In an otherwise interesting essay reflecting on nearly two decades of running a record label, Alec Hanley Bemis offers up some advice for those considering the same path. Hard to disagree with statements like “Dedicate yourself to learning as much about music that already exists as you do contributing new music to our cultural ecosystem,” “Be skeptical of overnight successes,” and “Creativity is inherently indifferent to money.”
Where Bemis and I part ways, however, is where he asserts that “art is a political act.”
For one thing, can we please, please designate one or two areas of our lives as politics-free zones? I mean, it can’t be a coincidence that our societal dysfunction has only increased as more and more people have insisted on politicizing every damn thing around us. Enough already!
For another, Bemis has committed what appears to be an error of logic. “By definition,” he writes, “art is a form of speech—so art is never apolitical.” That only works if we use the following construction:
premise 1: All speech is political.
premise 2: Art is speech.
conclusion: Therefore, art is political.
Forget about the spuriousness of premise 2 (a “problematic enterprise”); premise 1 is clearly untrue. No matter how you unpack it or deconstruct it or apply critical theory to it, “These pretzels are making me thirsty” just isn’t a political statement.
But I digress.
Art can—and should—be apolitical, if only so that we can get back to judging it on its merits rather than on whether the artist holds the correct political position du jour. Or to prevent it from becoming a cudgel with which to beat up the other side. Think I’m overstating things? Think again.
As usual, Nick Cave has the right perspective: “My music is not designed to reward people for good behaviour, nor do I make music to punish people for bad behaviour. My music is not conditional. It is for everybody, regardless of their actions, good or bad or otherwise.”