So why is the art world so little politicized? Why are political artists so
unlikely to hit the mainstream? The answer can be summarized in one simple word:
fear. The art world fears the real world, and it is scared that by showing
political art the consequences could be detrimental for the sale of works.
After all, which collector would want to buy a disturbing work of art? Who
would want to own a work that reminds us of how little and impotent we are in
front of what happens in the world that is unjust, undemocratic and plainly
Art is a commodity, it's the first thing people renounce to when they have to
make some budget cuts; and as a commodity, it is manly bought by wealthy
people, people that don't want to be reminded of their cowardice in front of
an unjust world. Owning art is a symbol of power, success and intellectual
achievement. Owning political art entails the risk that who's helping your
success may not agree with the political message of the work. That's why you
don't see much political art in galleries around, and that's why if you make
political art you're highly unlikely to find a gallerist to represent you.
Another negative factor for political art is the limited public that will
experience the work. This is not always the case if we think of Hans Haacke,
Jenny Holzer or Maurizio Cattelan, but generally, art is seen only by a very
limited amount of people, an elite of lovers, collectors and people in the
field. Isn't it contradictory for an artist to use such an elitist means like
the visual arts to communicate a message that should be universal?
Cinema could be an answer, even though once again political movies don't hit
the mainstream unless they deal with something that's happened enough years
ago to not require any sort of action by the public.
In the field of music, and more specifically pop music, the situation is
slightly different. As an artist, when I feel that my political work can be
meaningless in front of a stuckup arty crowd, I listen to Billy Bragg. Billy
Bragg is a highly political British songwriter who, in the eighties, was
facing artistic solitude when the world was listening to Duran Duran and
GoWest. He started his career singing and playing the guitar walking in the
streets with an amplifier on his shoulders. Gradually, with an independent
label, he reached notoriety and his highly political albums are now available
world-wide. Nevertheless, he still plays for free at rallies and
demonstrations and any time there is to fight for democracy.
why is the art world so little politicized? Why are political artists so
unlikely to hit the mainstream? The answer can be summarized in one simple
At the anti G8 demonstration in Genoa last July we saw the Italian police
crossing the line between public order and fascism with an indiscriminate
beating of anybody at the manifestation: from pacifists to lawyers,
politicians to voluntary medics, even two nuns had a taste of the police
batons. Then a young demonstrator got shot in the head by a scared
carabiniere. I found the image "G8 Martyr" by an anonymous artist
(Iso) in the website of Indymedia.org, and I think this digital manipulation
is a clear example of political art from the heart: the artist was so
disgusted by what he saw on TV (or experienced first hand) that he felt
compelled to make this visual parody of Italian democracy.
This is not the first artwork produced against the Italian Police force.
Marco Maggi was caught by the police doing provocatory graffities on the
election posters of the mayor of Bologna. He was beaten in the street in
front of passerbys. He then started a court action against the policemen who
participated to his arrest but both his trial and the trial against him were
sunken into the oblivion of Italian bureaucracy. So an answer to the elitist
public possibility of communication of a work of art can be showing it in the
street, and then hit the press for being beaten up.
Why art though? Books, articles and cartoons have been working for and
against politics for years. Yet, most of them disappear in history as they're
too time-specific to be timeless.
If an artist plays it well his or her work can become timeless. And the
political message within the work will reach immortality too. This could be a
first in showing mankind its errors in time.
That's why art.