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Art and politics, where to draw the line?

  1. Mar 26, 2003 #1
    this is a problem i have been thinking about for months now, it truly has me stumped! i need to hear some different ideas to clear things up in my head...

    a while ago i saw the movie 'taking sides' about a german conductor being investigated for collaborating with hitler during the second world war (it is a true story, the conductor is Furtwangler). it was a great movie but has confused the crap out of me. my friend saw it and said 'how dare those stupid americains, he was a great man, a great artist'. and he was, a truly amazing conductor, but how do i enjoy his art when the man behind it (hitler was his patron) was so evil. a less controversial example (his link to hitler was never really proven) is the berlin philharmonic, they are the best orchestra in the world, but they are sexist pigs (they refuse membership to even the best women performers). as a female musician i am disgusted by their politics, but i can't pretend they aren't the best at what they do!

    so do you apreciate art when the artist disgusts you? it is different with artisitic forms like writing where the artist brings his political beliefs into the art, i am thinking more of music where the art form doesn't actually betray these beliefs.

    help! do i listen to the berlin philharmonic or not???
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 26, 2003 #2
    as an artist i can tell you that art is bigger than the artist, it always has been. As long as you are true to yourself, viewing or listening to these arts pose no problem. If an artist is gay, it will not turn you gay to hang his painting on your wall. Nor will it turn you into a sexsit pig to listen to music. Art should alwasy be held higher than the artist. Otherwise you will end up like the nazis who burned every book that they did not agree with. Keep your convictions strong while your mind open. Michealangelo was a sexsit pig (not gay as the rumors go) do you never want to see another one of his works of art?
  4. Mar 26, 2003 #3
    i remember when Robert Mapplethorpe was denied government funding after presenting his depiction of the devil. Denis Miller made the comment that it was not necessarily an offensive thing as it really depends on exactly how deeply inserted bullwhip actually was.

    seriously though; artistic expression is something that we should not try to control and should be respected on it's merit alone, regardless of any opinions on the author.
  5. Mar 26, 2003 #4


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    Steppenwolf, I think the answer lies in whether or not you believe appreciating the art means supporting the artist or his cause. It may differ on a case by case basis, but I think its a distinction that can be made.

    For example, though I find him funny, I won't pay money to watch a Woody Allen movie.
  6. Mar 26, 2003 #5
    Sometimes people get carried away identifying themselves in one dimensional terms. I'm an artist, I'm a blue collar worker, I'm a doctor, lawyer, nurse, etc. In Itally they have elected a famous porno queen to the senate several times now. Is she a politician, artist, comedian, porno queen, or what? I can't decide, but I do know art is art. If you don't like what people are doing with a particular art form, politics, or whatever, don't buy it or otherwise support it. Just as people are not one dimensional neither is anything else in life. That's why there are no pat answers.
  7. Mar 26, 2003 #6
    I agree with most of the comments above and being an artist myself, I know that is sometimes hard to appreciate the art for what it is and not focusing so much on what kind of person the artist is, or was. But if you like something so much and it moves you, you shouldn't just ignore it. You should appreciate the artwork for what it is and what you feel while looking at it, or listening to it.
  8. Mar 26, 2003 #7


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    If the artist holds views I find repugnant, I will avoid enriching him/her/them. That is about as far as I'll go. Tchaikowsky buggered little boys, but I'm not supporting that by listening to his symphonies. He's been dead quite some time.

    There are borderline cases. I think that the rule I use is to genuinely consider the artist, then if I still enjoy their work, I go for it.

    What about something like "Birth of a Nation"? It is considered a magnificent piece of film-making, and it is horribly racist. Could you enjoy such a thing? I did not like it, but then again, I'm no film buff.

  9. Mar 26, 2003 #8
    IMO, as long as the art itself is not promoting the life-style of the artists (that you may find repugnant), then the fact that you disapprove of the artists personal life should not deter you from enjoying his/her art.
  10. Mar 26, 2003 #9
    agreed, although i think it is respectable to avoid purchasing the art if that would fund a distrustful lifestyle though.
  11. Mar 26, 2003 #10
    Art cannot be politics. Otherwise when subjectively defining it biased to one's political opinion it ceases to be art and becomes propaganda. Art compromised with commerce relegates it to advertising. Art, among the higher human ideals, is a quest for Truth and Feeedom. It is an individual's endeavor towards the essence of Freedom. Sometimes you have to roll your sleeves to do that. It is not necessarily subjectively defined, but rather subjectively approached in the holistic perspective of life's continuing mystery. Hence it is not dependent whether one likes an artist or not, but rather how attuned or open one is to the Essence of Art. It is an Ideal set free.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2003
  12. Mar 27, 2003 #11
    thanks to all for the different opinions, i still don't really know what to think, but nothing's black and white i spose. one issue i really can't resolve is the fact that enjoying the art means a certain emotional and spiritual abandonment. say i'm at a concert of the berlin philly and they're playing stunningly as always, i start losing myself to the music and essentially the musicians; they are in control of this way i'm feeling, and this is what i hate; that these chauvenistic pigs can make me swoon or not, these sexist bastards are the priests who decide whether i get to be enlightened.

    these ideas only strike me after listening to them, i am too easily swayed by their art, i heard mahler's 5th the other day on the radio done by the berlin philly and twas spectacular!

  13. Mar 27, 2003 #12


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    Well said. It would never be possible to connect the art with the life of its creator, with regards morality, politics, finances, etc. Everyone is imperfect. The art is intended to be the portion that remains, not the details of the artist who creates it.
  14. Mar 28, 2003 #13
    It is not an abandonement of it but rather an awakening of it. To be able to perceive the essence of a work of art despite initial reactions may be a transcendent beyond the differences. Art is an endeavor of an individual. It is an expression of himself/herself, and a form of communication to the other individual. It is not dependent to some crowd or institution or politics or belief systems, but rather it is an endeavor where the inherent sacred right of an individual to be free is guarded well . In human history there may be struggles, but it is going there.
  15. Mar 29, 2003 #14
    As far as "enriching" people whose life-styles we disapprove of goes; I don't think that it really matters, as you are not paying for the person, but the art. The low-life will find some other means to provide for whatever stupidity he/she wishes to indulge in, if not through art, but the art itself is pure, and that's what you're paying for.
  16. Mar 31, 2003 #15
    If a certain work elicit reaction of repugnance, or 'ugliness', an observer may as well discern behind it's creator might wish to express. Perhaps it could be an effort to exorcise the classic struggle of opposing forces within each individual. How does one judge it by his subjective opinion? Is it because it deviates from the typical notion on what the concept of 'beauty' must be imposed by one's belief system? What if an individual perceives the superficial ugliness of the environment that are otherwise not seen by typical observers. What if such 'ugliness' for example may have expressed another face where an individual is relegated into a commodity of a machinistic system and the freedom is stifled as he/she is froced to paint censored or controlled 'nice' pictures to hide the ugliness that his/her freedom was being suppressed. Or despite the pomp and superficiality someone notices the other side of a greed oriented system, and he/she wishes to free himself from such ugliness, thereby mirroring to awaken one's self and others.
  17. Mar 31, 2003 #16
    Depends on the art form really - as you said, in things like literature where personal views are expressed, I find it hard to enjoy it when I find the views repugnant - especially as I consider how people could be swayed by the great artistic merit into believing repugnant views. (Thankfully, in my opinion, most people with what I consider to be repugnant views are not very artistic, because they tend to be quite insensitive to the human condition in general - something you really need to have as an artist.)

    Also, think of art as an expression of an ideal. We are all imperfect, and I am sure that if we look hard enough, we would find all sorts of faults with every single artist, alive or dead. I prefer to see the art as an attempt to define how we want to be, instead of how we really are.

    Interesting example using the Berlin philharmonic . . . I would have thought the 'artist' in music is the composer! The performer is just the medium. So when it comes to music, I probably would have more difficulty with music written by a Nazi than music performed by one! (Richard Strauss comes to mind . . .) But then again, I don't find it hard to listen to music written for purposes I don't agree with - I am an atheist, yet some of my favourite musical pieces are Catholic masses :wink:
  18. Mar 31, 2003 #17
    i think it does matter, granted, i buy many necessities from people i consider low-lives as well; but i still try to keep it to a minimum of necessities.
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