Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793 - © Public Domain

What famous artists say about art and politics

15 quotes about the relationship between art and politics by famous artists.

“The artist must be a philosopher. Socrates the skilled sculptor, Jean-Jacques [Rousseau] the good musician, and the immortal Poussin, tracing on the canvas the sublime lessons of philosophy, are so many proofs that an artistic genius should have no other guide except the torch of reason.“

(Jacques Louis David, as a member of the National Convention, 1792)

“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes if he’s a painter, ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he’s a poet – or even, if he’s a boxer, only some muscles? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How is it possible to be uninterested in other men and by virtue of what cold nonchalance can you detach yourself from the life that they supply so copiously? No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.”

(Pablo Picasso, in an interview towards the end of the second world war)

“I am a communist and my painting is a communist painting. But if I were a shoemaker, Royalist or Communist or anything else, I would not necessarily hammer my shoes in any special way to show my politics.“

(Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973)

“…I considered any art pointless if it did not put itself at the disposal of political struggle… my art was to be a gun and a sword.”

(George Grosz, 1893-1959)

“Picasso is a communist. Neither am I.“

(Salvador Dali, 1904-1989)

“Democracy with its semi-civilization sincerely cherishes junk. The artist’s power should be spiritual. But the power of the majority is material. When these worlds meet occasionally, it is pure coincidence.”

(Paul Klee, 1879-1940)

 “I had to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths for life for myself; it’s for that reason that I went to war, and for that reason I volunteered.“

(Otto Dix, December 1963)

“The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.”

Robert Rauschenberg

“To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom.”

(Joseph Beuys, 1921-1986)

“Life is politics, basically, but you don’t just go to a gallery and put the words ‘art’ and ‘politics’ on the wall.“

(Luc Tuymans)

“I like keeping my work so open that it can be interpreted on different levels. Art can’t be compared with journalism; it can’t discuss concrete issues.“

(Mona Hatoum, b. 1952)

“The function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, and to elevate the mind.”

(Marina Abramovic, b. 1946)

 “Moving swiftly between different arenas like politics, architecture or commercial design is what I would consider defintive of my generation. I am looking at reality and playing fast and loose with it.”

(Sarah Morris, b. 1967)

“If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for?“

(Ai Weiwei, b. 1957)

“It is important that artists are not outside the equation, we don’t stand on the sidelines. Artists are part of the story of a response, we cannot stand aside and let others make the response.“

(Anish Kapoor, in: “Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor lead London walk of compassion for refugees“, Mark Brown, The Guardian Sep 17, 2015)

More Quotes: What is art? 30 famous definitions

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793 - ©Public Domain

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793 – ©Public Domain

Kunstsammlung NRW, K21 (Ständehaus) - ©Alice Wiegand
Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, San Lorenzo fuori le mura, 1824 - ©Public domain

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