Is Art Inherently Political?

This might not seem as amusing to me when I wake up more. I was dozing in my chair, so I went to bed to take a nap. It ended up being a long one, and as I napped, I dreamed.

I wasn't in the dream at first. A bunch of guys are free diving with a small whale. From the voice over commentary about what it's like and how playful the whale is, it soon becomes obvious that the viewer (dreamer) is watching a documentary. (The creature isn't exactly a whale, but the distinction's not important. It's dusty orange and has webbed hands.) The viewer marvels at how good the guys are at holding their breath.

The scene shifts to the cabin of a large sailboat. A big city can be seen in the distance through a porthole. There is a crowd in the cabin. Among the crowd are the free divers. One of them complains that while they were swimming, those who stayed behind ate all of the chicken. A guy with a chicken bucket on his head brags, "Yep, we did," as he walks by. Someone else hands one of the divers a plate and dumps a bucket of fried chicken on it. Two of the divers, each holding part of the plate, begin devouring some of the chicken. As the camera zooms in, it becomes apparent, mentally, at least, that the dreamer is now the cinematographer.

The scene shifts again. It's clear that the cinematographer is wearing a head-mounted camera as he scans the room. He is at the opening party for the documentary. In effect, he is now making a documentary about the documentary. There are people standing around in small groups, and posters for the film are on the walls. The director, a man with long brown hair and beard, perhaps in his early thirties, is holding forth in one of the groups. The cinematographer joins them.

After a few pleasantries I can't recall, he asks the director, "Is art inherently political?"

The director replies that it is not. There's plenty of art that has no political content whatsoever.

The cinematographer, who is slowly becoming me, asks the director to picture that classic portrait: "A young mother is cradling her infant in her arms while looking down at it with dreamy love in her face. It's been done a gajillion times, and it will be done a gajillion more times."

"All right."

"Now, picture a slogan, or better yet, just a name at the bottom of the portrait. Maybe 'MADD: Mothers Against Drunk Driving,' Do you see how easily it can be rendered political? If art's not inherently political, it's just one step away."

"It might be politically adjacent, but that's not the same thing…"

I waken so slowly that there is no clear line between my waking state and the dream. In the end, I am discussing with myself the various names and slogans that put various political spins on the mother-cradling-child portrait: AFL-CIO, The Democratic Party, The Republican Party, The Mommy Party, It's For Life...

"NRA – wait, does NRA work?"

"Maybe, 'NRA – It's For Them'."


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