“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” –George Orwell, “Why I Write”
Why do we sing when we are terrible at singing? Why do we hum when no one else is around to hear? Why do we stop to admire mountains and molehills and look at fresh flowers sprouting from winter grounds? Why do we sit and stare at sunsets and watch rolling waves come and go? Why do we admire beauty and elegance and celebrate the magnificent just for the sake of its own beauty? The answer is simple: it is because we are human. We paint and write and draw and craft and mold and carve and sketch, even when we are terrible at it, for the simple reason that we are human and therefore we create. It is in the craft that meaning is born, when art is art simply because we say so. But when pieces are created merely to serve as a point, as a political statement, artistry is lost. When politics are put first and craft comes second, it becomes a means to an end instead of the end itself.
It is true that all great works of literature, even those that predate modern wokeness culture, have underlying political messages. Shakespeare wrote about kings, Orwell about government, Jane Austen about emerging political movements. It is not that politics and art are mutually exclusive, nor that they depend on one another for existence; it is that they go hand-in-hand, acutely accentuating and complimenting each other. We produce the subjective reality we see in our environment, whether that be in the institutions around us, changing tides of an unrestful society, or the inherent human condition. But what makes these works of political art great is in their subtlety, that their political criticisms are woven into the fabric of brilliant craft, that artistry is prioritized. The message being only the backbone of a great story, not the entirety of the story itself.
My problem with modern art is that it all seems to bear the same message over and over again and lacks nuance and intention. The same subject of politics is repeated again and again without much thought other than what is trendy and what will cause outrage. It is also tiring when what is meant to be our escape is transformed into an agenda, when we cannot escape identity politics even in art. These types of political art can be acutely powerful when crafted masterfully and with intention buried in nuance, but when the same slogans are repeated over and over again, the message becomes diluted and meaningless. When done incorrectly, ‘woke’ art is at best trite, and at worst damaging. Why do we value so much of our creativity on one kind of political and one kind of identical? Why can’t we paint just to simply paint?