James Hendicott: The impact of politics on the arts

by James Hendicott

By the time you read this, the big story of this week – the American election – will be over, and we’ll either know who the next President across the pond will be, or we’ll be facing up extended counts and legal wrangling.

We’ll all have our own opinions on that, of course, but what about the impact on the arts?

Arts can be independent of politics, of course, but as recent months have shown, the two can also be intrinsically linked. From support payments to cutting social commentary in the form of music, there’s always cross over between the two areas – even, these days, Kanye West’s somewhat comic edging towards a Presidential campaign – and who is in government and what they’re doing can have a profound effect on lots of artist’s output.

In recent years, for example, hip-hop has been a beacon of protest. In the US, that’s meant acts like Kendrick Lamar and Run The Jewels fighting social issues in their music, and speaking out in politics (the latter campaigned vocally for Bernie Sanders, for example, including running a series of interviews with the Democratic nomination candidate in 2016). Their output, as people and as musicians, was unquestionably profoundly impacted by their political views, and by who did, or could, hold power.

From Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ to NOFX’s ‘Murder The Government’ (a tongue in cheek exercise!), a lot of great, great art is motivated by sending a message to politicians, as well as one that reverberates with the public. Rusangano Family, Nealo, Alex Gough, and Hozier have made similar overtures in Ireland.

For some artists, what happens this week will determine the tone and style of their musical output to some degree for the coming four years, as well as the more mundane aspects of our lives: it’ll be contentment, or reaction, in musical form. Many of the greatest pieces of art in history are designed to make political points. It’ll be interesting to see what comes forth.

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