Artists don’t just create beautiful things: art is, by its nature political. Whether the artist is trying consciously to make a statement or is simply informed and inspired by the world that surrounds them, all art has a political meaning. There’s also the question of how its funded: art funded by a patron comes with an agenda to reflect well on that patron, even if it’s simply by creating the most magnificent work of art to glorify them. Artists that rely on selling their work are, to an extent, beholden to meet the whims of their customers.
While politics clearly affects art, art can affect politics right back! Consider activists like Ai Weiwei who uses both his art and his status as an artist to investigate, highlight and communicate important issues like the human rights abuses of the Chinese Government and corruption in governmental systems. As a testament to the power of this particular artist, he was held for 81 days by the Chinese Government before his release, since when he has lived in Germany and continued to provide pressure on China to improve it’s human rights policies.
Let’s take a deeper look at another artist who’s had a huge international impact.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
As the isolationist phase of the USSR came to an end, and it began to be more open to the outside world (prior to dissolving entirely), diplomatic links and cultural bonds with other countries began to be more and more important. These were forged officially by diplomats and attaches, but also through less formal links. Gifts of art helped to unite communities once separated by the Iron Curtain, and build trust as it began to come down.
Zurab Tsereteli is an artist who specialises in monumental, public works of art. His pieces have been gifted around the world exactly as a way of building cultural links and fostering international collaboration. His ‘Break the Wall of Mistrust’ was donated to the City of London in 1990, a very sensitive political year, and is still on display. Other works have been gifted to the USA, to Puerto Rico and to other countries around the world. Tsereteli himself serves as the head of Russia’s Academy of Arts and is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of the international scope of his work and his continuing ability to connect people across borders through his art.