Art and politics have long had a complex relationship. From late show monologues to editorial cartoons, politics has long been a muse for creativity and commentary.  

And politicians have used art as a tool to engage and connect with voters — as seen in the many battles over the use of popular music in political campaigns. The complexity of that relationship has only intensified as political divisions have grown. 

So, in this politically polarized and media-saturated world, what lies ahead at the intersection of art and politics? Zydalis Bauer spoke with political consultant Ryan McCollum to find out. 

Learn what goes into the art of crafting political cartoons in our digital exclusive feature on editorial cartoonist Chan Lowe.


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Art and politics have long had a complex relationship. From late show monologues to editorial cartoons, politics has long been a muse for creativity and commentary, and politicians have used art as a tool to engage and connect with voters, as seen in the many battles over the use of popular music in political campaigns.

And the complexity of that relationship has only intensified as political divisions have grown. So, in this politically polarized and media-saturated world, what lies ahead at the intersection of art and politics?

I spoke with political consultant Ryan McCollum to find out.

Ryan McCollum, Political Consultant: From the beginning of — of politics, from the beginning of democracy, art has had an impact on on politics. Because both art and politics are very broad subjects,  they — they have to have an impact on one another.

And so, whether it’s — whether it’s music or poetry or the fine arts, like we talk about when we talk about paintings and drawings and sculptures, but also in campaign art, right?

So, propaganda — for lack of better words — needs to be appealing to make your case. And so, when you’re working on a political campaign, the logo, the lawn sign, everything that is part of your campaign should be aesthetically pleasing, right? And that takes artists, whether they’re digital artists or hard artists, right?

So, I think of Shepard Fairey’s poster of Obama that said “Hope,” right? That was a very sticky image, to use kind of a marketing term. People remember that poster of Obama done by an artist. If you go back to JFK, some of his posters were very artsy, for lack of a better word.

So, even when you’re running a smaller campaign, the logos can be very important. If you have a true digital artist doing some of those logos, it’s helpful.

And same thing when it comes to the larger campaigns, right? So, Trump’s folks and Biden’s folks or Trump’s folks and Hillary Clinton’s folks, they definitely leverage artists in thir campaigns.

Zydalis Bauer: The art world tends to lean more towards the liberal side of politics. Why do you think this is the case and why don’t we see more conservative art and artists?

Ryan McCollum: You know, historically, it seems like that in America. I think maybe because, you know, you can’t — you also can’t divorce politics and social movements. And our social movements in America have tend to be more progressive and to be more liberal, whether it’s the Civil Rights Era or the Protest Generation during the Vietnam War.

And so, artists tend to be a little bit more liberal, right? They tend to be, you know, live in more liberal places and have more liberal and free thought ideas and are usually trying to get across the message of love and peace and change.

But that’s not to say there’s not conservative artists, right? There’s not — there’s plenty of conservative artists. There’s plenty of — especially coming out of the faith community, right?

So, you know, nowadays, if you look at the country — the country music genre, they tend to be more conservative. And they might not be outright saying, you know, “I’m a Trump guy,” but they say things that are more conservative about standing up for the national anthem and protecting their Second Amendment rights.

So, there’s not a lack of it. I just think that just through organic, you know, just through time in America, that’s social change piece and politics are so interwoven that, you know, artists tend to be a bit more liberal.

Zydalis Bauer: That brings me to my next question because music seems to be a different medium where more conservative voices are shared.

You mentioned country music, rock and roll. We’ve had Ted Nugent; Kid Rock; recently, western Mass’s own Aaron Lewis. They’ve been outspoken in their views throughout their music.

Why do you think this is the case? What is it about music that makes conservatives feel more comfortable to have a voice?

Ryan McCollum: I don’t know if it’s about, like, comfort level to have a voice. I think it’s everybody loves music. And if 35 percent or 40 percent or 50 percent of the country is conservative, then it might be reflected in their in their music.

When we talk about artists, the good artists, right, hopefully it’s not contrived, right? So, like Aaron Lewis, who’s a local guy, feels these feelings. That — those are his principles and those principles are going to come across in his music. I don’t agree with them, but at least he’s staying true to himself.

And so, you know, while somebody like that may lose some people, he’s probably gaining some folks as well.

Zydalis Bauer: Switching gears just a little bit, throughout presidential elections, we have seen the clash between arts and politics.

The first major collision, according to Rolling Stone, was Bruce Springsteen objecting to Reagan’s use of “Born in the USA.” And more recently, we saw Neil Young and Pharrell Williams stopping the Trump campaign from using their music.

Should art be separated from politics or is the overlap necessary?

Ryan McCollum: I think the overlap is necessary, right? So…because art and politics again, like I said, are so, so, so deeply impactful on our lives and also just have no choice but to be interwoven.

But like I just said, artists are humans and they have their own principles, as well. And so, you know, Pharrell or Neil Young not wanting President Trump or former President Trump to be using their music is, it’s their right. It’s their — it’s their work.

Zydalis Bauer: Late night comedy monologues are filled with political commentary. Does poking fun at politicians and government help to hold them accountable?

Ryan McCollum: Sure. Satire is– has long been used as a — as an art form to — to hold elected officials or leaders in- check, or at least to — to — to let the populace know and think about things in a different way. Whether it’s Trevor Noah or Jimmy Kimmel, or even some conservative folks on radio shows who make fun of liberals.

It’s…it — it’s part of.. it’s part of the ethos, it’s part of what happens. But comedy is an art form. Satire is an art form. And and again, you can’t separate art from politics.

Zydalis Bauer: Political cartoons is another art form that has been around for a really long time. According to Britannica.com, the first known American cartoon was published by Benjamin Franklin in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754.

So, does art that directly comments on or explores politics have any real influence over politicians or the voters?

Ryan McCollum: Definitely. Just like just like satire and just like a monologue, a political cartoon, when done — when effective, will give the voter a different aspect that they might not have seen. To make it absurd, or to make it ridiculous, and to put it into a cartoon format, allows your mind to maybe look at that issue in a different way.

Zydalis Bauer: The politics of now can be viewed very differently with the passage of time. What role, if any, does art have on how history looks at notable political moments?

Ryan McCollum: Yeah. So again, to keep it pretty local, one of my favorite pieces of political art is in the Springfield Art Museum, the D’Amour Museum.

And its a “Historic Monument of the American Republic.” It’s a huge painting when you first walk in, and it’s done in the romantic sense and the true sense of Romanticism. So it’s Roman, right? So, it looks like you’re in Italy, but all these different events that took place to help form America are in there, right?

And the artist is very clever of how he puts those different events in this huge painting, that looks like it’s some kind of monument in Rome. You know, again, whether it’s a bust of Benjamin Franklin himself, or it’s a statue of this or that, I think it’s very interesting.

The — one of the best piece of pieces of art now, in my opinion, is there’s a Robert E. Lee statue that has been transformed with graffiti and different pieces of art all over the statue and projection on the statue, as almost taking that old piece of art and making it new, in politics of now, to protest — you know, to say “Black Lives Matter.”

And so, that piece of art, right? Using that medium of a of a Civil War general who wanted to keep Black people enslaved, to now say “Black Lives Matter” is very interesting.

Zydalis Bauer: In this politically polarized world saturated with media, what lies ahead for the intersection of art and politics?

Ryan McCollum: People are consuming art much more differently in their homes, on their phones, on their computers, right? And so, I think that’s going to continue to be the case.

I think as politics have changed over the hundreds of years, so has art changed for over hundreds of years, but they’ve always been hand-in-hand. So, I think as our politics change and you know, we are polarized to a degree, I think — I would — I would posit that we we’ve been pretty polarized in the past, as well.

And it’s always when you’re when you’re in the now, you always say, “Oh, it’s never been this bad, right?” But like, Oh, it was pretty bad and my grandfather couldn’t drink from a certain water fountain, right? Like, that’s that’s pretty polarizing, right?

And so it does feel very polarized nowadays, but we’ve always kind of had that and that — and that is the — that’s what makes America kind of great, right? It’s — it’s, you know, or democracy great.

I know Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government besides every other form of government,”right? So it’s — it’s — it’s bad, it seems bad, but everything else is worse. And so, you know, as politics change and as we’re polarized, art is going to be the same way.

And like I said in the beginning, it can be beautiful art and things that are aesthetically pleasing to you that happened to take a different political stance than you. And people should be comfortable enough to admit that.