The Theology of Delight
Poems That Endure; People That Endure

Art With a Private Address

SingerI think I have written before of my disdain for artists who use their art as a pulpit for political activism -- as a place for propaganda, where a song, for example, becomes merely a vehicle for "making a point," for persuading someone of the moral righteousness of a position.  Good art is not morally indifferent, and good artists are not precluded form being active in social causes, but the art itself is not the place for that, at least not in this sense.  Art is much more subtle than that, and much more concerned with the human condition and the often difficult conditions we find ourselves in.

This is why I was pleased to find a more credible voice than mine saying much the same thing.  In the editorial statement by Gregory Wolfe which accompanied the latest issue of Image (#51), entitled "Keeping a Private Address," Wolfe picks up on Eudora Welty's phrase as an important corrective to the trend toward artist-activists.  What concerns him is "the growing trend that leads writers and artists to feel impelled to make their ideological commitments the defining characteristic  of their creative work."  Wolfe goes so far as to say that "the problem with the world today is not too little morality, but too much."  He calls these artists-activists the "new Puritans."  (I know what he's driving at but may differ with him as to what the Puritans were all about, as their characterization as zealous moralists really does not do justice to who they were.)

Like me, Wolfe laments the politicization of art as a cheapening of the artistic enterprise.  He cites Ann Lamott's recent book, Plan B, as an example of what happens, as Lamott's book is replete with criticism of George Bush (as are so many albums in the pop-rock market, all with their obligatory anti-Bush song).  Ann Lamott is a good writer, and the point is not that she has liberal political views.  The point is her foisting them on us in the artistic context.  I'm not reading her book for her political views.  I'm reading her stories because they are good -- full of depth, human, and not easily categorized.  He holds up Wendell Berry as a writer who has managed to hold views and yet not let them turn his work into propaganda.  I agree.

I commend this short article to you.  There is much more than I can comment on here.  I'm tired of politicized art.  It's fashionable in some quarters, but it's not good.