Art and Politics

I have remarked before about the rarity of passionately held political or ideological beliefs translating into great art. I never thought about much beyond the simple observation.

Terry Teachout, on the other hand, has obviously thought about this a great deal. I think he hits the nail on the head:
Turning messy fact into orderly fiction necessarily entails simplification; turning it into artful fiction demands as well that this simplification acknowledge the full complexity of human nature and human experience. These seemingly contradictory requirements can easily be fumbled by the artist whose principal goal is to persuade an audience of the rectitude of his cause. We do not expect him to portray the world creatively, but to tell us the unadorned truth about things as they really are. Yet propagandists are rarely prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but. They alter reality not in order to "make everything more beautiful" but to stack the deck.
Or, to be slightly less verbose (for once), the artist feels compelled to sacrifice the integrity of the piece to make a point. Mr. Teachout focuses primarily on the failures of progressives to make quality art to express their beliefs, but the situation exists on both sides. How many horrible country songs about freedom and America are there? I still retain a special bit of loathing for Lee Greenwood, all because of this. I don’t mean to suggest that you can’t be extraordinarily successful pandering to your base. However, successful doesn’t mean good. (For a concrete example, look at the entire career of Britney Spears.) I guess it depends on your personal approach to your art. If creating the best work you can is important, ditch the ideology. If not, go for the cheap seats. I would think it makes you just as much of a sell-out as anybody ever was.

Of course, I'm an engineer. At the end of the day, engineering work is judged on a simple and brutal criteria: does it function? It's hard to take an ideological approach to function.


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