[lit-ideas] Re: Which is the least political of the arts?

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 23 Dec 2010 10:36:09 +0000 (GMT)

"Painting needn't be any more political than music.  Perhaps most of it isn't, 
but it can be."  
David, Goya are examples of political painters.  As is Leutze's "Washington 
Crossing the Delaware."
Veronica Caley
Taking up that "needn't", we might separate out the question in terms of 
necessity and contingency. So (1) Is there something intrinsic to one art form 
that makes it necessarily less, or more, political than another? (2) As a 
matter of historical fact [and thus perhaps contingency] which art forms have 
been more political than others?

Both questions raise another about the 'proper' nexus between art and politics 
- 'proper' because it is normative, and not merely empirical, to what extent 
the function of art is linked to politics _while maintaining its value as art_ 
[rather than merely as propaganda].

AJP Taylor's view of music as perhaps the 'least political of the arts' is 
hardly ridiculous - the fault lies rather in its glibness in dispensing with 
the question. (There is a certain glibness to other aspects of the passage 
quoted and also in linking the rise of National Socialism to cultural 
developments [no doubt there were links, but tracing them properly would take 
great care and consideration]).

Turning back to music, the focus on classical music is too limiting for a host 
of reasons. For starters, at least until Beethoven helped popularise the 
composer as artist and not mere artisan, the composition of classical music to 
a comission was hardly likely to produce anything that _expressly_ bit the hand 
that fed it [unless the hand asked to be bit a la the medieval joker]. (It is 
telling that, notwithstanding, someone like Mozart could treat ideas that were 
subversive from a conservative political viewpoint: but with the 'ambivalence' 
mentioned below). The composition of music for the greater glory of God, as per 
Bach and a great swathe of other composers, also did not lend itself to 
explicit or even implicit political work. If we look at folk music, however, 
there is a much more implicit and even explicit critique of the status quo - 
but this is often shot through with ambivalence: in the Child ballad "Matty 
Groves" the wife's defiance of
 patriarchy in the name of love could hardly be greater but her transgression 
of the dominant code results in death [an ambivalence much used in Hollywood 
movies]. It is nevertheless clear enough where our sympathies are meant to lie. 
On the other hand, it might be said this 'political content' is not expressed 
musically so much as lyrically and is therefore not an example of 'music per se 
as political art' but of using music as a vehicle for 'political' words.

I could go on but am overwhelmed by feelings of deja lu.

Cloudless, snowy Salop

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