Is all art political?

 

Some people don’t like politics in their entertainment, and some entertainers answer that all art is political, so suck it up and buy our politicized art.

Well, are they right? Is all art political?

I don’t know. One could argue that all art takes place in a social context and all social contexts have an implicit or explicit ideal of social order, so all art will reflect that ideal.

The Iliad and The Odyssey are not explicitly political, but they reflect the ideals of an honor-based warrior society. The heroes of the The Iliad are implicitly fighting to maintain social order: they had all agreed to limit their pursuit of Helen, the world’s most desirable woman, and respect her marriage to Menelaus. Paris, Prince of Troy, was a guest friend of Menelaus and violated the sacred bonds of friendship by running off with his wife. All the Achaean warriors unleashed a hellish war on Troy to restore the ideal social order. Odysseus’ journey reflects the same theme on the local level: after the war he must return and put his house in order: repairing his relationship with Penelope, destroying the impious guests and restoring his son to his proper place.

Does that make these works political? Yes, but only in a broad sense that can equally be described as ethical or religious. They don’t serve to glorify a political party or advocate for a political program.

Virgil’s Aeneid is political in a narrow sense: it exists (at least in part) to justify Roman dominion over the Greeks and the Imperial government of Augustus. It is also considered the inferior work.

So, while you can make the argument that all art is political in a broad sense, that does not mean that all art = political message fic. Reducing art to politics is, frankly, totalitarian. It makes all art propaganda.

 

One comment

  1. Of course all art isn’t political. That’s something annoying people who study politics say.

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