Art, Freedom and Tyranny
Liberty, n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions.(Ambrose Bierce)
When the governement or other established power base starts to challenge any art form, including freedom of speech and information, I see weakness and desperation in that government.
When art is accepted at best and tolerated at worst it may suggest a healthy society. People get on with their lives and can think for themselves (without the powers that be trying to control these thoughts). Artists are happy to accept or ignore different opinions on what they produce. That is the way it should be and everybody gets on with life. But when art is condemned by a ruling power then there is poverty of leadership.
Recently I was researching impressionist art. One of the books spent time on the revolution in art and ideas that gave birth to impressionism. (See my little slideshow summary). One major catalyst of course was the art academy trying to control what art when on exhibition at the annual salon. This official recognition was critical to making a living as an artist. If you were rejected you quite literally could starve unless you gave up art and took up another trade. Modern self-promotion and galleries did not exist. Understandably when the world started entering modern times artists started to resist these shackles. Change was inevitable.
Fast forward to 1930's Germany. The Nazi government tries to stamp out art forms it terms "degenerate". At first the Nazis try to do this by humiliating the artists. The Nazis seize the paintings and mount a travelling exhibition in Germany and Austria. Tens of thousands flock to see the art that is verboten. Why is the art so popular? Sure many are simply curious, but is there something to art as a catalyst for ideas and a symbol of freedom when this human right is under threat. Why were the Nazis so fearful of artistic expression that did not meet their approved propaganda? Is art powerful after all?
As time has moved forward with greater technological change it has become easy to laugh off art as a weekend activity. A hobby. Art students are tolerated and even pitied for being naive. We need professionals and engineers. So why is it time for artists to recognise their power? What is missing in this modern society?
For one thing people feel that their back is against the wall. Regulation of everything, massive price increases, no job security and tough competition means everyone must look out for themselves. Technology can mean freedom or enslavement. It is up to the individual to choose and choice can be scary.
When we see government attacking an artist's work, attacking free speech in television adverts, threatening journalists with action if they seek the truth then perhaps we are seeing a new appreciation for the power of ideas. Ideas expressed in art has power when we recognise that all is not well in our daily lives. Art can jolt society out of its torpor. Art is creativity in action and it does provoke at an emotional level. Tyrants know that ideas are dangerous.
What is this brief rant about? Simply this - do not trust authority when it attacks art. When it tries to control arts and media. When it tries to ridicule artists. Art cannot be imprisoned. Art is within us. Art is freedom and art is critical to the world today. The next time leaders with feet of clay cry out indignantly at an artist, do not fall for it. The emperor does indeed have no clothes.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa