Lately I’ve been tryin to break down my concepts of things (words, mostly, in order to build more intuitive definitions) and one of the most compelling of these concepts is “Art” which is continually redefining itself in my mind. Another word that is undergoing such a process is “Politics”. I used to consider them to be completely different things, almost polar opposites, studied by enormously different people (think skinny, mustached, cigarette-smoking, ascetic individual shaking hands with the overweight, pompous, cigar-toting man ticking away at his blackberry). In my previous oversimplification of these roles the artist would deal with beauty, primarily, where the politician would deal with power.
These two forces act rigorously on our daily lives (no matter how much at times I would like to refuse the notion) and worthy works of Art will engage in that artist’s political bent, implicitly or explicitly. I thought Kushner’s piece was particularly insightful. In his assessment of Art, Politics and the concept of Culture, he states, “There is a false notion that Culture unites people and Politics divides them[…]while we say, hopefully, that no difference is insuperable, the recognition and embracing of difference, rather than its effacement, is what real integration and real multiculturalism mandate. We do not want to be overhasty in seeking out unity in culture”(43-44). I think that this observation is especially relevant for today’s artists as the world moves towards globalization and where the threat of (corporate) monoculture looms and the extinction of the Earth’s multitudes of cultural differences could occur in a quickly developing world anxious for utopian-type homogeneity. Therefore those who choose to become artists have a responsibility, in the the words of Arundhati Roy, “to push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look” (5).
By pursuing to make art with these convictions, a person may produce an expression of their identity and culture. Returning to Kushner, “all culture is ideological, political, rooted in history and informed by present circumstance. And art hast to reflect this, as well as reflect the artist’s desires for social change which will find expression in the work he or she creates” (44). Under the cultural cloud Art and Politics work simultaneously; sometimes pushing against one another, swimming beside each other, one tugging and the other hanging back. It is constant movement but both exist, inseparable.
Danticat’s piece portrays the political conditions in Haiti under the dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, and through this she discusses how Art served as a hope and refuge for the people. “They needed art that could convince them that they would not die the same way Numa and Drouin did. They needed to be convinced that words could still be spoken, that stories could still be told and passed on” (8). Just the notion of reading subversive literature and acting out a play by Albert Camus could have gotten these Haitian citizens imprisoned, exiled, or executed. This distills the idea that art is a powerful force and, even though we may not realize it at times, is essential as the human race continues through time.
Returning to my original subject, I still have not found an all inclusive definition of what art is and what politics are and how they relate to each other but I think that I have come closer, in my own mind, by composing this. But let us not forget the salt that Kushner has left us (as I piece it together), “The remedy [for mistakes in the political arena], I believe, lies not in cultural exchange[…] but in politics” (46).
Danticat, Edwidge. Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. New York: Vintage 2010: 1-20. Print.
Kushner, Tony. “Some Questions about Tolerance.” Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness. New York: NY. Theatre Communications Group, 1995. 41-46. Print.
Roy, Arundhati. Power Politics. Boston: South End Press, 2002. Print.