This brings about a larger question, which can be illustrated by these two songs. First, “Lover’s Desire” from Anais Mitchell’s “Hadestown” folk opera show. Which is a beautiful instrumental melody that I’ve listened to roughly thirty times in the past two days. Second, “Why We Build The Wall” which is also from “Hadestown” and by the same artist. The latter is lyric based and a song that is as much activism as art.
The question that I alluded to is, when does art that is done in the name of conveying a message become propaganda and effectively artless?
There are some on the extreme right that believe that music, painting, poems, stories and what not, should only be done “to the glory of god”. And that anything that isn’t, is sinful, a literal moral crime.
There are some on the extreme left who have the same view, that art should always be passing on a message of morality, and that if it isn’t then it isn’t worth making.
This can get convoluted though, because one of my favorite movies is Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and although it’s a masterpiece, it’s also borderline propaganda regarding morality and empathy. Ditto with many or Mark Twain’s works. Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers, but his work came from a standpoint of extraordinary oppression and I think that one can hear it in the general angst of his work.
Louis Armstrong is my favorite musician(sorry Cab Calloway, Sidney Bechet and Valerie June) and although he generally stayed away from politics, this performance of “Black and Blue” that he did in Berlin, Germany in 1965 is as profound as it is emotional.
Maybe the line is, “Do we have the freedom to make art that is devoid of preaching?”
If we do, then true art(as I view it at least) can still exist and if we don’t then it doesn’t.
My Senior art class in High School was tasked with the production of a number of 3' X 5' paintings on thick plywood that were to be hung on the hallway walls in the school. The dictation was that they had to be “related to school activities”.
Well, that pissed me off to no end. What, we were supposed to make propaganda for the school to hang in the school? I don’t think so. We were assigned to paint as teams of pairs and I convinced my partner to do a bit of a subversive piece. The bottom 2/3 of the painting was a guy(she ended up painting the guy as me) down on one knee in the school hallway with lockers on the walls, etc. and he was sorta looking up, thinking. A version of the thinking man.
The top 1/3 of the painting was a “thought bubble” that was an extremely trippy landscape deal that I painted with a disassociated face floating up in front of bizarre mountains, there were inverted tornado’s all over the place, it was wild.
Ultimately, my painting partner got sick and missed weeks of school, so the bottom part didn’t get done, because I was too focused on my psychedelic 1/3 of it. It really was unfair of me to lay that much work on her anyways. In the end, the Principle was due to be the one that determined if the paintings, on a one by one basis, matched the “School activity” mandate. Mine didn’t pass because, apparently to him, thinking isn’t an official school activity and it wasn’t finished anyways when school was over.
Good lord, did that Principle despise me. I wasn’t a “non-conformist”, but I was an individual that refused to conform. If that makes any sense.
Well Gutbloom to wrap up my rambling, maybe the most useful thing that we can do when talking or debating with a Trump supporter is to ask them their view of art. That should tell us a great deal about where they stand and how they see the world.