On the fraught relationship between the arts and politics

by Lorenzo Piccoli


Last December saw the publication of a collection of essays on independence by a number of well-known Scottish writers. The writer and artist Alasdair Gray was the subject of a great controversy, as he was accused of promoting nationalism alongside hostility and anti-English sentiment.

A recent article on openDemocracy argues that much of this was hostile, premature and gave the impression not only of certain critics’ ignorance of Scottish culture, but of the actual content of Gray’s essay. The most brilliant point of the article, however, is about the fraught and false relationship between the arts and politics. The authors makes the argument that political and cultural feeling may be important to the impetus driving artistic production, but they are arguably subservient to more aesthetic imperatives. In their discussions of literature and art, inevitably predicated on the ultimate political results of such discourse, politicians tend to forget this. One of the functions of art would seem to be the broadening of meaning, or the multiplication of potential narratives, to add cultural or emotional significance to material arguments. Deployed politically, much of this is lost.

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