The tag word today is ideology; every piece of art has its own story and thus its own bit of ideology infused into it. And the main question for all of us artists is: “How can we either become part of an already established ideology, or even how to make our own?”
The point of this is quite straightforward and based upon an interesting phenomenon that pertains to objects in general, but especially artistic object in particular. So, before we venture into the how, let’s try to explore the why fist:
Take the Ode to Joy for our example; since its creation, Beethoven’s 9th symphony (we’re still talking about the same thing) has been used by a myriad of different, even contradicting causes, to propagate their ideas.
Used by both governments of Nazi Germany and Communist China, by the protesters in Chile, demonstrating against Pinochet and the then ruling class. It was played at the fall of the Berlin Wall, by christians, buddhists and all sorts of other religions — it was also the theme song of the RSSR (old-school talk for communist Russia), picked by Stalin himself.
In short; everybody and their fascist grandma used to relate to that song while just over the border the same tune was played by diehard communists — and now it’s the unofficial hymn of the European Union.
It’s a lot like if the song Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees was used by both sides of any conflict (the concert itself would probably be aired in some neutral country like Switzerland with the speakers faced into the direction of the fighting countries) and just blasted onto the battlefield with everybody, regardless of side, religion or mindset, relating to the same thing; the beauty and sheer amount of grace 3 pairs of airtight trousers can unleash in a society without autotune.
If they only knew what was coming…
While my example is based on music, it works in visual art all the same. There’s a wonderful story someone told in a video somewhere on YouTube (might be Peterson, but it could also be Žižek or any other philosopher/sociologist fond of either lobsters or other people’s toilets, so I couldn’t say for sure):
He said that he owns a portrait of Stalin that he proudly hung on one of the walls in his home. But, being someone that despises the horrific deeds that man was capable of doing, that portrait doesn’t hang there as a token of reminiscence or a symbol of some old, partly-forgotten way.
He keeps it there, because of the sheer fact that he can watch the ideology of the painting slowly crack and fade away.
Meaning; now it might still be a portrait of Stalin, the horrible person, but over time — in 100 or 200 years, when nobody that actually remembers what happened firsthand is alive anymore — he’ll just be another old “important” guy on a painting. Just like the rest of them, probably exhibited in some museum and sorted on the merit of date or technique, not deeds.
He might even be hung next to some old Russian icon of Jesus — when ideology vanishes from people’s hearts and minds, it leaves its products empty and only the technical traits like size, colour, texture, motif and composition stay.
Our job as artists then is not to produce mere technical products (albeit what we end up with is exactly that), but to carefully craft our products in such a fashion, that they become part of the zeitgeist — of the now.
This again brings us to the wonderfully simple, but for some reason dismissed general differentiation between artists and artisans; artisans craft empty vessels with no intention of them ever being filled with anything else than maybe a good wine if they make wineglasses, but artists make objects specifically for the purpose of carrying ideas inside of them.
To put it simply: If artists like to craft poems, artisans love to write dictionaries.
And again, there is no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of perspective and of varying outcomes.