Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Why Are Most Artists Liberal?

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.


yonatan said...

good point.
i like reading you.

Guy Hasson said...

Much obliged. Come again.

minerva said...

Hi Guy Hasson,
Chanced across your post via 3QuarksDaily.

Enjoyed this post immensely. :)
I find myself concurring with your opinion that great writers are gifted with the rare quality of Empathy (for the marginalised, the minority, etc. in any community in question).

And, to be able to re-present that intuitive sensitivity for people who may seem 'different' from us/them, with the masses, makes these artist(e)s all the more praiseworthy, yes.

Thanks for the museworthy post.
Wishes, minerva*

ianras said...


How are you? I've been enjoying your blog but I have to take issue with a number of your points here.

Care of others isn't a property that belongs solely to liberalism. One can be against slavery or child labour or discrimination and not be a liberal.

Also, it's much easier to create fiction with a liberal bent. If one wants to engender sympathy with a character whose freedoms the writer feels are being unfairly limited, the writer has to create a honest account of that person's life. But if a writer feels that granting that freedom will corrode an aspect of one's society, then that writer has to offer a panaroma. The text has to be much more substantial and is much more likely to fail.

And while I agree with your thesis up to a point, the primary reason that artists are liberals is that, like every other cultural group in the world, the artistic community is populated by a majority that does whatever brings them the most social cachet and prestige. No one likes to be sniggered at so people don't do things that will get them sniggered at. The worth of liberalism is beside the point, it's in.

Guy Hasson said...

Hi ianras,

I think if you look carefully, you won't find the words 'care', 'sympathy' or 'empathy' anywhere in the article. And that is because they are not 'requirements', as I've said, of being a good writer. A writer simply has to write all sides in a story well. The better he writers, the better artist he is. And to write better, what he has to do is not care for the other side, simply understand the other side. And he who understands best understands that the other side is just as human.

As for the social reason you mention, it is true that most artist communities are liberal. That is because the people at the top of the social ladder, the real artists, are liberal. Any wannabe artists (and those are the majority) do their best to mimic those above them, to either be like them or to please them. But if those at the top were conservative, the social pressure would be in the opposite direction. Sniggering and social pressure exists in all social communities, not just the liberal ones, ianras.

And thanks, minerva.

ianras said...

>>> I think if you look carefully, you won't find the words 'care', 'sympathy' or 'empathy' anywhere in the article. And that is because they are not 'requirements', as I've said, of being a good writer. A writer simply has to write all sides in a story well. The better he writers, the better artist he is. And to write better, what he has to do is not care for the other side, simply understand the other side. And he who understands best understands that the other side is just as human.

But to follow the old maxim: To understand all is to forgive all. When one creates a character with a vibrant inner life and evokes it potently, empathy for the character, inevitably, follows. Part of understanding others well is holding them in sympathy; if you don't hold them in sympathy because of, say, resentment, then then you're fostering a pretty shoddy understanding of them.

>>> That is because the people at the top of the social ladder, the real artists, are liberal.

That's simply untrue. I can name bucketloads of real artists that predate liberalism by centuries. Some of the most widely praised and influential writers of the last hundred years were socially conservative too -- Flannery O'Connery, Flann O'Brien, T.S. Eliot.

>>> But if those at the top were conservative, the social pressure would be in the opposite direction.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'the opposite direction.'

>>> Sniggering and social pressure exists in all social communities, not just the liberal ones, ianras.

Oh, I agree; that's why I included 'like every other cultural group in the world' when I wrote 'the primary reason that artists are liberals is that, like every other cultural group in the world, the artistic community is populated by a majority that does whatever brings them the most social cachet and prestige.' I meant 'cultural' as synonymous with 'social'.

I hope none of this sounds supercilious, it's not meant to be. It's hard to convey tone in this format.

nathan said...

You could also surmise that a liberal being someone who is tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition, would make a better artist simply because they are open to novel experiences in life which ultimately creates a deeper well of inspiration to pull from.

IQpierce said...

This... article doesn't explain anything, and it's unclear what it's talking about. Essentially it says "It seems like most artists are liberal. Why is that? Here's why. To write a story well, you have to understand both sides."

...And? What in God's name does that have to do with liberalism?

Perhaps you should define what you mean by the word "liberalism." Liberalism in modern America? Liberalism throughout history? The "left"? Any political movement which is attempts to overturn tradition?

You don't provide your definition, so I can only infer it from the context in which you use the word. And if you read this article, it's impossible to conclude that your meaning of the word means anything other than "people who care about other people".

So we must conclude that, in your view, liberals care about other people, and conservatives do not.

In other words, all you've done is reveal the depth of your own prejudice.

If you want me to come to some other conclusion, you're going to have to define what the heck you're trying to say a lot more clearly. "Most artists are liberal because the better artists are better capable of understanding their fellow human beings" is the only way to comprehend this article, and it implies that conservatives are inherently lacking in either empathy or intelligence or both.

Furthermore, your initiale assumption that "most good artists are liberal" is far from watertight. C.S. Lewis was a conservative, and wrote excellent stories, and they were excellent because he understood both sides. Read That Hideous Strength or Until We Have Faces and you'll see that his villainous or flawed characters are the most fascinating ones, and that he demonstrates a deep understanding of them.

The real question is, do you ever read conservative authors? Of course not, after all, why would you, when everyone knows that liberals write better stories?

For someone who apparently values the ability to empathize and understand every single human being and their worth, you sure are quick to paint half of American society as lacking in empathy and/or intelligence.

Johnny said...

What about Tolstoy?

He's about as conservative as it gets - he was in favour of serfdom for crying out loud!

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting thesis, for sure, with some interesting merits, although you kinda shoot yourself in the foot by pointing out how many significant artists failed to understand major chunks of humanity, and therefore by your rubric couldn't possibly be liberals.

Consider this: science fiction's been arguably more white male-dominated than other genres of fiction for many years, and has tended politically toward a certain libertarian brand of conservative politics. The dystopian tradition within sf, meanwhile, has included so many great pieces of literature about situations where the government has too much power that even to recognize that government should have some responsibility to take care of its neediest citizens tends to set off alarm bells among many within sf culture.

I would agree with you that artists in general must at least be able to think beyond convention, which in many cases leads them to liberal politics (especially in conservative times); this is my best explanation for why vegetarianism so often accompanies homosexuality or other unconventional lifestyle choices.

While I think some of your respondents may well go overboard in their defense of conservative artists, there's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy and selection bias on both sides: many liberals don't consider artists with conservative politics to be true artists, and vice versa. If you wanted to seriously pursue this, you might want to look at a publication like the Journal of Creativity Research to see if there's any objective research substantiating your basic thesis about "artists tend to be liberal" and other related topics.

Adam Lowe said...

Lord of the Rings seems to be one example of good storytelling art that's not very liberal. There is no effort made to understand the forces of "evil." The orcs and goblins and trolls are ugly, so they must be evil, so they must die.

Percival Constantine said...

I think you're right, but I don't think it completely comes down to the fact that liberals can see the other side of the issue.

If you look up the definitions of liberal and conservative, you'll find a number of things. But the most prominant one, to me, is that liberals are champions of change and reform whereas conservatives tend to be happy with the way things are or want to go back to the way things used to be. The most profound stories are ones which challenge the status quo.

The greatest art is social criticism and you can't criticize society if you don't have any problems with it.

Michael said...

Is war a favourite of liberals? Most poetry and art has glorified war. (From, say, the Iliad until the end of the 19th Century.)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how you did a survey of all artists (writers, painters, etc.) to find out what their political leanings are. So, therefore, I think your conclusion is one merely of your own personal feelings on the mattter. Many great pieces of music were religious in nature, so should I conclude all composers were Christian?

Artists are born, not created. A liberal mind-set does not make a child more likely to be an artist.

I am a writer of fiction, and I'm conservative. I don't hold back my creativity based on my beliefs. I don't try to stifle what I consider to be my gift. It is what I enjoy doing. I also consider myself to be sensitive and intuitive. I'm curious about people and what makes them tick. I think that is one reason I like to create different characters in my books.

My uncle is a gifted potter and has won numerous prizes for his work...guess what? He is also conservative.

Your conclusion is very flawed.

Michael said...

Two comments: first, this reads very much like Jane Smiley's argument that the novel is a democratic art form. See her book "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel".

Second, commenters have pointed out many artists with conservative politicial leanings. Is it possible that these same artists' work actually represents a more liberal point of view?

woodlayson said...

This is a fascinating debate. I have to echo some other commenters' concerns about having it much more clearly defined what exactly you mean when you use the term 'liberal'. It's one of those words that stays contemporary, whose meaning is always shifting with the times. When I began reading your article, I assumed you were using the word in the broadest, and most static, sense: an attitude of willingness toward change from previously accepted ideals. As I read on, however, you seemed to muddy the waters a bit with modern political examples that drew attention away from this larger idea of historical liberalism into all the emotionally charged associations we have with the word today. If that element were withdrawn, I think most here would probably agree with you.

Of course, it's your post, so take it or leave it, but ambiguity can kill a good essay, so there's my attempt at constructive criticism.

And, this may be very rude, but I just couldn't help but notice that minerva and ianras both used the word 'empathy' as synonymous with a liberal ideal of understanding one's subject. In the same reply, you debated one on the merits of the use of that word and thanked the other, because the tone of one comment was agreeable and the other was not. I found it a tad contradictory.

Guy Hasson said...

IQpierce, please note that the words 'democrat' or 'republican' do not appear in the article. This is not a political article and it's not here to score political points. In fact, the word 'America' doesn't appear in the article either. What makes you think I talking about American politics? I won't play your political game.

As to the way I define liberals, that can easily be inferred from the liberal causes I named in the article: anti-racism, anti-slavery, pro equality and rights for women, pro rights for children, etc. Equality. Humanism.

As to the commenters who gave poets and painters and potters as examples, the article specifically says that we're not talking about any of the arts that do not tell stories. The reason I gave for artists being liberals has everything to do, in fact, with the nature of a story.

In any case, in my next post (this Wednesday (two days from now)) we're going to talk about good stories with conservative agendas. That deserves a post of its own, doesn't it?

As for the commenter who said I'd shot myself in the foot: To name great storytellers that have been liberal in every way would have been easy, patronizing, and too-easily refutable. Note (and that's to the commenter that talked about the depth of SF, too) that what I'm talking about isn't a binary equation, meaning that someone is either a liberal or not, that some story is amazing or not. It's a curve: The better the art, the more liberal the artist. The examples I gave show you how great art could have been better had its author been more liberal.

The guy who talked about Lord of the Rings. You're totally right. It's an amazing book (read it at least 15 times) and it's clear that the author is racist. It isn't because the bad guys are ugly - that's a tool that utilizes our innate willingness to prejudge(see the first article in the blog about David E. Kelley). It's because the Hobbits only do X, while the Elves only do Y, and so forth. For now, let's put that up to the curve (had Tolkien been more understanding of human nature the story would have been even better). But later on... Your comment gave me an idea for an article about epic stories. I'll talk more about what Tolkien (and Lucas and others) really did there. So, somewhere in the near future, I'll give a better answer.

Finally, Woodlayson, regarding my manners. You were reading the comments in the wrong direction. The comment you thought was an answer to minerva was an answer to yonatan. In any case, I appreciate anyone who took the time to read and give a reasoned comment, whether they agree with me or don't.

Michael said...

Tolkien was deeply conservative, and that perspective shone through in his writing. He didn't write about people which is why his characters were largely one-dimensional. Few of them came out being anything other than what they were in the beginning, except with perhaps a little more polish. Bilbo was always a wistful dreamer with his head in the clouds from beginning to end. Frodo was a dark, brooding child who became a dark, brooding adult on a quest. Samwise was a cheerful optimist who remained a cheerful optimist through the end. The only real character development that happened in any of the books resulted between Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf as they dared to explore each others' heritage and perspectives.

The Lord of the Rings and its prequel the Hobbit are not considered literary masterpieces because they have endearing characters who live and grow as we journey with them. They're masterpieces because they are a ground-breaking piece of world building, where Tolkien creates a world of places, events and societies and shows them off. People fall in love with the world first and foremost, and the characters because they live there.

Hanan Cohen said...

Very good. I have translated two paragraphs into Hebrew and posted them on my blog. I hope my translation did justice to your words.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that these are the most eloquent group of comments I have ever read in a blog post. Second, I will admit that I am not a writer by profession (although I am in some of my favorite possible futures).

I would not have replied, but I felt compelled to defend Tolkien and add my personal thoughts on liberals vs conservatives in art (with a focus on writing).

In terms of Tolkien and LOTR, I think his story was purposefully simplistic as to be a "throwback", for lac of a better term, to societal epics. Tolkien was open about the fact that he regretted taht Britain did not have its own Mythological epics, such as can be found in the Greek, Persian, and Chinese cultures. He wanted to create something along those lines which is why he developed such an enormous history and even created a language to make his epic more "authentic." I think he succeeded, but that is my opinion.

Regarding why most artists are liberal or appear to be liberal, I think it has a lot to do with emotional stability more than empathy. You could just as easily point out that Artists often have drug problems or are emotionally unstable or imbalanced. How many prominent artists in all areas have died from suicide and drug addiction (please save any conspiracy theories). I think the key to a good artist is not his/her ability to understand others so much as it is to make others understand him/her.

I think a person with very strong emotions will be better able to describe that emotion or use it to create something of meaning. Very strong emotions also tend to accompany the emotionally unstable.

Conservatives by nature try to check and understand their emotions, where liberals by nature are more free and open with them. I think a conservative person might have more trouble leaving himself/herself open to public inspection than a liberal might be.

Now, I am not saying that all artists are emotionally unstable or worse yet that all liberals are emotionally unstable. I am simply trying to say that the best art comes from strong emotion and the best artists are able to convey that emotion to the observer.

Nathan said...

"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."

Liberal as I am, I have to take issue with this. Remember the "Left Behind" series? Bestseller, yes. Dreck, yes. Conservative? Also yes. It is possible -- although I shudder to think of future novelists, of any ideological flavor, following in the footsteps of LaHaye and Jenkins.

Which is to say nothing of Clancy and Grisham, both of which I'm fairly sure are conservative.

Nathan said...

Also, I'm not that other Nathan up there. Just FYI.

Guy Hasson said...

Nathan (the second one), you're not disagreeing with me, you're proving my point from the first part of the article. If there was conservative fiction, it'd get printed.

The fact that you called it 'dreck' agrees with the second part of the article about great storytelling art not being conservative.

Guy Hasson said...

Hanan, that was very nice. One thing: when talking about wars, it's not that the other side feels the same pain. It's that the other side grieves just the same for its dead.

Secondly, the person that linked here from the Spanish blog. If you or any of your readers are from Spain, I'm going to be a guest at the SF convention in November in Spain. Drop by, say hello.

Janus said...

You anticipated and answered most of your critics in your original post. So, they provided me with some fun. Thanks!

I'd add that, while "liberal" has, for at least centuries, retained the meaning you describe, "conservative" hasn't held ground for even a decade. Look at the path from Eisenhower to Reagan to Bush, and you find a curve down to a cliff. Lewis and Tolkien might have qualified as conservatives in Churchill's and Eisenhower's day, but now?

Tolkien and Lewis seem to deserve more defense. Tolkien seems most guilty of writing a totally different kind of book than what he has suffered criticism for; also, remember his saying he'd let the elves off too easily. Of Lewis, too few, far too few people, have read his short stories, or his best and last novel, Till We Have Faces, and everyone should meet its shockingly convincing women.

As for living, outstanding, and conservative authors of fiction, only Helprin occurs to me, and he seems a genuinely good writer, but more ignorant or deluded than conservative. Liberals have an unfair advantage, since they have the wealth, power, influence, and organization to push their stories to the top, unlike the US government, the Republican party, Exxon, Haliburton, Carlyle, Fox "News"... In all fairness, to write more on this, you need to distinguish between conservatives and bushvoters.

Museworthy, as minerva said, so thanks again.

celsius said...

great angle.

Scott said...

Although I can't comment much on the literary side of this post, I can say that the artists in my world also way heavily in on the liberal side. Great musicians, who also "tell a story", tend to be liberal. I'm speaking from personal experience only. I can't name one person whom I consider a "great" musician that is not of a liberal persuasion.

I'd love to see this same article written about composers and song writers.

(I need to think about this more, but I also wonder if this may be true about great computer programmers. I consider the profession to be an art, and is definitely full of liberal thinking people. )

Derrick Snyder said...

Shoot, I hate to take the side of a dirty conservative, but I’m not sure I buy your argument. It’s a great hypothesis, nonetheless. I think your more traditional conservative would characterize himself as an advocate of fiscal responsibility and reduced federal power. As a political stance, this doesn’t of itself preclude the ability to undertake a detailed study of the human condition and its capacity for conflict.

Does deeper knowledge of the human condition lead to greater empathy for all humans? I’d like to say yes (and if I’m understanding you right, this seems to be the crux of your argument), but I don’t think this is necessarily so. I’ve known lots of people who seemed deeply interested in understanding human behavior, yet who seemed remarkably lacking in empathy.

I agree that it seems like most (all?) artists are liberals. I’m just not convinced that you’ve got the reason for that figured out. Hey, I don’t either! Thanks for your time. Keep up the good work.

Christopher said...

Although we could semantically debate what "liberal" means all day, I'll assume that you mean it in its most garden-variety sense, especially due to the examples you use to illustrate your point. That said, this opinion is one of the stupidest that I've ever heard voiced.
For any example of how some conservative's characters are less fleshed out and interesting than some liberal's, I can point to an opposite example.
Alan Ball's 'American Beauty' is a terrific movie, but you'll have a hard time arguing that the homobophobic character played by Chris Cooper is any better fleshed out than anyone Arthur C. Clarke has ever written. He's a complete cartoon -- a liberal fantasy of what homophobic people are like, especially the almost unforgivable cheesiness of having that character be repressing homoerotic feelings of his own.
Do I still like the movie overall? Absolutely. Do I have any philosophical problem with bashing homophobic people? Not at all. But to argue that that character is better drawn than some cardboard cutout created by a conservative is just goofy.
I could go on and on. King Longshanks in (best pic winner) Braveheart? C'mon. Michael Douglas's Oscar-winning performance as Gordon Gecco? Terrific...right up until the end when he becomes EEEEvil for evil's sake. Another cartoon move. Nixon as a fair and balanced portrayal? Completely biased portrait of a complicated some-good, some-bad man.
The liberal bias that makes most stories turn all gushy at the end don't make them great -- they make them Milquetoast pap.
The realm of quality, the realm of art, ranks far higher on the spectrum than mere liberal-versus-conservative politics.

woodlayson said...

Not to belabor a less than crucial point, but the conflicting replies you gave were in the body of the same comment, posted 5/12/07 at 10:23 pm, according to the time stamp.

"Hi ianras,
I think if you look carefully, you won't find the words 'care', 'sympathy' or 'empathy' anywhere in the article.


And thanks, minerva."

Look, you're onto something here that I think may be quite a bit more simple than many of us are making it out to be. 'Liberal' is a soft word, and a lot of us are having an understandably difficult time with it. As a writer, this shouldn't come as a surprise. But let's just use the word, for lack of a better one. Liberals are traditionally society's innovators, so the fact that those ideals often fold neatly in with the creative mind makes good sense. What I believe is going too far is to say that other ideals cannot fit with that paradigm, or in other words, to grade the story on a curve: "the better the art, the more liberal the artist". A truly free-thinking, introspective observer of his or her surroundings may come to any number of conclusions, and surely they may not all fit into the same social philosophy.

ianras said...

If you're going to say that all great artists are liberals, then you should come out and say that, yes, Doestoyevsky wasn't a great artist, yes, Flannery O'Connor wasn't a great artist.

Guy Hasson said...

Ianras, the word 'all' was never used in that context. In fact, the word 'most' is in the title.

In any case, liberals weren't invented in the last thirty years, which means that liberals owned slaves, defended a woman's no right to vote, and so on. The people who wrote the American constitution as well as its bill of rights owned slaves. Were they not liberal, then? Everything is on a curve, and everything should be looked at in context.

Also, check out the new post which shows that art with a conservative agenda isn't always so.

Robert said...

I would offer these words from my pastor, which I believe he quoted from somewhere else:

"There is no poetry without depth of experience."

I believe that it is difficult to have this "depth of experience" and be conservative, for conservatism in it's very nature is the pursuit of preserving existing institutions and ideologies at any cost, because of one's personal attachment to them, regardless of new knowledge on the matter. Conservatives can not afford to be open to changing their minds. If they did, they would no longer be conservative.

For example, there is a fantastic book of poems called "Here, Bullet" that I am reading right now, written by a Gulf War I veteran. It is not the best poetry in the world, but it is descriptive, and heartfelt, and haunting. It is not pro-war or anti-war. It simply describes the writers' experience. Conservatives would call it "liberal" simply because it shows war's inhumanities and sufferings.

On the other hand, lets look at an example of how popular story avoids conflict of emotion. A large part of what makes the "Star Wars" franchise so successful is that so few who die in these movies are human (or look human, at any rate). We in the audience have no reaction to Stormtroopers dying right and left, not even because they are evil, but because they are completely ensconced in armor. We can not SEE their humanity or suffering. There is no blood, no screaming, no dismemberment, no burning hair and flesh. No blank dull look in their dead eyes. This is vital to the success of these films and the toys and stuff that followed. Lucas took this device even further in his later movies by having the new villainous army made up completely of robots. And when the "bad guy" stormtroopers of the first three films had to become the "allies" of our heroes in the last set of films, Lucas cleverly avoided any emotional conflict that the audience might have by making the stormtroopers mere "clones". If the audience can no longer mindlessly ignore the deaths of stormtroopers as "the bad guys," we can at least rationalize that they were not "real" people: they have no parents or children or family, no lives at all, really, except to be created in a lab and trained to serve as an army. So we can keep on not feeling bad about their deaths! It's emotionally safe for kids and adults alike! This is an example of non-liberal art. It serves it's own interests, it avoids the full spectrum of human experience and only focuses on conservative, positive ideals (We are the good guys, our enemies are obviously evil, our ethics are better than their ethics, we feel love while they feel hate or have no feelings at all, etc).

Any art that explores the common joys and suffering of humanity is considered liberal.

Oh, and it is not "in" to be liberal. What a myth that is, created by conservatives to discredit liberals, that liberalism is merely a shallow trend embraced by people who don't actually have their shit together but want to feel cool. If it were the case that liberalism is merely trendy, why is the original Star Wars trilogy the most popular story in the world today, and not, I dunno, the Torch Song Trilogy? Sure, it is comforting for liberals to hang around other liberals, but everyone hangs around their own ilk. Conservatives don't want to be "sniggered" at, either, so they don't do or say things around other conservatives that might raise eyebrows. Everyone finds comfort in socializing with people that they share common sensibilities with. It is not peculiar to liberals.

GoldFalcon said...

Now, I have no bone to pick with author Guy Hasson’s contention that most creatives (I am going to use that term as opposed to “artist” as it is more inclusive) are Liberals –they inarguably are. Where I have to disagree with Mr. Hasson is in his assertion that being a Liberal is a pre-requisite for the artist, because only liberal ideology allows one the necessary objectivity required to tell a good story (that is, one with artistic merit).

Horse shit.
continued at

Guy Hasson said...

Goldfalcon, interesting thoughts. Actually, I addressed most of your points in the comments, if you care to look them over. I do want to stress a couple of points, however.

If you read carefully, you'll notice that I was only referring to the storytelling arts. Since my reasoning had to do with the nature of a story, I took out all the other arts (poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, etc.) and their artists. I mentioned this once in the article and about two or three more times in the comments.

Secondly, regarding 'the creative' (which I translate into 'the talented) rather than the artists. Having talent has nothing to do with being conservative or liberal. There is no prerequirement there, other than having been born with a special gene or two. Doing good art (storytelling art) is on a curve: the better your characters are, the more of a liberal you are. It's a curve, it's not binary.

(And by the way, you mentioned Mamet. Oh, he gets a post all of his own, already in the works. It'll probably be called "Telling lies with truth". Soon.)

David said...

"The guy who talked about Lord of the Rings. You're totally right. It's an amazing book (read it at least 15 times) and it's clear that the author is racist. It isn't because the bad guys are ugly - that's a tool that utilizes our innate willingness to prejudge(see the first article in the blog about David E. Kelley). It's because the Hobbits only do X, while the Elves only do Y, and so forth. For now, let's put that up to the curve (had Tolkien been more understanding of human nature the story would have been even better). But later on... Your comment gave me an idea for an article about epic stories. I'll talk more about what Tolkien (and Lucas and others) really did there. So, somewhere in the near future, I'll give a better answer."

Tolkien was a philologist by training, meaning that he studied languages in their historical, cultural, and literary contexts (in fact, he was one of the leading luminaries in the field; his translation of Beowulf is still authoritative and he almost singlehandedly brought recognition to it as a piece of classic literature). LotR was written "England's lost national epic" and was styled on much of the Northern European literary epics that he made so much study of. Part of that is reflected in the races and societies of Middle Earth, which follow the collectivist honor/shame paradigm of virtually all ancient societies, where individuals identified themselves first and foremost as members of a specific group, where their life centered around the group and their actions reflected upon the group. So, culturally "Hobbits only do X, while the Elves only do Y, and so forth." A person, whether hobbit, elf, or human, would have been expected to carry on the traditions and lifestyle of the group. Yet, we do see the characters acting outside of their traditional cultural boundaries. For example, Frodo, Samwise, and the other hobbits leave the Shire, in contravention to many generations of insular culture. Gimli and Legolas form and a firm and fast friendship which would become legendary, against the prejudices of their respective peoples. And if we're talking about shared experiences, what about the universally corrupting nature of One Ring? I would say Tolkien had a pretty keen understanding of human nature to subtly portray how it could corrupt.

jjv said...

I think you overlook the fact that an large number of conservatives exclude themselves from "artistic" ranks because they pursue real jobs.

Second, as far as the big artists today go there is a huge financial cost to being a conservative in every portion of the art world.

Third, the idea that Ol' Wil was a liberal amused me.

Finally, I think the greates artists of all time were pretty conservative fellows. Michaelangelo, Mozart and Tennyson, to name three. Plus Shakespeare I would argue.

Guy Hasson said...

jjv, when you say "I think you overlook the fact that an large number of conservatives exclude themselves from "artistic" ranks because they pursue real jobs" you're explaining why conservatives don't turn to the arts. The column, on the other hand, claims that good stories, by their nature, need a liberal to write them. And so those who write the good stories - whether they have a real job or not - are the liberals.

Secondly, the reasoning in the column comes exclusively from the nature of stories (stories are liberal). It therefore refers (as it says) only to the storytelling artists and not to poets (like Tennyson), painters and sculptors (Michaelangelo, say), or musicians (Mozart, for example).

Thirdly, of course Shakespeare was a liberal. He wrote women as human, blacks as human, hateful stereotypical Jews as human, the enemies of England as human, and evildoers as human. And he did all that when none of those things were accepted.

Sean said...

Sorry, this is silly. Your definition of art, most likely, necessitates an artist being a liberal, a political liberal that is. Otherwise, he isn't an artist. It would be one thing to say that a quality that artists often possess is empathy, curiousity, etc. But to say that most are liberal is nearly the same as saying that most are young. Who do you include and exclude? What kind of art and what level of accomplishment? And you need to be precise about what liberal means with regard to the creative act and what liberal means in contemporary politics. You want to conflate them, I think.

y5 said...

As to the way I define liberals, that can easily be inferred from the liberal causes I named in the article: anti-racism, anti-slavery, pro equality and rights for women, pro rights for children, etc. Equality. Humanism.

I don't buy into your premise. I am a conservative and have many conservative friends, and none of us are pro-racism, pro-slavery, anti-equality or anti-rights. I'd venture to say that a minority of conservatives believe the way you think they do.

You might also be shocked to learn that some liberals I know are racist, sexist, homophobic, or all three. But I don't paint liberals with such a broad brush because of these morons. You should afford conservativism the same courtesy.

Your definition shows a lack of understanding of conservatives, which is extremely odd considering you define liberalism as "understanding both sides".

I think I agree with you that most artists are liberal, but as your premise is flawed, I don't agree with your reasons.

I asked the same question on my blog, but focused in on web development. Feel free to view it here.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I agree with your views on this subject. Look at the success of Batman as a comicbook, graphic novel, and movie franchise. At the core Batman is a very conservative figure. Most super heroes are. That industry makes millions of dollars each year. Just look how they are comparing the recent Batman movie to Bush's war on terror.

I don't think anyone is 100% liberal or 100% conservative in the first place. You might support one side over the other, but I'd hope that everyone is a mix of both.

The very idea of liberalism and conservatism can sometimes be flawed if you look at it in absolutes. For example, most people who call themselves liberal will say that they support all lifestyles yet liberals often support the practice of abortion which goes against the idea of the right to live, don't you think?

Abortion, based on principle, is actually a conservative viewpoint by the definition of the word. So not everything that we see as liberal is liberal by defintion and the same goes for how we view conservitism.

Fine art is a different. While most of the collectors are conservative most of the gallery owners are often liberal and they are often involved with communities that are traditionally liberal minded. An artist that shares viewpoints with the gallery owner has a better chance of being represented by that gallery. I know many artists who are more conservative than liberal who keep that information secret because of that.

Will said...

As a conservative, I will need some facts before I make a comment. Specifically, who are the conservatives who are pro-racism, anti-feminism, pro-slavery, etc? Also, when you say stories are "liberal," do you mean that they like paying taxes and tip the tax man for a job well done?

Lawrence said...

I am posting this here because it is the only serious article on the net I have been able to find so far dealing with the subject. I am a professional Artist, and a conservative. And from what I have read on this blog, I can see you guys may be in need of my perspective.
I have noticed a lot of argument
surrounding emotions and feelings in art being the cause of people like me being a minority. Good art, whether fine or graphic, is far more about technical expertise than emotion. Artist are observers and researchers. In fact, we only need our passion for producing art to keep us going, especially on a long or tedious project. Getting emotional about a subject
tends to limit the artist view, and our perfectionist tendencies keep us from fully realising our ideal presentation of a subject we feel emotional about. That emotion you think you see in our work is really just knowledge about the subject we're covering based on the vast amount of research we have done on it. An example: I love Indiana Jones. In college I made a movie poster based on the novel "Indiana
Jones and the Sky Pirates." I worked long and hard to get it just right. But when the time came for my portfolio to be constructed, my professor advised me not to put it in there unless I made drastic changes, changes I could not accept doing to the peice. Emotion prevented me from using that peice.
And artist are not born, they are made. They are made through training. We've pulled long, tedious, exhausting hours in primary school and college to get where we are with our art. If there is any sort of 'nature' element to the equation, we are active more in our right brain than our left brain. My
own score is about 80% right brain and 20% left. But my art was god-awful until I was trained in college.
Which brings me back to the question before us: why are most artist liberal? The reasons are various, but have not been stated yet on this website.
First, many come into art with their political views already in place. They were already liberals long before they approached the easel for the first time. Take it from an artist, learning art does
not alter your political beliefs in any way. That primarily is from early parental and environmental influences.
Second, art began to change and the turn of the 20th century. There was thought to be a need amongst young artist for new art styles for a new century, and new influences were being brought in to attempt to bring about these new styles. Among those influences were non-abrahamic religions, progressive humanism and communism. They were met with heavy resistance by the 'old guard' and as such, to this day have little
intrest in art from known conservatives. Basicaly, it's vindictive blacklisting. Art is truly at its best when its a
collaboration of several artist, and by shunning 'out of the closet' conservative artist, they essentially give them a slow
death. No publicity, no contacts for jobs, everything the artist needs to make themselves successful is stripped from them. And they can do this because they run EVERYTHING in art now. All the mueseums,
galleries, competitions, you name it, they hold all the chips and they decide what gets dealt on the table.
Third, one does not bite the hand that feeds. Many fine artist rely on grants from the state to stay afloat, especially in economies like this one. Art is considered
by most of you to be 'unessential' when the time comes to tighten the spending reigns. For a person who makes their livelyhood off
that 'unessential' service, it gives them no choice but to go to the government for welfare. When Andre Serano published his 'Piss Christ' photo at the Metropolitan,
people were furious that he used 40,000 dollars of taxpayer money to make that. My conservatives took control of congress soon afterwards and as retaliation stripped ALL visual artist of NEA funding.(National Endowment for the Arts, basically our country's welfare program for artists) With
friends like that, who would need enemies?
Well, there you have it, straight from the horses mouth. I do hope this has answered your burning questions about what must be a
perplexing matter for those of you on the outside of the art world. I'll check this post from time to time, so if you have a question, post and I will try to answer it.

Lawrence said...

Sorry about the chop above. I wrote this in notepad before I posted it. Conversion didn't go so well.

Ayah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MacGyver said...

As a member of a project 365 website... where members take a photo a day to represent a photo journal... I had put up a photo a few days ago of me cleaning a pistol. Others have had photos of themselves out hunting, or target shooting over the last few months. Well, there was some concern by other members as to why there "are all these gun photos being posted" - I counted only 7 out of over 51,000 photos total - not very many.

So, yesterday, a photo shows up of 4 guys nude in a small room, with 2 of the guys apparantly engaged in oral sex. Now, there are high school students who also have accounts on this site, which was my reason to comment that this photo be removed due to nudity. Well, so far, nobody on the site agrees with me... they like the photo. But, they dislike a photo of somebody cleaning a gun.

I feel like I'm in the minority - I've realized that the liberal point of view is very prominent among the members of the site. To be expected among artists and photographers, I suppose. Still hoping the administrators take the photo down.

MacGyver said...

Hey! What if we reverse the question? Does it make you a conservative? Deep inside most people, not just artists, are strong individuals who take responsibility for their role in the world.

Stephanie said...

>>nathan said...
>>You could also surmise that a liberal being someone who is tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition, would make a better artist simply because they are open to novel experiences in life which ultimately creates a deeper well of inspiration to pull from.

(This is the first Nathan, who never got responded to.)

I think this guy's right on the ball.

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Anonymous said...

Only a liberal would post such drivel. Creativity, sensitivity and empathy are not the domain of either side. All humans are imbued with them. In your poor argument you progressively dehumanize the 'other' side. You show an utter lack of and unwillingness to understand 'them' doing exactly what you say non-liberals do. Guy, you are a third rate intellect and poor artist.

Michael said...

I see this very differently:

Artists (at least the literary ones) tend to be anti-injustice, they want to point to or correct wrongs, show were society has gone awry, and similar. This naturally causes them to focus on where wrongs are present---and because wrongs done by the weaker against the stronger tend to disappear rather quickly, we are left with criticism of the rich and powerful, the establishment, powerful corporations, the state, whatnot. This, in turn, is superficially similar to the modern US social-liberalism, and reasonable compatible with many instances of traditional liberalism. Depending on the country and the circumstances, it may also legitimately lead to a stance close to e.g. socialism or moral conservatism.

Even so, there is great individual variation, and the statement is at best an over-generalization (even when adjusted for the above).

Obviously, a number of other factors play in, e.g. the (supposedly) greater emotionality of artists, the possibility that artists with a more populistic take have been more popular because of this, that a certain set of opinions have been necessary to get the approval of the artistic community, and similar. Other variations are discussed in comments by others.

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I had fun choosing this particular painting online that now hangs in my downtown office, from, who sells canvas prints of art masterpieces. While the original is treasured in some art museum in England, my print, of this painting by Edward Burne-Jones is very much appreciated by my staff and clients. The print quality is really excellent.

K said...

Two quick points:

1, Conservative artists don't rise to prominence because the gatekeepers themselves are liberal. They do not "get" stories told from a conservative perspective, so those stories don't get published, produced, etc. It's that simple.

And 2, it's incredibly offensive that you conflate Conservatism with racism, sexism homophobia, etc. Do you even know what Conservatism is? It's the impulse to conserve what is GOOD about society. No one thinks racism, etc. are good things, and you sound like a bigot when you blithely describe Conservatives in those terms.

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Melissa F said...

The reason why Cormac Mccarthy is the best living author is he does not get sucked into the liberal nonsense. Human beings are not always empathetic. He does not write "feelings" only action. You don't get any thoughts. Little internal monologue outside of "must find food." And yet he shines the light in the dark. Because don't shine the light in the light. His realism is so gruesome and accurate of the true nature of mankind to destroy itself, that salvation defines it's own beauty through it's antithesis.

M. Grove said...

How does political correctness fit into this discussion? Comedians like Seinfeld have said they no longer perform on college campuses because today's students are too easily offended. Larry King has said political correctness is killing free speech. If this type of liberalism proliferates, how will liberal storytellers fare?