Why Conservatives Should Not Dismiss 'Liberal' Art

If conservatives want some art of their own they need only to be open to the art that is already out there.

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Blogger Tod Kelly has some great advice for political conservatives who wish they had some art—books, movies, music—to call their own. ( H/t: Andrew Sullivan.)

 Kelly says conservatives need to understand the critical distinction between finding conservatism in great art and premeditatively making great conservative (or liberal) art:

[T]he difference between the quality of art we see embraced by conservatism and liberalism is not a thing of the imagination.  But as I said above, that has everything to do with who embraces what, and nothing at all to do with the inherent politics of art. There's a lot of  works of art—in terms of books, painting, music, movies & TV, etc.—that have strong or weak conservative elements embedded in them. And quite a lot of it is good, and quite a lot of it is dreck; the same can be said for "liberal art." The difference that so glaringly stands out, it seems to me, is the criteria that each side chooses to use when choosing art to self-identify.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.]

I covered movies at the Washington Times for about six years, and got to chat with a bunch of writer-directors, some famous and many (alas) not-so-famous. I can't tell you how many times—especially early on, when I had no idea what I was doing—I'd be discussing a movie with its creator and try to tease out deeper meanings, allusions, profundities. Almost invariably, they'd say something like, "That's interesting; I hadn't thought of that. You might be right. I don't know."

Eventually I learned that filmmakers rarely approached their art with the goal of articulating a self-enclosed message. They didn't go into a piece with an agenda; they often discovered heretofore latent meanings as they went along. They'd often say things like, "I really found this film while we were editing it."

More Kelly:

Liberal politicians in America tend to champion both higher education and the study of the humanities—while conservative politicians treat both with derision. Because of this, liberalism—as a movement—gives itself permission to deconstruct a book, move, song or painting with the eye of a critic or scholar. This allows liberals to highlight and take away the messages they might wish, and still embrace those other parts that fall out of line with party dogma. Movement conservatives, on the other hand, have painted themselves into a corner by trumpeting that art criticism or scholarship themselves are inherently suspect; therefore the only metric they are left to gauge the humanities is political purity.

[ See a slide show of the top 10 most hated news commentators.]

I'm reminded of my friend and cineaste extraordinaire Victor Morton. He tells fellow film buffs, almost uniformly liberal, that his favorite conservative filmmakers include Ernst Lubitsch and Stanley Kubrick. His friends, puzzled, would respond, "I love those guys, too. How can that be?"

Victor's point certainly wasn't that Lubitsch and Kubrick voted Republican or were overtly political. It's that their art conveyed truths about human nature—its civilized manners (Lubitsch) as well as its potential for depravity (Kubrick).

As Kelly notes, one can find these truths embedded in great art, full stop. You learn to recognize these them, if you're open to doing so, in places you might never expect (like, for instance, in Outkast's hit song "Hey Ya!"!)

Being open is the most important element of great art—making it and judging it.