Politicians and artists: same struggle

Sometimes I look at artists’ work and think that what they do is strangely similar to what we politicians do.

The link between these two occupations that, at first glance, have nothing in common recently jumped out at me when I attended a round table on art, the environment and politics in Montreal.

I know that we politicians are not necessarily as well loved by the public as artists, particularly given the aura of scandal that too often surrounds the old parties and the sleight of hand they use to cling to power. But before you ridicule me, let me explain.

Through the artistic process, artists turn their attention to our daily lives and our communities. The social movements and changing mentalities that sweep through our society hold no secrets for them. They observe these changes from a unique perspective, sometimes critically, sometimes favourably and sometimes even admiringly. They are often facilitators or even instigators of change.

Politicians also consider themselves observers of society. They try to discern the convulsions or major trends in thinking—the changes that require realignment of our institutions and our laws. Politicians follow public opinion, although the genuine visionaries sometimes lead it.

Artists serve the public and seek recognition. They need to interact with the public for their work to become known and engender a reaction or feedback—an echo. Committed artists and politicians, each in their own way, try to make the world a better place.

Yes, I believe that, over and above partisan loyalties, politicians get involved because they want to serve the public. I can hear you grumbling in front of your screen, but at 30 years old, I refuse to blend into the cynicism around me. It is true that the ideas and approach of MPs varies from one to the other, from one party to the other. But public service is what drove most of us to run for office. We get a sense of personal satisfaction and feel like we have done our duty. We would not take such a thankless job if we got nothing from it.

As citizens, artists inspire us, make us think, make some issues more accessible and can rally people to obscure issues that have been neglected by the media. Artists use emotions to make us understand concepts that reason cannot always explain.

Artists and politicians use their talent to condemn wrongs and injustices, so it is no surprise they sometimes join forces to support social causes. One group needs to reach people’s hearts to convince them, the other needs power to make change happen. This creates a sort of mutually beneficial dynamic where each occasionally seeks something from the other.

As the NDP’s Deputy Environment Critic, I learned that many artists are working to protect the environment, a cause they hold dear. For example, Vik Muniz is drawing attention to the work of recyclable materials pickers at the world’s largest garbage dump through his visual art (see the documentary Waste Land). The climate change protest led by Dominic Champagne in Montreal in April 2012 and the Quebec advocacy-through-art group ATSA’s efforts to highlight the thawing of the Arctic and its polar bear habitat also fall into this category.

This may be the time to do more to promote artists’ work and recognize their contribution to our democracy and our society. Thanks to them, Quebec culture can spread around the world. 

Not only is artists’ work similar to that of politicians, but politicians would benefit if they drew from it a little more. That way, we might better connect with the public.