We are delighted to present The Crimson Arts Board’s spring special issue. In this, our second annual themed supplement, we focus on the intersections between art and politics. In the board’s discussions of possible topics for our extra pages this week, the frontier between the realm of art and culture and the world of politics emerged as a clear center of interest for our editors. We hoped to survey this contested and contentious landscape by talking to artists, critics, writers, politicians, and economists on campus and beyond.
We knew that we had to approach such a topic with sensitivity, nuance, and a knowledge of our limits. Ben Lerner writes in his 2011 novel “Leaving the Atocha Station,” “I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen, changing the government or the economy or even their language, the body or its sensorium, but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it.” Yet for many of us, understanding the connections between poems, governments, and economies has never felt more important, as we attempt to situate our own artistic or critical practices within a political climate that has changed radically in the past few months. Issues of identity, inclusion, cross-cultural exchange, intellectual and journalistic freedom, and social impact have come to the fore in both contemporary artistic work and today’s political debates. The media has assumed an unprecedented importance as a tool of both power and resistance, while theatricality and spectacle have become almost expected conditions of political life. Artists working in a variety of media have in turn fought spectacle with spectacle, images with images, words with words.
Knowing that any attempt to map these trends would be limited and partial, we focused our coverage on artistic and political intersections taking place at Harvard or around Boston. We talked to artists who exhibited politically minded works in this year’s Harvard Student Art Show, considered Elizabeth Warren as an author, and explored the implications of the possible defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts for local cultural organizations.
So, what do the arts have to offer us these days? Are the arts no more than a realm of escapist fantasy, or worse, of legitimation for existing structures of power and wealth? Or can the arts make space for the imagination of alternatives? Can works of art generate political possibilities? We leave it to you to decide.
We would like to thank all of the execs, writers, and compers without whom this issue, and indeed this entire semester of Arts production, would not have been possible. Your thoughtfulness and commitment have ensured the quality of our content, while your quirky humor, excellent music taste, and genuine kindness have sustained our community. Previous chairs Ha D.H. Le ’17 and Victoria Lin ’17, who dreamed up our first themed supplement last year, have been our role models in this project as in so many other things. We would also like to thank our design execs, Tiffany K. Lam ’18 and Vivian W. Wan ’18, for their beautiful work throughout the semester. Our special appreciation goes to illustration comper Julianna Kardish ’20 for this supplement’s fantastic cover image, to FM chair Laura E. Hatt ’18 for coming in to give us a life-saving CTP tutorial, and to design chairs Nathan A. Cummings ’18 and Brandon A. Wright ’18 for their incredible work on this project. Finally, thank you to Andrew M. Duehren ’18, our Managing Editor, and Derek K. Choi ’18, our President, for their unfailing dedication and support this semester.
With our best wishes,
Elizabeth C. Keto ’18 and J. Thomas Westbrook ’18