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Art and Politics

Activisim. Root word, ACT. While justice has been important to me in life, I am sad to say activism has not been part of my reality. For this post to make sense, I must share some history on what and who has moved me to choose activism over pacifism. I must also warn you that at this point I am angry.

As you can see from yesterday, I started out with a request to boycott Palin. I am on a tear and I know it, but I don’t take death threats lightly and expect any leader to have higher standards. Due to my pacifism in the past, probably more accurately described as apathy, I’ve begun to see that there is consequence, even if I consider myself as one out of billions, in our system, a vote counts, a voice counts. Is that not the point of democracy? This is not rhetorical questioning. As a spiritual peacemaker, I am novice in my understanding of the importance of our voice in today’s politics.

So, imagine my surprise when I write a small paragraph about boycotting Palin and received a reprimand from an artist of all people. Do I also misunderstand art? Has the importance of art lost its voice in the din of commercialism? Gosh, I am more outraged by the comment than by Palin now. This artist has viewed my art and read the writings of my reflections that are not focused on outrage, or justice, just the beauty of life. The challenge comes when others do not realize that sometimes life is so exquisitely beautiful BECAUSE life is also so hard. Politics. Like life, politics are everywhere in every place and time. As long as we live we can’t escape politics. We must stop hiding our heads in the sand when our world is being subject to dangerous politics.

Just so you will know, I did not remove that journal writing. In fact, the person’s complaint made me so angry that I wrote five more articles on why all of us, artists, writers, teachers, accountants, mothers, fathers, students, homeless, veterans, etc. must speak out. We must speak out against injustice where ever it may be.

My art, whether it is writing, photography or music, is part of my voice. Picasso in his painting Guernica was in outrage. Alexander Solzenhitzen wrote as he did to give the people of Russia a voice. There are so many artists that we could list throughout all of history that had something important to tell us about life and how politics could change beauty into tragedy. Elif Shafak was imprisoned for writing Bastard of Istanbul and it wasn’t because the book was overtly political. She merely used Aramaic words that were offensive to the Turkish government. Do we tell her to stop writing her beautiful stories because they aren’t pretty and because they bring in politics? I don’t think so. Shall we write Woody Guthrie and say, “take all those songs back since they talk about politics.” One of the most moving religious concerts I ever attended had nothing to do with religion or spirituality, but Holly Near sang songs of justice, hope and empowerment of the poor.

I can only hope that the voices of justice speaking out can merge into one that can “be loud as thunder, but soft as butterfly sneezes”(1) , that somehow our voices of justifiable outrage can bring us to our senses, or at least make us stop and remember we are all one voice and it is human.

1. Quote from children’s book

Old Turtle: A Story by Douglas Wood with Illustrations by Cheng-Khee Chee

Old Turtle: A Story By Douglas Wood, Cheng-Khee Chee
Illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee
Contributor Douglas Wood
Published by Scholastic Press/Scholastic, 2001
ISBN 0439309085, 9780439309080

Currently unavailable for purchase

Warning: Political Content and Outrage

Robin is an artist living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Her first book, In A Southern Closet, came out July 2011.

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  • shilohlin
    shilohlinabout 6 years ago

    BRAVO!!!! I stand in applause, support and total agreement with you my friend……were I there in person I"d hug you to peices :)

  • Hey I could use a hug. I was just getting ready to write you a LOOOONNNNNG email. It will take a while. My hands giving me a fit but Iwill send it today. Shiloh, I love you my friend. Thanks for being a friend!

    – JRobinWhitley

  • photojoey
    photojoeyabout 6 years ago

    Hitler politicized art. A very effective way to destroy it. Great art may be political, but that is not the ultimate purpose. Great art enhances the humanity of all humankind, not degrade. Politics is the ultimate degredation of the human spirit.

  • Hi Joseph,

    I agree that politics degrade human spirit. Thank you for your comment on Hitler’s politicization of art. I will do my research. You give me more important things to think on.

    Part of my challenge is finding balance between standing up for injustice and avoiding apathy. I appreciate your comments.

    Peace to you, Robin

    – JRobinWhitley

  • SreyaWU
    SreyaWUabout 6 years ago

    Thank you for being you.

  • Sreya, what a blessing this comment is to me today. I love art and life… just trying to do the just thing is difficult to say the least. Thank you for this kind word. I needed it.

    – JRobinWhitley

  • JRobinWhitley
    JRobinWhitleyabout 6 years ago

    A paper I googled:

    Title: Hitler’s Bayreuth – The Bayreuth Festival during the ‘Third Reich’
    Author: Helmut Strauss
    Subject: History – National Socialism, World War II
    Event: Modern Dictatorship and Political Religion
    Institute: New School University, New York (Historical Studies)

    Category: Scholary Paper (Seminar)
    Year: 2004
    Pages: 16
    Grade: A (1,0)
    Language: English
    File size: 198 KB
    Archive No.: V28724
    ISBN: 978-3-638-30425-2
    Notes :

  • JRobinWhitley
    JRobinWhitleyabout 6 years ago

    The Twisted Muse

    Is music removed from politics? To what ends, beneficent or malevolent, can music and musicians be put? In short, when human rights are grossly abused and politics turned to fascist demagoguery, can art and artists be innocent?…

    The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich
    Oxford University Press
    National Socialism, the Third Reich, and the Music Scene

    Music, Economics, and Political Opportunism

  • photojoey
    photojoeyabout 6 years ago

    Politics is not the be all and end all of existence, although all politicians would like you to think that. The injustice comes when we sacrifice individual freedom on the altar of “social(state designated) justice.” Politics is always about power and its ultimate corruption. Very few politicians respect individual liberty (a God given right). Politics is about obtaining power and keeping it. The more ignorant the population, the easier to control. Politicians prey on perceived inequities and attempt to level the playing field by taxing the efforts of the individual and his/her work. Art is the ultimate expression of self/individual. When art is reduced to political statements, it becomes the product of the state, leaving the artist as a tool of political propaganda.

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