Monday, June 06, 2005

Teachout on Art and Politics

Any work of art that seeks to persuade an audience to take some specific form of external action, political or otherwise, tends to be bad. But the line is not a bright one, and it is possible to make good, even great art that is intended to serve as the persuasive instrument of an exterior purpose. (That's why the great cathedrals of Europe were built.) Hence it serves no purpose to assert that political art is ever and always bad, as too many conservatives are wont to do. A conservative aesthete may be emotionally drawn to such sweeping statements as this one, made by a Russian émigré novelist in Kingsley Amis's "The Russian Girl":

Everywhere in the world literature is in retreat from politics and unless resisted the one will crush the other. You don't crush literature from outside by killing writers or intimidating them or not letting them publish, though as we've all seen you can make a big fuss and have a lot of fun trying. You do better to induce them to destroy it themselves by inducing them to subordinate it to political purposes, as you propose to do.

In the end, though, they amount to little more than confessions of artistic faith.

from When Drama Becomes Propaganda


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