Boy, it’s a weird coincidence that most artists are liberal, isn’t it?
Is There a Conspiracy?
Over history, most artists have been state-sponsored, which means that the less liberal the artists, the more they would have been welcome. Since most artists (like Shakespeare and Moliére) still found a way to get their liberal licks in, one can only assume that there weren’t any other really great conservative artists to be found.
Today, the driving force behind publishers and movie studios is money, not politics. One assumes that if a product was good enough, it would be published or produced nonetheless. Disney can attest to it, since even its Jewish executives supported Mel Gibson after his anti-Semitic ‘incident’, because they had to sell Apocalypto.
In fact, hundreds of conservative non-fiction books are being published today, some of which become best-sellers. So if there was a lot of really great conservative fiction, some percentage of it would have found its way to publication.
And yet it hasn’t.
It’s almost as if you have to be a liberal to be a good artist. But that can’t be true, can it?
Well, it can. And it is. Here’s why.
(One exception: Storytellers limits itself to the storytelling arts (movies, TV, theater, prose), as opposed to the other arts (sculpture, photography, painting, architecture, poetry, etc.) about which I know very little.)
Stories Are Liberal
Stories, by their nature, have some sort of conflict. Otherwise, they would be boring. Conflict, by its nature, has at least two sides. To be able to write these two sides well, the artist has to understand, deep inside, that both sides are equally human. The more he portrays the other side as human, the better the story. The less human the other side, the more flawed the story.
That puts artists on the humanistic side of most ideological battles throughout history: against racism (the other race is people, too), against slavery (slaves are people, too), for feminism (women are people, too), for the rights of children (children think and feel just like adults), against child labor, for gay rights (homosexuals are just as human), for the downtrodden, for the poor (they are just like us, only poor), against most wars (because the other side bleeds red, too, and mourns with the same pain), and against most religions (in particular, against the religions that claim its followers are ‘the chosen’ and those who are not will not get into heaven and/or are inferior in some way).
Oddly enough, this little rule does not necessarily put artists on the side of animal rights, since animals may be many things, but they are not human. This rule also does not put artists automatically on the green side of the debate. Earth, after all, is not a person and does not feel. What it takes for a person to fight for these issues when they were not popular isn’t really a ‘requirement’ for someone to be good storytelling artists.
Mark Twain in many of his stories and books shows us how slaves are just as human as you or I. In fact, he uses his stories to show his white readers that if they had been born with slightly worse luck, they would have been born slaves. And that they would have then acted just like slaves, too (and the fact that slaves acted like slaves made it easier for the white people to treat them as slaves).
SF author Jules Verne (1828-1905) was asked once why he doesn’t have more women characters. He answered that when his plot needs a romantic interest, he puts a woman in the story. As you can guess, if you’ve never read his books, his characters, both male and female, are cardboard cutouts. To take nothing from the many great things that he has done as an author, that little thing, that inability to understand human nature, made him a worse artist than he could have been. Had he been more liberal (not as a pose, but in truth), his books would have been even better.
Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee wrote in an introduction to one of their Rama II novels, that to write this book they had to understand women. And so they had sat down with their wives, had many long talks, and “now we understand women” (I quote from memory). Needless to say, anyone who says “now I understand women” doesn’t understand women. In addition, of course, anyone who does not understand women does not understand people. You would not be surprised, I suppose, to find that their characters in this book and in the others each of them had written were also cardboard cutouts. Again, not to take anything from Arthur C. Clarke’s great achievements (read his true classics, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End, and 2010), he would no doubt have been a better artist had his characters been more human.
Dickens wrote many books about the plight and hardships of children. One couldn’t read Oliver Twist, for example, without getting the feeling, deep inside, that children feel just the same as us adults and that many of the ways in which society treats children are unjust. Dickens’ women are just as human as his men. Even his most ridiculous characters (and there are plenty of those) are ridiculous in a human way and feel love and pain just as any of us do. In fact, they are ridiculous in the same way we are ridiculous.
We’ve previously examined how David E. Kelly uses our inherent racism to get this same point across.
In conclusion, then, you don’t have to be a liberal to be a good storyteller. But the better your story is, the more of a liberal you are. (Unfortunately for aspiring writers, that does not work the other way round: you cannot aspire to be liberal and hope that will make you a better artist.)
So, yes, most good artists are liberal. And it is not a coincidence.