.guernicamag.com/ Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy http://www.e-flux.com/journal/politics-of-art-contemporary-art-and-the-transition-to-post-democracy/ Art (and) Politics, Occupied Times http://theoccupiedtimes.org/?p=11490 How Left-Wing Politics Changed The Way We Make Art, Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/art-turning-left_n_4520543.html The science of delivery and the art and politics of institutional change, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) http://www.odi.org.uk/events/3834-science-delivery-art-politics-institutional-change Khan Academy, Art History  https://www.khanacademy.org

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