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How Can Art Be Political ?

May 11, 2023 11 min read

How Can Art Be Political ? - The Trendy Art

If you are wondering how Art can be political, you will realize there has been a close connection between the two since ancient times.

You will also know the connection between the two is complicated and sometimes difficult to understand. Art may contribute to the political debate by bolstering present political and ideological positions. Art, on the other hand, is frequently a disruptive expression. You will realize that it often acts as a weapon for changing current political and social realities. Art may address specific political concerns or reinterpret various social institutions. For example, it might disclose diverse societal power balances, provide alternate interpretations of certain events, etc.

Artists can be activists in a political movement or organization, but they frequently influence political change without joining any pre-existing political force.

Politicians have also utilized Art to engage and connect with people, as seen by the numerous conflicts over the use of popular music in political campaigns. As political tensions have increased, the complexities of that connection have only risen.

I) Art and Politics Since Modernity

When considering Art to be political, looking at a particular time, style, or aesthetic movement is optional to discover the relationship between these two characteristics. Even when phrases like "art for art's sake" were used, the arts were always entangled with politics. Art fulfilled its role, from mimetic to corrective tool, and was affected and formed by many social contexts and events. Artistic creation has never entirely reproduced reality. Even throughout Realism, it presented audiences with the brutality or beauty of ordinary life. Visual culture in Nazi and Soviet Germany was significantly loaded with extra meanings supportive of ideological viewpoints. Some artists surrendered to ideological pressure and did works that praised political regimes, whereas others views.

In the first half of the twentieth century, historical avant-garde movements accomplished an aesthetic coup by consciously rejecting not only the visual trends of the moment but also the social and moral mores. The avant-garde phenomena contradicted popular culture and established trends, going against the prevalent standards of the day. Avant-garde movements defined the beginning of the twentieth century and produced some of the most well-known works of Art, ranging from Futurism to Fauvism to Surrealism and Dadaism. Following social movements were creative manifestations that supported their views. The Black Arts Movement was part of the larger social movement, Black Power. In contrast, Feminist Art emerged as a natural result of the feminist movements of the twentieth century.

Before we understand the relationship between the two and how Art can  be political, let us begin with understanding what Art can do.

II) Bringing the Invisible to Light

Art is frequently utilized to bring attention to specific overlooked political topics. Banksy, for example, is well known for his politically charged art pieces addressing several issues, such as war, migration, etc.

Who is Banksy?

If you are still determining who Banksy is and exploring, you will find he is one of the most well-known names in the art world. However, at the same time, the person behind the tag has a different tale. To begin with, he is a street artist. His thought-provoking works have surfaced in practically every corner of the world. You might walk right by yourself in the street without any idea. Banksy has remained anonymous despite generating worldwide news for years, owing to rigorous preparation and a trusted close group. However, if you dig hard enough, you can find some information about the mysterious artist.

In 2015, his activism reached a climax. He first traveled to Gaza to construct multiple murals to raise awareness of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then to France to produce a series of artworks highlighting the ongoing migrant crisis near Calais. These works of art mirror society, offering an alternative viewpoint on specific political topics, and it is an art that raises questions about our surroundings rather than delivering solutions.

Thus, in many ways, Banksy and his artwork is a glaring example of how Art can be political.

Banksy Political Art

III) Art as a symbol of political injustice

One of the needs why many feel Art is political is that any art can easily represent political injustice.

Art may depict aspects of current society in harsh relief, exposing injustices or implying trends or tendencies that call for opposition. To appreciate the clarity in Dada poet Hugo Ball's declaration that for them, Art is not an end in itself, but it is an opportunity for the accurate perception and criticism of the times we live in. One does not need to be devoted to a shallow idea of truth.

Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros utilized their Art to highlight socioeconomic inequalities and protest the Mexican government's treatment of the working class in the 1930s and 1940s. Their paintings represented poverty, exploitation, and revolt scenes, effectively indicating the country's political structure.

Similarly, during the American Civil Rights Movement, African American artists like Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden made works that tackled problems like segregation, police brutality, and the fight for equal rights. Their paintings and collages were a potent way of expressing Black Americans' anger and emphasizing the injustices they faced.

In recent years, artists have used their work to highlight political injustice and advocate for change.

Art is an effective tool for depicting political injustice and raising attention to critical societal concerns. Artists may use their work to question the existing quo, spark thinking and debate, and eventually inspire change. So, if you are wondering how Art is political, these are ways in which Art has been utilized to achieve some specific political objectives.

Diego Rivera Political Art

Art often has been used to represent racism in Europe and America- another reason for the need why Art to be political.

This dimension of Art's power has been proved by modern work reflecting contemporary Europe and America's institutional racism and white supremacy and activist responses against institutional racism and white supremacy. The impact of police killings on families is vividly depicted in Luke Willis Thompson's 'Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries' at Galerie Nagler Draxler in Berlin. Thompson's exhibition comprises two short film snippets of family members of black persons slain by police in the United Kingdom.

IV) Art for Activists

However, the significance of Art in today's society extends beyond highlighting the injustices that occur around us. Specific political alternatives to the present quo can be supported and even created by Art. Take, for example, environmental Art. Environmental artists contribute significantly to the environmental movement's aims by making Art from recycled and eco-friendly materials or advocating for reduced jet travel, meat consumption, garbage sorting, energy efficiency, etc. They are looking for innovative ways to make Art that alerts people about the risks of the environmental problem while simultaneously suggesting strategies to mitigate and overcome environmental challenges.

Let us check how different modes of Modern Art have been used by political activists.

Street art and graffiti

Political activists have utilized street art and graffiti to relay messages to the public. Graffiti artists have used their Art to make social and political statements about subjects such as police brutality, corruption, and injustice.

Political Art

Performance artists and politics

Performance artists have utilized their work to question societal and political standards. Feminist performance artists, for example, have used their position to question gender stereotypes and raise awareness of sexual harassment and violence against women.

Photography and video art are used to achieve political motives:

Photography and video art have been used to capture political events and to raise awareness of social and political concerns. For example, photojournalists have used their work to chronicle wars and human rights violations, while video artists have used their work to promote social change.

V) Art as a political community builder

Art can bring people together through gallery openings, events, and discussions — and a new theme emerging in recent months is the idea that artistic communities can have political potential and that artists and curators should work to create and strengthen creative communities.

After Trump's victory, art publications and galleries have extended their doors to audiences, just as publishing firms (such as Verso Books) have shown newfound zeal and urgency in organizing events. There are several instances, but e-flux events in New York, such as the December double launch of books on machines and intersubjectivity, have included particularly clear talks of the significance of the creative community for political enterprises. University art departments have also mobilized and may be more willing to speak in explicitly ideological terms: an interesting case in point is Andrew Weiner's one-day December symposium on 'Sense of Emergency: Politics, Aesthetics, and Trumpism,' which brought together activists, art theorists, artists, and others.

VI) Community Building Through Participatory Art

One significant role of Art, politics, is its ability to unite people to achieve a common objective. Art can inspire and motivate individuals to become change agents in their communities. These socially engaged behaviors are often participatory, bringing together individuals from a specific region in a collaborative effort to make their neighborhood a better place to live.

Granby Four Streets, a participation initiative, brought together a group of architects and people who worked together to repair ten residences and countless vacant stores. Another significant purpose of the project that impacted the local community was to increase employment in a disadvantaged region by giving people construction jobs and training.

Granby Four Streets Political Art

VII) Art helps in memory preservation.

If Art is political, then everything we do now will be remembered in the future. And Art may help to preserve key historical events. Consider the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's collection of portraits. The Smithsonian Commission's United States President and First Lady paintings are permanently housed in the museum annually. Apart from being wonderful works of Art in their own right, these portraits also serve as historical records of the United States.

Art can help with memory preservation by offering a visual picture of events that may be difficult to convey verbally. Political cartoons, for example, have long been used to ridicule political individuals and events, capturing the essence of a political moment in a single image. These cartoons might serve as a visual reminder of the current political mood and happenings.

Apart from this, if you look into history, you will find it has been used to record the history of places and cultures. They have also been used to record the history of people's experiences. Monuments and memorials, for example, serve as reminders of important historical events, allowing individuals and communities to remember and reflect on the past. Public murals and street art may also give visual stimulation.

As a result, Art can be an effective instrument for preserving and honoring political events, both as a method of documenting historical events and as a means of understanding and interpreting them.

Therefore, one significant contribution of Art to politics and political events is helping preserve some key political events or incidents. It is a great way to enable us to recall such events in the future.

VIII) Political Propaganda Through Art

Not all political Art aims to improve the world and change the current quo. Certain works of Art are purposefully constructed to promote society's present power systems. Artists are often commissioned to create works that support a certain political philosophy. This form of politically tinged Art is commonly referred to as propaganda. It is used to manipulate reality by disseminating ideas that favor one cause and harm an opposing one.

Propaganda art may take numerous forms, including paintings, sculptures, and Public Art. Political posters during the Cold War are often considered the pinnacle of visual propaganda. Despite its association with several authoritarian regimes, it is reasonable to conclude that Art is often used as a perfect tool for propaganda and provides the requisite hype to catch attention.

Cold War Propaganda Political Art

IX) Art how it has evolved

Today, the emancipatory potential of each aesthetic gesture is weighed. Art has never been only a personal reflection of the artist, disconnected from the rest of the world. It was constantly dialogical and perplexing inside a maze of contextual meanings. According to Marc James LĂ©ger, the modern avant-garde is a counter-power that "rejects the inevitability of capitalist integration."

His assertion is easily applicable to contemporary artistic creations defined in broader dimensions. Although many concerns and socially involved attitudes are addressed in modern creative practices, such as environmental, racial, economic, and sexual, the capitalist market system appears to be at the root of many of today's problems, as explained by Badiou and his 'empire' metaphor.

X) Art is created to bettering others.

When considering how Art can be political, the basic intent of the artist needs to be closely examined. Some claim that artists often do not want to better others;

They feel. Instead, they seek to produce the best embodiment of their experience. However, their Art has the power to humanize the viewer. How does it accomplish this?

For starters, beauty compels us to pay attention. It catches you off guard and forces you to abandon your self-centered desire to impose your thoughts on things continually. It causes you to pause, breathe, and open up to absorb what it presents, typically with childish amazement and reverence.

It teaches you to perceive the world with more patience, justice, and humility. Iris Murdoch, a novelist, and philosopher, wrote "The Sovereignty of Good."

Second, Art expands your emotional repertory. When you read a poem or view a sculpture, you are not learning new information but rather having a unique experience. "The listener to Mozart's Jupiter symphony is presented with the open floodgates of human joy and creativity; the reader of Proust is led through the enchanted world of childhood and made to understand the uncanny prophecy of our later griefs which those days of joy contain," wrote British philosopher Roger Scruton.

You will realize that many experiences teach us how to feel and express our emotions. It can include helping us express how to sympathize with someone mourning and share the joy of a mom who has watched her kid develop.

Third, Art allows you to view the world through someone else's eyes, usually someone who sees more thoroughly than you do. 

XI) How is Art being used in the current digital age?

When considering how Art can be political, as pointed out earlier, for millennia, Art has been utilized for political purposes, and the current digital era is no exception.

As social media and digital technologies have grown in popularity, Art has become an even more effective weapon for political messaging and action.

Let us now finally take a look at how Art is being used for politics even in the current age:

Political commentary

Art may be utilized to make political statements. This can include satirical drawings, comics, and artworks that mock political leaders and institutions. Political commentary in Art may sometimes be more subtle, employing metaphors and symbols to communicate a message about the world's situation.

Political campaigns

In the age of electronic communication, Art is also being utilized to promote themes and candidates. Posters, billboards, and other visual elements are examples of this.

This year, political campaigns use social media and digital advertising to attract voters through online Art and graphics.

So, to hook up the modern generation by attracting their attention, one has to use modern digital platforms effectively.

Political resistance

Art may be utilized as resistance during political turmoil or tyranny. This encompasses anything from graffiti and street art to underground music and poetry. Art may be used to express dissatisfaction and question the current quo, providing individuals who would otherwise be silenced a voice.

The use of comedy and sarcasm in political resistance art is a significant component of the digital era. Humor may be an effective technique for challenging authority and questioning the status quo, especially in the age of social media, when viral material can swiftly spread and reach a vast audience. Satire may also disrupt prevailing narratives and reveal political power's flaws and hypocrisy.

Art for political resistance is vital for questioning the existing quo and fostering social change in the digital age. Artists may magnify their voices and connect with people who share their political beliefs by utilizing new technology and artistic platforms, becoming a potent force for social change.

Finally, in the current age, Art is being utilized to brand political movements and parties. Everything from logos and slogans to graphic design and visual identities is included.

Political groups can better express their ideas and attract followers by developing a distinctive visual brand.

So, even in the current digital age, the role of Art is just as prominent as it has been in the past centuries. If you ask again how Art can be political in this age, we have also pointed them out. You will realize that only the form has changed for the digital space.


To sum up, if you consider how Art is political, you need to note that for ages, Art has been a potent political instrument, and its impact has only increased in the modern digital age. Art has been used to change public opinion, rally people towards a cause, and produce a visual record of historical events, from ancient propaganda sculptures and murals to modern-day political cartoons and social media campaigns.

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