Oratory is the art of persuasion and is taught over decades. And today, all over the world, politicians are taught how to act, dress and hold themselves in public. Those with fewer skills than others work hard to acquire them. Part of the skill is knowing your audiences and giving them all something.
Newspapers work hard to reinforce the image of their candidates. Soundbites that become the shorthand for everything about the candidate. From the bare-chested Putin on horseback, reminiscent of a Cossack, to Trump in his room surrounded by gold to remind us of his wealth, it is all one.
But more than these methods of skilful manipulation of our perceptions in the public sphere has been the abuse of artists and their work in the employ of this industry of persuasion. Think of a country. Any country. Name three things to yourself that sum that country up. Have you done it?
Now wonder how it is possible to sum up a country with just three things brought to mind? The complexities of history, millions of people, a language and culture … it is impossible to sum up any country in this way. Don’t ever do it again.
But these shorthands are the mainstay of modern politics. Decision are made on segments of the problems and every politician fights harder for their version of the state against considerations of fairness or equality. But they will dress them up as fairness and equality.
Today states use artists with abandon to portray the version of their country they want to promote. They invest in government–backed sponsorship – with all the concomitant rules and targets – in a perverse kind of patronage. The image has become paramount in the same way it was in the time of Kings.
So what we find is the state promotes artists it agrees with. Cool Britannia in the 1990s and the YBA (Young British Artists) were born from and for each other. The YBA received the publicity it did because it accorded with the government of the time, not because it was interesting art. In fact this is the greatest curse of state subsidy – that second and third–tier artists, who would never turn their hand to the work they do without the grant system, are elevated to positions of eminence they do not deserve. But rules and target based grants have become our version of the Academies by another name.
So next time you read or see something on a screen remember it is shorthand. It is the simple message taken from the complexities of society which, like baby food, is easy to swallow and digest, but we are supposed to grow out of it. Art is not a diversion, it should be a more profound and deep contemplation of the human condition than any politicians ever give us, but sadly it seems politicians and artists have, like the pigs and farmers in Animal Farm, become indistinguishable from each other.