Because we live in a world where information can be transmitted at lightning speed, and images, video and sound can be shared from opposite sides of the world, the art world has developed to fit a newly technological field.
That’s not to say that more traditional modes for sharing work; exhibits, graffiti, print, are obsolete: far from it in fact. But it does mean that in the modern world, it is very much possible to make a political statement with artwork that is shared across the globe at breakneck speed.
It seems that for many people living in the world today, politics has reached a kind of apex of scary, divisive, extremism. Of course, you don’t need a phd in history to know that the world we’re living in now, whilst frightening sometimes, is far from the worst it’s been even in living memory, but nonetheless, the political landscape is a desolate minefield at the moment and yet, it is fertile ground for artistic response.
There is an extent to which we can argue that all art is inherently political. This is because whoever views it, regardless of the artist’s intent, will become a political person as a result. Simply by existing the person is political. Any piece of art that has a cultural impact also links to politics, as the two exist in tandem. As WH Auden said, “In our age, the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act.”
Then again, maybe art isn’t inherently political. Certainly, artists can make art without intending it to have a political reputation or an impact. Within painting and many other mediums, there is art which is made to be explicitly political; think about the murals on the East Side Gallery, some of Banksy’s political street art, and Keith Haring’s drawings. And there are artworks that are provocative, but not necessarily immediately political seeming: Tracy Emin’s work is a social and personal critique, but it’s not necessarily political, is it?
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, we live in politically turbulent times — as has everyone, ever. But we now live in an environment that supports the extensive creation and sharing of art in a way that is completely modern. The Brexit referendum and Trump’s election, two hallmarks of a pretty terrible year, have kicked off a generation of creatives who are able to subversively create and share their work using the internet.
The Instagram feed @dear_Ivanka, addressed to Trump’s daughter, collates an artistic conglomerate’s work into one fascinating, razor sharp digital collection. The feed features painting, collage and graphics. Last year, a series of posts highlighted Ivanka’s tasteless Women Who Work — The New Yorker declared: “Ivanka Trump wrote a painfully oblivious book for basically no one.”
Awol Erizku, famous for photographing Beyoncé when she was pregnant, makes very bold, straightforward political art. And Beyoncé’s choice of him as her pregnancy photographer was a political choice in and of itself. It’s not by accident that she employed a photographer who is also known for his exposes on race and politics in America.
Then of course there is the world of film. Academy Award winning Parasite, which much of the cinema industry worked hard not to recognise, and is a deeply political film about the wealth disparity in South Korea, but it is also political in it being a foreign language film that was not properly distributed by Western marketing teams, but was still victorious during awards season.
These works, and the myriad others like them that are brave and political are so impactful because beyond delivering a narrative or a viewpoint, they offer hope to other people who are questioning the political environment they find themselves in. If Parasite can win a series of internationally lauded awards then another politically explicit film can, if Banksy can make careful yet punchy stencils that appear like magic overnight, then so can someone else. The impact of political art work is to be inspirational and hopeful, as well as offering illustration to the history we are living.
Leah is Culture Editor @ No Majesty. Leah is a literature graduate from Bristol, likes include: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, My So Called Life, Goodfellas, and Ally McBeal.