Thursday, September 29, 2005

Are Great Artists any particular wing?

Ann Althouse asked a rather unusual question, and, while her thoughts are interesting, they leave me unconvinced that she understands art and artists.

She says that, while watching the Scorsese biography of Bob Dylan (on PBS this week), a thought arose:
To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

Several commenters read this as saying that artists tend to lean more toward the right end of the political spectrum, and she corrected them:

I'm not saying that the great artist adopts a right wing political ideology. If fact, I agree with you that the great artist needs to separate himself from politics and certainly to get it out of his art. I'm saying there's something right wing about doing that. My comment arose in a discussion of the Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, which shows how he did not fit in with the left wing folksingers who tried very hard to keep him in their fold and felt betrayed when he alienated himself from them. My observation is that he was, at heart, a great artist, and it was not possible to do what was needed to be a good lefty, which would require a strong focus on group goals and communal values. He certainly wasn't switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics.

I'm calling that right wing. It's certainly antithetical to left wing politics, which requires you to remain engaged and would require the artist to include politics in his art.

That bit about his getting out of politics (bold text added by me) is what undoes her observation. Both the left and the right wings view society as most important.

The right winger places family and individual at the top of the list for importance, but will always recognize that society is what protects him and his, and so, he works to build a solid, simple, structured society, where the law is above all, and the government comes from the law. The right winger sees that he is his brother's keeper (meanwhile expecting the brother to live up to his abilities and expectations), and acts accordingly.

The left winger sees the government as the source of law, but the design is for the protection of the individual through collective behavior. The left winger sees the government as his brother's keeper (as well as his own), and demands that it must act accordingly.

Either way, the common cause is survival of what each calls civilization. They are part of the whole.

But neither left nor right will contain the inconsiderate, selfish, demon-driven creature which is the Great Artist. He doesn't take responsibility for his part of the world -- he takes responsibility for nothing but the selfish need to excise images or words from within himself. He chooses to live in his own chaos, ruling it in the way his own nature tells him it should be ruled, regardless of others, and regardless of law. He does not even acknowledge that he has a brother. He doesn't respond to society -- it responds to him, or it is nothing. In essence, the genius is a sociopath, but a productive, directed one. Both left and right may have room for his works, but the person is, by his own actions and thoughts, neither left nor right nor middle. He is wholly an outsider.

I have had a weak case of this disease, "artistic talent", for most of my life, and have known several people who, when they are gone, may be remembered as having been afflicted greatly. Believe me, if you are truly left- or right-winged (and not just some ninny with a cause or two), you wouldn't like living among us lunatics. And we could take or leave living among most of you.

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