Art is Political Because Life is Political

We have this conversation every few years, you and I.

This time, it was an actor. Next time, it might be a musician, or a painter, or a writer. Regardless, it will be the same conversation. You will say to the world that artists should not be political, that they do not have the appropriate knowledge, or experience. They’re insulated in their bubble, they don’t know what the average citizen is going through. You say that artists just shouldn’t talk about politics.

Nevermind that our current dust-up is about a television personality being elected to one of the most powerful political positions in the world. That hypocrisy is an easy dig. We must go deeper. Art is political because life is political, as the title says, therefore it is everyone’s right to speak about the state of our world. If one has a place of notoriety and influence, it is their right to use that notoriety and influence.

Artists are hardly insulated from struggle.

It is also their right to avoid addressing political issues. But that, in and of itself, is still a political choice. Silence is a kind of communication. If a friend says “I love you” and you stay silent, that is communication. If a friend tells you a joke you find distasteful and you do not laugh, you do not say anything, that is communication. Silence is a powerful tool, and it can be used for good or for evil, but we cannot pretend it is any different than choosing to voice one’s grievances.

Everything we touch and use in this world has been affected by the choices of businesses, governments, activist groups and individual people. The instruments we play our music on, our paints and canvases, the plays that we read from, the books that we publish. Nothing is unaffected by our histories and our mythologies, our good works and our injustices.

Artists can suffer from the same problems as any other working-class people. I mean, the image of The Starving Artist comes from somewhere, right? Many artists have suffered from poverty, homelessness, addiction, debt, hunger…the list goes on. This is true even for those who have made it to the top. Most artists will never achieve the success and the glamour we see in the award shows broadcast on television. Few will even see a middle-class lifestyle from their creative work. Artists are hardly insulated from struggle.

So when you say an artist shouldn’t get involved in politics, I say, we already are. All of us. And there’s no way out of it.

We might as well try to do something good while we’re involved.

Income Tracking Spreadsheet
Aaron J. Shay

About Aaron J. Shay

Aaron J. Shay is an independent writer, performer and musician from the Pacific Northwest. He has been stomping around and singing about dinosaurs and ghosts and the apocalypse since 2010, both as a solo artist and as a member of a folk-punk trio called The Mongrel Jews. His instruments include voice, banjo, ukulele and guitar.

He has toured the west coast of the United States, and has also performed in Helsinki, Finland and Reykjavik, Iceland. Beginning with his own home-recordings, Shay has produced and co-produced more than seven albums for peers in the alt-folk community of the Northwest, as well as for himself, both in DIY low-fi settings and professional studios as well. He has performed with such artists as Jason Webley, Geoff Berner, Zoe Boekbinder, and Unwoman.

Shay currently lives in Seattle, WA, where he doesn’t mind the weather.

1 Comment

  1. […] As I’ve written before, and as others have written before me, silence is not an option if you truly believe in justice and equality. If you see oppression (or clear support of oppression) and you don’t act, you’re aiding and abetting the oppressor. Even if you feel uncomfortable, if you feel that you’re alone on the road and don’t have enough support, if you feel too vulnerable to act, let me assure you that there are other options. I promise. You don’t necessarily have to punch a neo-Nazi, but you don’t have to suffer their presence, either. […]

Leave a Reply

Pin It
[ + ]