Art can spark resistance and bring down concrete walls.
The closest we have to this today is the recent work of New York-based illustrator Molly Crabapple. Foregoing the Neo-Victorian tableauxs that had been her bread and butter for a decade, Crabapple shifted into what can best be described as 'political art.' She created a series of posters around the Occupy Movement, and captured the desperation of the Greek Economic Crisis and the impact of the Great Recession on America, with illustrations for the book Discorida written by the British journalist Laurie Penny, and a collection of paintings titled The Shell Game.
The fact is that art can be a force in society. An act of bravery, defiance, even sedition. If it were not, why is it that throughout history and without fail, art and artists are among the first aspects of society dictators have attempted to control? From the Royalty funding the great painters and sculptors of the Renaissance, to the government censorship boards of the Soviet Union, to the 'disappearing' of Ai Weiwei in China, and the house-arrest of film-maker Jafar Panahi in Iran, art and the effect it can wield on a deep, psychological level has long been recognized as both a tool and a threat by those in the political realm. Which is part of the reason that the terms 'government' and 'propaganda' so often appear together.
It may seem obvious to say, but the Internet really is changing everything.
The global is becoming increasingly local and interpersonal connection is at an all-time high, becoming essentially meaningless. This digital revolution, of course, has its pitfalls, as sceptics are eager to point out, but it also has some distinct advantages.
One of these is the near instant, global dissemination of art, without the need for traditional avenues of distribution and exhibition. Just upload an image and there it is, everywhere. As happened with one of Molly Crabapple's most famous and affecting posters based on the Occupy Movement, copies of which showed up at a march in California. Imagine what would have happened if she had pulled a Warhol and published it on a T-shirt. Costly silk-screening is no longer required, it becoming relatively cheap and common for images to be printed on shirts and mugs and sold online, national barriers being of little consequence. Cross-continental communication, inspiration and solidarity at the press of a button. Governments fear solidarity. It was solidarity, and numbers, that lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic.
While it is true that there has yet to be a world changing event that can be traced directly back to the influence of a work of art, and that a single piece of art will not always change a bad situation, it can certainly make a bad situation just that much more bearable. Hence the proliferation of political cartoons since the early-19th century and the attempts of politicians since William “Boss” Tweed to quash them. Though the right piece of art, spread the right way and followed by action can sway elections, spark resistance, and even bring down big concrete walls.
Despite the groans and eye-rolls, the term can now evoke in our post-modern, post-truth, everything-is-ironic world, Political Art is a genre like most others with its own weaknesses, strengths and uses. A fact long ago recognized in the political realm that we ignore at our peril.
Has there been an example of politically-influenced art that has impacted you? Can you think of ways, either by way of content or distribution, that could make Political Art more accessible to and resonant with a potentially apathetic audience?