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Are Great Artists Right-Wing?

What began as a discussion of Martin Scorsese's role in a new Bob Dylan documentary evolved into a discussion of Dylan's politics and, eventually, the ideology of artistry. Sayeth Ann Althouse:

To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

[Quote from Ann's comment at 12:23pm]

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has a follow-up here prompted, in part, by misinterpretations of her initial remark. I thought it was clear that by "right wing" she meant individualistic, as opposed to communitarian or egalitarian. As she explains:

I'm not saying great artists consciously adopt the agenda of the political right. I'm saying there is something right wing about the sort of mentality you have to adopt in order to be a great artist! Think it through people. Don't just blow a gasket!
I also think she was making an interesting claim about the mentality that tends to produce great art — that truly great artists are, in some important ways, like the protagonist of an Ayn Rand novel. As for Kieran Healy's commentary, I am not sure the great artist who finds a wealthy patron who shares his or her vision is a "parasite." And while many great artists were subsidized by patrons, I cannot think of many whose careers were made by the NEA or "local arts council." There is a case to be made that great artists, in the end, are in it for themselves, not some broader community or the greater good. It seems to me that is an interesting, albeit contestable, claim — and that is what prompted the initial post.

SECOND UPDATE: If you are thinking about posting a comment, be sure to read this first.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Is Country Music Right-Wing?
  2. Are Great Artists Right-Wing?
zaoem (mail):
And Jesus was right wing too!!
9.28.2005 6:08pm
Alex R (mail):
Hmm. So anyone who is a "strong individual" who takes "responsibility for his place in the world" is necessarily right-wing...

I'll have to keep that in mind -- I lot of people who I used to think of as left will have to be reconsidered...
9.28.2005 6:11pm
Scott D (mail):
I like a challenge to the idea that artists (and "critical" thinkers in general) must be on the left. Some types of artists need wealthy benefactors, others distrust the masses taste.

However, there will surely be comments here as to whether "individualism" constitutes the whole, or the majority of being right-wing or an artist. Extreme individualists have no use for an audience or a medium to work within. I suggest that tradition also constitutes an element of all art (and certainly things on the right), even (and especially) when tradition is challenged or innovated.

In Barcelona I had the most provocative discussion on the
topic of artists and politics. Gaudi, whose elaborate, massive homes, parks, and cathedrals give Barcelona some of its character, was a reactionary Monarchist, aligning with the rigid Catholic Church of his era against all democratic developments.

Gaudi's hope for a type of naturalism in urban aesthetics and more broadly for our entire civilization blended a form of progressivism, critique of modernity and ecology. Perhaps he beleived that hierarchies are more likely to instantiate such a transformation. Bourgeois existence is not know for its vision and follow-through.
9.28.2005 6:11pm
moonglum:
Umm unfortunitly if you look at actions instead of words our curent "right wing" dosn't fit into that definition of right wing. So if we are talking modern american politics, if a musician is an indavidualist he is not part of right wing america. Right wing america is all about conformaty and controll.
9.28.2005 6:11pm
Wild Pegasus (mail) (www):
This quote presumes individualism is a property of the right, which it very obviously isn't (rhetoric to the contrary). Right and left are just different sides of the same collectivist coin.

- Josh
9.28.2005 6:20pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Verdict: It's a silly thing to say, right up there with "Republicans hate poor people" and "Democrats love government spending."
9.28.2005 6:32pm
Crane (mail):
Are you troubled by the fact that someone you admire is dedicated to lefty causes? No problem! According to the wisdom of Ann Althouse, that dedication is merely a thin veneer; underneath, that person is really just as right-wing as you are!


...riiiiight
9.28.2005 6:39pm
Kieran (mail) (www):
Actually, a moment's reflection will show that exactly the opposite is true.
9.28.2005 6:40pm
Henry679 (mail):
Jesus, how lame. Martin Luther King must have been a big Goldwater man then, if not a brownshirt.

Where do people come up with these glib, pop-psychology theories (that just miraculously vindicate their own political preferences)?
9.28.2005 6:44pm
Goober (mail):
Alkali nails it. Alex R does nicely, too.

It's particularly silly in the context of Dylan, who may have been secretly conservative or indeed secretly anything, but started his career out of tribute to Woodie Guthrie. Who knows how Althouse is defining the "great" in "great artist," but it's hard to think of Guthrie as a conservative in any sense.

And of course TS Eliot wrote about the inherent conservatism of artwork quite a long time ago. Unlike Althouse, though, Eliot made a good point.
9.28.2005 6:47pm
Splunge (mail):
Well, this is why Althouse teaches law and not social psychology. If all it took to be "right wing" was a "strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focussing on that," then Uncle Joe Stalin and every tinpot people's dictator heir of his head would also qualify. Bah.

Armchair psychologists have striven since forever to noodle out a clear connection between one's individual psychology (or relationship with parents, exposure to early trauma, style of potty-training, blah blah blah) and one's resultant politics. Without noticeable success. To be sure, plausible and intriguing theory abounds, but of measurable accurate prediction I think there is zero to three decimal places. Psychohistory has not yet arrived (thank God).

And why should it be otherwise? Any successful political ideology must have a broad basic appeal to nearly everyone in a large population. A large number must be routinely persuaded to vote for its candidates, and nearly everyone else must be persuaded that its voice is at least reasoned and moderate (albeit perhaps misguided and incorrect, or less correct than other voices). That is, while many must agree the party's platform is the correct platform, nearly all must agree it's a legitimate platform, a platform that is not pure evil and which it's reasonable to allow to be promulgated. The American Wetworker's Party (which actively encourages and funds social advancement through assassination) can't be a successful party not only because few citizens vote for its candidates, but also because the remainder vote for candidates who promise to actively suppress it. That is, to exist politically, even in the minority, you must not anger the majority too much.

Ipso facto, nearly any psychological type must, at least over a decade or so, find major chunks of a successful political ideology appealing. Which means an attempt to predict political alignment from psychology is pretty much doomed.

Put it another way: the fact that the Democratic Party has been successful over the last century means that nearly all possible American psychologies find its ideology at least interesting, generally respectable, and occasionally compelling.

The same can be said about the Republican Party, of course. Indeed, the only parties we could be quite confident about linking to individual psychology would be single-issue parties ("The American Anorectics Party") where some outstanding psychological pathology causes the cohesion in the first place. Such parties are almost by definition fringe parties, and of marginal interest.
9.28.2005 6:48pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
Right-wing usually means embracing the defense of vested interests and their claims on established political authority.

The libertarian cover story is that right-wing is about individualism, but conservative libertarians are almost always authoritarians in disguise.

That great artists would tend to be individualists, listening to their personal intuition, has some plausibility; that great artists would be authoritarians seems unlikely.
9.28.2005 6:53pm
Volokh Groupie (mail):
Well.. Johnny Ramone was a republican.

Then again, Johnny Cash was a lifelong democrat.
9.28.2005 7:29pm
irresponsiblethusleft:
Yes! All artists are right wing. I say so, so it must be true! Just like all criminals are left wing, since they obviously aren't "taking responsibility for their place in the world".

And may this reasoning infect, er, enlighten the next generation of American legal minds!
9.28.2005 7:36pm
Freezer Burn:
"Actually, a moment's reflection will show that exactly the opposite is true."

Lucky "a moment's reflection" is all that's required, Keiran, or you'd be shut out.

"Jesus, how lame. Martin Luther King must have been a big Goldwater man then, if not a brownshirt."

Perfect illustration of Ann's real motivation in posting such a silly comment: she wanted to see how far the lefty spittle would fly. As Henry here shows, the answer is: pretty far.
9.28.2005 8:03pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
This is just silly and it's beneath the conspiricy to propogate it.
9.28.2005 8:57pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
We are the fools for even discussing such a stupid idea as Althouse proposes.
The very notion of connecting something so squishy as "great artist" with "political position" is very very adolescent.
9.28.2005 9:01pm
Kieran (www):
Perfect illustration of Ann's real motivation in posting such a silly comment

I was wondering how long the i-was-being-provocative-and-ironic defence would take to surface.
9.28.2005 9:11pm
Blar (mail) (www):
The claim that these qualities are inherently right-wing hardly merits discussion (even Ann's defenders are dismissing it as silly). A more interesting question is whether she is correct to say that a great artist:

1. is a strong individual,
2. takes responsibility for his place in the world, and
3. focuses on that (where "that" refers to 2, I believe).

Is this true? I'm not really sure, partly because these qualities are so vague. I think that 1) is the most plausible, since just about anyone who is a great success at anything requires a certain sort of personal strength. But of course there have been artists have all sorts of weaknesses: drugs, women, mental illness, etc. 2) is more dubious and especially vague. What does she mean by one's place in the world? One's role as an artist? Something universal? Or what? And how does a person take responsibility for that, whatever it is? 3) seems implausible - an artist's focus is on his work, not on himself. Is Ann saying that the content of the work is supposed to relate to the artist taking responsibility for his own place in the world? That does not sound like a requirement for great art. Is this more about how the artist approaches life, behind the scenes? Then 3) seems to collapse to 2).

OK, so maybe this question isn't that much more interesting.
9.28.2005 9:27pm
Victoria (mail) (www):
Where do people come up with these glib, pop-psychology theories (that just miraculously vindicate their own political preferences)?

On the one hand, I'm happy people who do not share Ann Althouse's political inclinations (whatever they are, I've yet to unravel them -- but perhaps others have greater insight than me) come to her blog and read...

1- Not only her blog
2- But her comments in her blog
3- Not only her comments in her blog
4- But see fit to extract one out-of-context commentary and posit an entire theory about her, and her beliefs
5- In doing so, slam other people who supposedly share her beliefs too

My Logic tutor at school would have called that a, "very thin line of reasoning, indeed."

But perhaps here at the otherwise exemplary Volokh, much less acute logic and a much wider net of scorn is called for.

Cheers,
Victoria
9.28.2005 9:27pm
Perseus (mail):
It depends on how one defines "right-wing." I'd modify the statement and say that great artists are far more likely to be produced in "right-wing" regimes, if "right-wing" is defined as inegalitarian or aristocratic (see Tocqueville, Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc.). Sorry, but the local arts council or even the NEA is no substitute for Emperor Joseph II or the Esterhazy family.
9.28.2005 9:30pm
Freezer Burn:

"I was wondering how long the i-was-being-provocative-and-ironic defence would take to surface."

Sparkling, Kieran. According to her blog, Ann was NOT, as I guessed, trolling for lefty outrage. I confess I don't understand her point in the first instance (nor your equally off-the-wall but more bitter response), but that doesn't diminish my amusement at the disproportionate reaction. The thread on your site reminds me of a mob of torch-wielding villagers marching up to Baron Frankenstein's place. Don't forget the pitchforks, lads.
9.28.2005 9:57pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):

all criminals are left wing,

There is that definite tendancy. Most of America's murders do vote Demon-cat or would vote Demon-cat if they voted. They come from a decidedly Demon-cat demographic.

As for the general issue-Ann is correct that there may be an ideological cognitive dissonance among great artists. Take Revenge of the Sith. The film contains tidbits of left-wing dialog while the core of the plot demonstrates the right-wing point that if you fail to immediately execute POWs, very bad things happen. [3 separtate mano-a-mano fights, 3 victories by good guys, 1 immediate execution of the bad-guy POW with no adverse impact, 2 failures to execute bad-guy POWs with very adverse outcomes.]
9.28.2005 10:06pm
frankcross (mail):
"the right wing point that if you fail to immediately execute POWs, very bad things happen"

Interesting
9.28.2005 10:41pm
Hoosier:
Norman Rockwell and the guy who invented Hummels are Right Wingers?!!
9.28.2005 11:04pm
Kieran (www):
The thread on your site reminds me of a mob of torch-wielding villagers marching up to Baron Frankenstein's place. Don't forget the pitchforks, lads.

Thanks for the reminder, Freezer. It feeds nicely into the "Why do conservatives have a better sense of humor than liberals" thread I link to from there. I'm sure they'll be coming for you next. Of course, being CT they'll only have pitchforks because they voluntarily surrendered their guns to the state. Bet they're sorry now.
9.28.2005 11:14pm
Anonymo the Anonymous:
I guess that explains Lou Reed's legendary support of national missle defense and a constitutional amendment against flag-burning.
9.28.2005 11:19pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I don't believe that salaried employees like Althouse are qualified to speak about independence.

She's a wage slave, probably with tenure, for god's sake!

What does she know —- except by peering over the fence —- about individual responsibility? She is taken care of....she is institutionalized.

Now don't get me wrong. She is probably a very nice person. But she is speaking way beyond her competence.
9.28.2005 11:37pm
Goober (mail):
Johnny Ramone was a Republican? Surely not after "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"?!
9.28.2005 11:45pm
Victoria (mail) (www):
Norman Rockwell and the guy who invented Hummels are Right Wingers?!!

Berta Hummel, the inventor of the Hummel figurines, was a man?!?

Or perhaps you didn't know women can be inventors too, Hoosier?

Let me guess, you're not only sexist, but you're a right-winger!

Cheers,
Victoria
9.28.2005 11:47pm
DelVerSiSogna:
Dylan himself had something to say about maturing past the point where one makes the sort of sophomoric generalization that Althouse's comment epitomizes:

Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.


And again:

Good and bad, I defined these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
9.29.2005 12:05am
Barbar (mail):
As for the general issue-Ann is correct that there may be an ideological cognitive dissonance among great artists. Take Revenge of the Sith.

This is one funny thread, and not all of the humor is intentional.
9.29.2005 12:06am
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
I feel somewhat disconnected from the discussion. How do 'left-wing' and 'right-wing', political classifications, apply to art and artists? Since 99% of artists who try to be 'political' an any which way, end up failing miserably and ebarassing themselves, I'm lincined to believe that good artists are neither left or right wing; and I don't mean that in a sesame street way.

I suppose I would say that most great artists tend to have 'liberal' tendencies/inclinations in the social sphere, regardless of their thoughts about tax policy. Although one can probably point to many famous authors, and composers (especially of religious music) that are definite exceptions.
9.29.2005 2:58am
Perseus (mail):
The mentality that must be adopted is one that imposes a "stoic severity and self-constraint" on oneself (to use Nietzsche's formulation). (The protagonist of an Ayn Rand novel bears a certain resemblance to Nietzsche's Overman). Althouse is definitely on to something. I'm not surprised that this line of thinking was lost on a sociologist.
9.29.2005 5:37am
Hoosier:
Victoria,

I didn't want to insult your gender by implying that the creator of tacky figurines could have been female.

But I stand corrected.

Hoosier
9.29.2005 8:24am
Ann Althouse (mail) (www):
Dustin writes, "I feel somewhat disconnected from the discussion. How do 'left-wing' and 'right-wing', political classifications, apply to art and artists? Since 99% of artists who try to be 'political' an any which way, end up failing miserably and ebarassing [sic] themselves, I'm lincined [sic] to believe that good artists are neither left or right wing; and I don't mean that in a sesame street way."

You're asking a question that very nicely represents the way people keep misunderstanding my statement. I'm not saying that the great artist adopts a right wing political ideology. If fact, I agree with you that the great artist needs to separate himself from politics and certainly to get it out of his art. I'm saying there's something right wing about doing that. My comment arose in a discussion of the Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, which shows how he did not fit in with the left wing folksingers who tried very hard to keep him in their fold and felt betrayed when he alienated himself from them. My observation is that he was, at heart, a great artist, and it was not possible to do what was needed to be a good lefty, which would require a strong focus on group goals and communal values. He certainly wasn't switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics.

I'm calling that right wing. It's certainly antithetical to left wing politics, which requires you to remain engaged and would require the artist to include politics in his art. The great artist sees that those requirements will drag him down. That's what I'm theorizing. Feel free to debate that and reject it if you want. All I'd like to ask is that you get your mind around what I'm trying to say before reflexively rejecting it. I'm not surprised that lefty bloggers and commenters can't do this. They've got to enforce the kind of values that freaked Bob Dylan out and made him want to disengage from their clutches. And don't even get me started on my experience with lefty bloggers. They treat me miserably, and if I tried to get along with them, it would guarantee mediocrity. And thus, I am a right wing blogger -- even though I don't share many beliefs with right wing politicos.
9.29.2005 9:51am
roy solomon (mail):
All I'd like to ask is that you get your mind around what I'm trying to say before reflexively rejecting it. I'm not surprised that lefty bloggers and commenters can't do this.

This makes me glad I have never wasted my time reading your lunacy.

My mother the artist is as left wing as they come.
Of course, maybe in your opinion she's a lousy artist.
9.29.2005 10:16am
Justin (mail):
Kieran's being silly. But Ann is being stupid.

Art is, coincidentally, a left wing thing, and artists have to have at least a twinge of left wing to them for the most part. There's no coincidence about the leftiness of all the modern art movements. The reason for this is for art to be more than simple commercial aesthetics, it has to challenge something. Conservative movements, by nature (I do not believe that neoconservative is conservative in the traditional sense, but only in the fascist sense, but this is not the time or the place), are skeptical of challenging the current system in any significant degree. They are, by nature, the skeptics. Art cannot, in its purist forms, be limited by skepticism.

Ann's idea that art is right wing, even when one thinks about it, requires all of a foolish romanticism about liberterianism (that its the sole theory of individualistic accomplishments), a foolish romanticism about conservatism (that it embraces liberterianism), AND a foolish view of liberalism (that by embracing egalitarianism, it is also embracing conformity - a mistake that Ann is not the first to make).
9.29.2005 10:52am
anonymous coward:
The spectacle of a law professor pontificating about the nature of artistic creation recalls Jay-Z rapping about the law.
9.29.2005 11:11am
Blar (mail) (www):
So, Ann, the new version of your argument is:

1. Being disengaged from politics is inherently right-wing
2. Great art must be disengaged from politics
:. 3. Great artists are inherently right-wing

I am trying to decide whether 1 or 2 is more absurd. 1 has the advantage of being absurd on its face - someone who is disengaged from politics is generally considered to be neither left-wing nor right-wing, but rather disengaged from politics. But 2 has the benefit of an endless supply of counterexamples. Starting just with the two artists that you mention, there's Guernica, Hurricane, The Times They Are A-Changin', and the entire Freewheelin' album.

Perhaps what you're trying to say is that a great artist must be an independent thinker who does not toe to any party line. In that case, you are mostly just being provocative by using a highly esoteric terminology. Any thought that does not maintain a mind-numbingly high degree of conformity with leftist communal values is "right wing"? And here I thought that leftists were the subversives, trying to break the hold of tradition.
9.29.2005 11:23am
anonymous coward:
"In that case, you are mostly just being provocative by using a highly esoteric terminology."
Do we have a winner?

The great thing about words is that you can use them to mean anything you wish, and then turn around and act indignant when no one thinks you make any sense. You then blame the confusion on the miserable personalities of your critics and run for the exits.
9.29.2005 11:31am
Ann Althouse (mail) (www):
Anonymous Coward: If it's any consolation, I did go to art school. My undergraduate degree is a BFA. I was an artist for 5 years before going to art school. And I was married to a novelist. I think I know a few things about art.
9.29.2005 11:40am
frankcross (mail):
"My comment arose in a discussion of the Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, which shows how he did not fit in with the left wing folksingers who tried very hard to keep him in their fold and felt betrayed when he alienated himself from them. My observation is that he was, at heart, a great artist, and it was not possible to do what was needed to be a good lefty, which would require a strong focus on group goals and communal values. He certainly wasn't switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics."

Ann, doesn't this destroy your argument? Aren't some of those left wing folksingers regarded as great artists, probably greater than Dylan, if not so popular?
9.29.2005 11:51am
Christopher:
Regarding Justin's statement that art is a "liberal thing": Do the Italian Fascists count as right-wing? Because the Fascists were backed quite adamantly by folks like TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, and, a personal favorite of mine, the Italian futurists led by FT Marinetti (as well as certain Nationalistic poets like D'Annunzio).

What about Tom Wolfe? Borges? Octavio Paz?
9.29.2005 12:08pm
anonymous coward:
Reciprocal consolation: I don't think your claims make a lot of sense, but neither do most things written about art, by artists or otherwise. Sweeping generalizations about art and artistic creation are a bit of a Rorschach test.
9.29.2005 12:17pm
pedro (mail):
Christopher: Saying that art is a liberal thing is indeed as silly as theorizing that being an artist is inherently right-wing. But the fact remains that the latter statement is remarkably silly.
9.29.2005 12:25pm
zaoem (mail):
How many ways are there to say that this is all very silly? By Ann Althouse's theory, any great individual achievement is inherently right-wing, including, say, writing Das Kapital.
9.29.2005 12:54pm
cmp:
Ann's argument also depends on the faulty generalization that art is inherently about individual, rather than communitarian, achievement. That may be a relatively recent notion in human history, and one that is hardly universal, even today (think film).
9.29.2005 2:30pm
Perseus (mail):
If Althouse means by left-wing remaining engaged and including politics in his art, then I disagree. Plenty of great artists created their art in the service of "communal values." Left-wing egalitarianism is, however, a recipe for mediocrity.
9.29.2005 3:00pm
Justin (mail):
"Regarding Justin's statement that art is a "liberal thing": Do the Italian Fascists count as right-wing? Because the Fascists were backed quite adamantly by folks like TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, and, a personal favorite of mine, the Italian futurists led by FT Marinetti (as well as certain Nationalistic poets like D'Annunzio).

What about Tom Wolfe? Borges? Octavio Paz?"

As I said, my comment about art being inherently "not conservative" first seperated paleocons from neocons. Fascism is clearly NOT paleocon right wing. It is, in my opinion, and others may disagree, neocon right wing. This is not the time or place for that discussion, however.

I'm also not saying there are exceptions. One can certainly turn conformity into an artform (imagine Andy Warhal, but with less sarcasm). I'm sure there are examples of many artists who became rich and, due to self-interest, support tax cuts. That's neither here nor there. The interesting question is why artists, even amongst the rich, tend to so vastly lean left.

If there's nothing inherently liberal about art, there needs to be a different reason...but rich artists, artists from various geographic areas, artists of equal sexualities, etc., all lean left, esp. compared to nonartists so classified. Furthermore, like it or not, great art tends to NOT FLURISH in parts of the country that are not politically liberal, independant of public support. As such, if art isn't inherently at least in part a liberal endeavor, why else? (The arguments that its trendy to be liberal or that artists only pretend to be liberal to be liked by other artists will not be responded to because they are silly on their face).
9.29.2005 3:12pm
Jay Louis (mail):
It sounds like the fundamental issue in this discussion is not so much about art, but rather about what the term "right-wing" means. It appears that one of the premises of Professor Althouse's argument is that great artistic accomplishments by their very nature prevent "a strong focus on group goals and communal values." Assuming arguendo that the premise is true (and I'm not so sure that it is), I don't think it necessarily follows that a lack of "a strong focus on group goals and communal values" is per se "right-wing." As others have written, conservatives often emphasize tradition (cf. Edmund Burke), and tradition often encompasses communal and social organizations. It would seem that communitarianism is not necessarily "left-wing."

Professor Althouse also appears to be stating that "getting out of politics" is what she is "calling right wing." This is a more intriguing proposition, but yet sounds a bit contradictory since "right-wing" seems to be by definition a reference to being in the realm of politics. If Professor Althouse does in fact believe that one can simultaneously be "right-wing" and be "out of politics," I think it would be fruitful to hear an explanation of how that can be the case. Thank you.
9.29.2005 3:29pm
Justin (mail):
Jay makes my argument better than I. Thanks, Jay.
9.29.2005 3:30pm
ann Althouse (mail) (www):
I freely admit that my original comment contains plenty of opinion about the meaning of "great artist" and "right wing." I meant to do that. Also, I concede that many liberals care about individualism, but as I wrote in a comment on my own blog:

The strong lefties I've been exposed to in Madison will scoff at you if you think you are a self-made individual. You must acknowledge that the forces of society have made you and that if you've gotten very far it's because powers beyond you have elevated you above others whose oppression you must recognize.

Now there are plenty of liberals, of course, who care a lot about the individual. I consider myself one. But I've been told by lefties that I must use the term "right wing" for this. I'm trying to get with the jargon but sometimes they get cold feet about it. I intend to make it my business to needle them about it endlessly!
9.29.2005 3:46pm
Justin (mail):
Ann, its your own fault, because you yourself have changed the definition of all those things throughout this debate to suit your purposes. All that's left with is that "people" have to be "adjectives" in order to be "nouns", and that conformity for the most part is bad for art. Bravo, we're all impressed. Admit that's all you have to say and move on, and stop being so visceral because you said something stupid and took heat for it.

As for your LATEST point, taken ALONE (since most of your points are simply contradictory), the second paragraph is nonsensical and a run-on. If you mean that the left believes that being a great artist doesn't come with any moral superiority, that seems neither here nor there and I should once again point out that the ones burning books and complaining about Hollywood culture cannot be found amongst MY allies.

If you mean that the left believe that you shouldn't be different than anyone, then all you're saying is that great artists don't adhere to some absurd value that nobody believes in anyway.

"Now there are plenty of liberals, of course, who care a lot about the individual. I consider myself one. But I've been told by lefties that I must use the term "right wing" for this."

Uhhh, there are plenty of "lefties" (more words with interchangeable meaning, eh) who believe that individuals do not exist in the vacuum and are interdependant on each other for a whole host of economic and social arrangements. I know of NO lefties who believe that caring about individuality itself is a bad thing. I also know of no lefties who believe that accomplishing great things is a bad thing.

So we're once again left with: people" have to be "adjectives" in order to be "nouns", and that conformity for the most part is bad for art. Also, you like art. We get it.
9.29.2005 4:13pm
dunno:
sorry for the double post. the first was in error.
9.29.2005 4:54pm
Marc J. (mail):
I don't know about all this business about the inherent left- or right-wing tendencies of great artists, but AA's original post and subsequent attempts to clear things up do confirm the oft-suspected (and possibly inherent)connection between blogging and ignorance.

What I'd love to see is AA's pop-psych explanation of how Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Marc Blitzstein, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Ruth Crawford Seeger--to name just a few fellow traveling musicians--were either a) not sincere in their political engagement (despite all evidence to the contrary), or b) not great artists (despite the critical and historical consensus regarding their shared excellence).

I'm waiting, Ann . . .
9.29.2005 4:56pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Or we can perhaps await an explanation of why, until very recently, those identifying themselves as social conservatives or right wing have been aggressively dismissive of value in modern art, particularly in popular culture. Notwithstanding the Republicans' effort to "recuperate" (in the Situationist sense) rock music, and the much more effective cooptation of the ideas of "rebellion" "the 60's" and "transgressive behavior" into mainstream saleable commodities to be sold like (and with) coffee, it remains that while "leftist folkies" may have booed Dylan at Newport, they paid and went to hear him (and they're still going) and that it was mostly self-avowed conservatives, not leftists, who denounced and burned his records, along with piles of other "rock and roll" records, and "negro music records",
and attacked anyone they perceived as disagreeing with their artistic values as, among other things, uncivilized, un-American, anti-patriotic, anti-family, and sexually perverted.

Interesting how the mention of Dylan works as sort of a Rorschach test for people's view of the 60's.

RFGS
9.29.2005 6:09pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
I think Ayn Rand and Ann Althouse are in agreement here. Ayn Rand found the left-wing collectivism in the Soviet Union (where she was raised) artistically stultifying. Why? Because the Marxist leftists in charge, like all leftists of that stripe, believed in and practiced censorship. Lots of it. In China, North Korea and Cuba, they still do. The anti-war crowd during the sixties contained plenty of Marxists, all of whom supported enthusiastic censors like Ho Chi Minh and Mao. Freedom loving people supporting some of the most freedom hating people in opposition to their own freedom loving government was the stunning contradiction of that period.

Ayn Rand went on to become an extreme individualist and a rabid anti-Communist. Definitely not left wing. She wanted to abolish the income tax and bring back the gold standard.

Liberals and Democrats are not really left wingers who want to institute a Communist state. Conservatives and Republicans are not really right wingers who want to bring back the monarchy. The spectrum is very broad.

Yours,
Wince
9.29.2005 6:47pm
MQ (mail):
Thanks, Wince, for the reminder that liberals are not communists. So much of the "thinking" about leftism from people like Althouse presumes that being on the left in the U.S. = favoring communist dictatorship, a view that is about as intelligent as equating Bush with Hitler and about as propaganda driven.

The equation of being "self-made" with conservatism is also odd. Do, for example, religious people see themselves as "self-made" as opposed to being part of God's plan?

Ms. Althouse apparently believes that in order to be leftist:

"You must acknowledge that the forces of society have made you and that if you've gotten very far it's because powers beyond you have elevated you"

Well, I would agree that intelligent people generally understand that they are very much the product of the larger tradition and culture they were born into (while not being only that). Dylan understands it too. Read "Chronicles", where he is more than clear about the way in which he was a product of a culture that reaches far beyond him as an individual, and his own individual helplessness to recreate the work of his period of genius once his muse (powers beyond him as an individual) had departed him. "Chronicles" is one of the more anti-individualistic books I have ever read. But in a way that is far more sophisticated and deeper than any simplistic opposition between "self-made individuals" and "social creations".

Althouse has a record of saying really silly things and then coming out with elaborate "explanations" that only make the vapidity of the original statement more clear.
9.29.2005 8:15pm
Perseus (mail):
Some of us right-wingers remain "aggressively dismissive of value in modern art, particularly in popular culture." I very much enjoy provoking my students with Tocqueville's observations about democracy and the arts, and I'm eagerly anticipating the re-opening of the Getty Villa in Malibu.
9.29.2005 11:59pm
Lunacy:
Speaking of censorship in hard left worlds, I thought it was interesting that Pete Seeger (admitted hard left communist advocate) wanted to censor Bob while on stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
9.30.2005 11:42am
Smitty (www):
Has all this debate achieved anything more than pointing out, as if we needed it, that terms like "leftist" and "right-wing" are all but useless outside their narrow political contexts and should be avoided? If AA didn't mean to say that artists are right-wingers, why then did she say that? Granted, it seems to have taken several dozen colum inches to clear up what she did mean by "right wing," and perhaps that's why she chose that term. But the term is still useless in this context; I would wager that of all the posters on this board, at most any two would define "right-wing" the same way.

When Shakespeare wanted to describe something for which there was no good word already extant in English, he just created the word; thousands of them over his career, many of which we use every day. English is a bastard tongue and grows every day that it lives. We ought to just accept this and, instead of trying to sow confusion by using ill-defined and overly broad terms, invent new ones and then define them ourselves.

It seems pompous, but really, anybody with a blog (myself included) is admitting to a least a bit of their own pomposity. Do we all, all hundred-thousand-odd of us who blog, really believe what we have to say is all that important? We must. And if we're that important, we ought to admit that we can coin new terms if we like. So, Ann, instead of creating controversy with "right-wing," why not define what an artist is (a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that) and then coin your own term for it.

Unless the controversy is necessary to bring in readers... ah, and now I think I see why we insist on using broad terms.
9.30.2005 3:30pm
Dave Zimny:

My comment arose in a discussion of the Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, which shows how he did not fit in with the left wing folksingers who tried very hard to keep him in their fold and felt betrayed when he alienated himself from them. My observation is that he was, at heart, a great artist, and it was not possible to do what was needed to be a good lefty, which would require a strong focus on group goals and communal values. He certainly wasn't switching to right wing politics. He was getting out of politics.

After following this long and very entertaining thread for two days, I still have one burning question: would Bob Dylan himself endorse Althouse's interpretation of his early career moves? Does he see his conversion to electric folk rock as "getting out of politics" because he could no longer "do what was needed to be a good lefty"? On further reflection, though, I believe the question answers itself. Perhaps Althouse has a much better insight into Dylan's artistic development than Dylan himself has. Perhaps her interpretation is just a strained attempt by a conservative blogger to project the right wing's generally unaesthetic worldview onto one of the true giants of popular music. Or perhaps she could offer a more cogent reason for claiming to understand Dylan better than he understands himself. What about it, Ann?
10.1.2005 2:45am
profprog (mail):
Most artists start out struggling and sympathize with the mass of other strugglers. Then when the masses support them by buying their product, the artist becomes a right wing conservative because his masses are now the monied people and he now wants those tax bracket breaks that he was not in when he was struggling.
Hello...it is all about the money.
10.1.2005 5:21am
fred (mail) (www):
WOW!

I can't imagine why I wasted 10 minutes reading all this tripe.

Here's a summary of what I learned:

1. The original post was trivial, stupid, and wrong on so many levels that it took a while to discern any meaning.
2. Some of the ensuing refutations were on point.
3. All attempts by the author to "explain" the original post utterly failed.
4. All fridjits are frabbles, except when they are frambobbins.

I used to think words have a meaning, but now that "conservatives" break the bank and "Christians" support torture and mass murder, I'm beginning to seriously doubt it.
10.1.2005 5:55pm
Cynicus Prime (mail) (www):
While you people bicker about whether she was right or not, to paraphrase the Great Bill Hicks, I'll take it one step further. Those artists who don't do it for themselves, but work for "some broader community or the greater good"...boy, they suck. Anyone putting out "art" to satisfy the masses is no better than an advertising agent. While not all individualistic (on some level "right-wing") artists are good, all good artists are inherently individualistic.
10.2.2005 12:23am
W.B. Reeves (mail):
This whole dispute strikes me as more evidence of the degeneration of our political discourse.

The reduction of the Left/Right dichotomy to the simplistic opposition of collectivism/individualism is one that can only thrive with a selective reading of history.

There's neither space nor time to recapitulate the developement of this terminology but a few observations are in order.

The terminology is European in origin dating to a period when monarchism and medieval theories of absolutism were very much the order of the day. Right and Left in this context did not represent an opposition between individualism and collectivism as we understand the terms. Neither side was interested in liquidating the primacy of communitarian interests, they were arguing for competing schemes for ordering those interests.

To the degree that we can talk about individualism in this conflict it would appear that those who called for abolishing Aristocratic caste and privilege, an end to Autocracy and state sponsored religion, in short, the demolition of the pyramidic social order inherited from the past, were objectively preparing the conditions for greater liberty for a greater number of individuals.

The whole notion of Individualism being the sine qua non of the Right Wing is of relatively recent vintage and has little currency outside of the U.S. Try, for example, explaining to a European that Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, et al were all Leftists since they subjugated the individual to the collective demands of the State. They would likely point out that in this, the above were doing nothing more than extending and expanding upon the model inherited from the old autocratic regimes. In Europe the Right has historically oriented towards defending the privileges of the few against the demands of the many. The only individualism ever embraced by the European Right was the individualism of the ubermensch.

Of course, being Americans, we don't normally feel constrained by history. Which is why we often find ourselves in a state of bewildered denial and incoherence when it catches up to us. I think Althhouse's formulation is a good example of this.

Althouse posits that the individual is at the heart of Right Wingness. From this presumption she proceeds to lump all individual distinctions under the same heading. It follows from this perspective that anti-individualism is the essence of the Left Wing.

Unfortunately for Althouse this abstract model doesn't stand up to the facts of American experience anymore than it applies to European history. Every great advance of individual liberty in our history has been largely opposed by the Conservative wing. From abolition through women's suffrage to the Civil Rights movement, the Right Wing has played an obstructionist role. In contrast, all these expansions of individual freedom were largely supported by the Left.

Given all this, the question remains, how can Althouse buy into the spurious algebra that equates Right Wing with Individualist?

I think the answer lies in the fact that there is more than one sort of individualism. There is, for example, the individualism of the exceptional personality as opposed to that which is rooted in the inalienable rights of the individual human being. The former is dear to the hearts of those who inhabit the heirarchies of power and influence since by it, each of them may define themselves as exceptional and therefore completely entitled to whatever perqs they receive or authority they may exercise over others. The latter is directly subversive to the first since it argues that every individual, however exceptional, is obliged to respect the rights and liberties of all other individuals regardless of personal distinction.

As the old adage goes, "The right to shake one's fist ends where another's nose begins." This definitely constitutes a limitation on the individual but it hardly amounts to anti-individualism. Except, perhaps, in the mind of the fist shaker. In some ways our entire political history could be read as a struggle between these conflicting schools of individualism.

All this aside, the assertion that "great artists" are Right wing by virtue of being individuals of distinction has more than a whiff of the mystical about it. It implies that political orientation is something innate, organic and irrational rather than the product of analysis and conscious choice. This is on par with arguing that a person's politics are dictated soley by national, ethnic, racial, class or sexual identity. The sly implication being that Right Wing politics represent some intrinsic natural order while Left wing politics are a perverse and authoritarian delusion.

I don't mean to suggest that Professor Althouse would necessarily follow her premise to its logical conclusion. In my experience people who embrace such Randian symplicities seldom do.

Nevertheless, to give credence to the notion that individualism (even that of great artists) is an exclusive characteristic of the Right, is to remove oneself from the gritty, often contradictory, reality of politics in favor of the airy regions inhabited by Platonic idealists and ideologues of every stripe.
10.2.2005 4:34pm
Volokh Groupie (mail):
Joey Ramone actually penned bonzo goes to bitsburg--obviously an anti-Reagan song. Johnny vetoed playing the song, but because he was outvoted by Joey and Dee Dee the song was included on the album. Johnny was able to get the name changed to 'my brain is hanging upside down' and not suprisingly on all the ramones greatest hits compilations that Johnny was responsible for, the song isn't usually included.

As for The Ramones, Johnny was a hardcore conservative, Joey a hardcore liberal and Dee Dee was just a junkie and great songwriter. Maybe all great artists are junkies?
10.2.2005 5:52pm