Art has always been a mirror to society and has always reflected the joys and sorrows of the society. The artists, since ages, have used their art to communicate their thoughts. Of late some artists also started portraying the socio-economic and political scenario of the surroundings in their art.
Just like any other area of human life, art has a strong connection with politics as well. Art is said to be political art if it relates to some political situation or some political figure(s) and challenges the current situation.
What is Political Art?
Since time immemorial, there has been a strong relationship between the arts and politics, especially between various kinds of art and power. And this has been the case across various geographies and cultures and periods. Throughout the history of mankind, one thing has been common in the art, and that is there always have been some artists who have challenged the status quo when it comes to the political situation in their country. These artists have always responded, in their way, to the contemporary events – the events which had some political angle to it. These artists have tried to portray the aspirations of common people and become a catalyst for social change.
Though it’s very difficult to define political art. While some people say that political art is an art form that either implicitly supports or explicitly opposes the status quo is political art. While for some people murals on street related to political events are political art. And this happens because different people have different views on what makes art political. But one general acceptable definition that all agree with is that art can be said political if it portrays all the direct and indirect influences of politics on society.
Role of a Political Artist:
The role of a political artist is to understand and express different points of view of the social and political scenario, through art. There are four major functions of political art - sociopolitical expression, propaganda, protest and satire.
- Sociopolitical Expression: The artist tries to expresses concerns regarding specific social and political issues to help common man understanding the current political and social issue.
- Propaganda: Sometimes, these artists are also used to communicate some agenda for or against the government. This is called Propaganda.
- Protest: One more function of political art is to disapprove of the actions or decisions of the politicians. This way, the art is used as a tool for protest.
- Satire: In this art form, the artist chooses to show his funny side and chooses humour to portray a serious political event and create awareness among the society.
In recent times, many artists have taken to street art; street murals and conceptual art to vent out their feelings and have a better connect with their audiences, rather than selling it to big corporates.
Categories of Political Art:
Broadly speaking, there are 3 categories of political art - Portrayal, Promotion, or Projection. The differences and salient features of the three categories are discussed below.
As the name suggests, this art form shows a mirror of the political scenario in present or past. It simply puts on canvas what is happening, or what happened in the past or a possible scenario of what may happen. This art form describes events or situations that may occur as a result of the prevailing social or political structures.
Any political perspective is implicit in the art but is also free-floating. For example, in the painting above, where a white man is shown whipping a black slave. Here, a black man may see this and feel, ‘Yes! That is how we are treated!’ At the same time, the slave-owner may say, ‘Yes! That is the way to treat them!’ Thus, both sides can see the confirmation of their point of view in the work of art.
For the slaves, this art may have a positive or negative impact. While it may be positive, that it may create a feeling of solidarity and unity among them, in a negative sense, it could also consolidate a feeling of Pessimism that nothing can be done to change the situation. The art styles or movements of Realism, Social Realism and Naturalism are perfect examples of this.
This art form presents ways and means to resolve a particular problem. Here a particular aspect of an event is ‘promoted’ over other aspects, hence the name. This aspect would focus on the people who are actively struggling to change the situation in which they find themselves. Here a particular view of the event is promoted over other images of the same event, which may have an opposing view.
Unlike ‘Portrayal’, his art form has a positive effect only. It is hard to create an opposing point of view. The art styles or movements of Socialist Realism and ‘Political Art’ (e.g. murals, banners, posters etc.) and Social Realism to some extent are examples of ‘Promotion’.
This art form involves a current political situation and then extrapolates it to form a new image of the entire situation. This art form tries to speculate what could happen in future, due to the current political situation. Such speculative art can have a positive effect by suggesting thoughts that are outside one’s usual ways of thinking. Art styles or movements such as Surrealism, collage, utopian or visionary images are perfect examples of this art form.
Example of Political Art
A general feeling in people is that great artists have a free spirit. They have a mind of their own. Instead of being a good servant of the state, they choose to be sensitive to the needs of society and be audacious in communicating their feelings through their art.