Just a brief thought, in the moment. Artists, writers, are political in all sorts of ways. Things that don’t look political on the surface can often hide considerable political meaning. And things that don’t necessarily resemble “art” can in fact be the creations of recognized “artists.”
Something doesn’t have to even be clearly “art” in order to be political in that way.
Someone was telling me about how a public/national institution was inviting ethnomusicologists to share their recordings – that is, the products of their field work – and the Institution would “publish”, that is, host, i.e. stream, the recordings on a website. Sounds great, right!? Share with the public these wonderful, rare styles of music from all over the world… One catch, though: the Institution claims copyright over your recordings. So, now, neither you, nor the person doing the actual musical performance, holds copyright over these works – and so, now, the ethnomusicologist who originally made the recordings for his own research purposes, now has to ask permission, and pay for licensing, to use those recordings in his research? Something seems fishy here. A similar story involved a woman who had donated a whole bunch of old recordings to the institution, so that they might archive it, and conserve it, protect it, keep it safe, and share it with the world. Except that now that that woman wants copies of the recordings she made and donated, she has to pay up just like everyone else.
With these things on my mind, it then occurred to me, as I was reading Scott McCloud’s excellent book Understanding Comics (I can’t believe I get to read this for class!), the snarky, tongue-in-cheek, socially activist, but “art” move that one could make, a political but artistic act in choosing to attribute copyright to the true creators of a work, rather than the corporate entity to which those creators were forced (or chose) to sign over their rights. For example, using a picture of Superman in an essay, and writing under it “(c) Siegel & Schuester,” instead of “(c) DC Comics.”
In a work like Understanding Comics, which is written entirely in comicbook (graphic novel) form, and which is itself about the way in which visuals are used to construct a narrative, and the crucial role played by everything on the page, including the blank space and the arrangement of the panels, in that construction, it is much easier to make the copyright attribution, or citation, seem a part of the art itself, a part of the writer/artist’s tongue-in-cheek creative creation. So, if I were to do something of this sort myself, I’m not sure quite how I’d do it, especially since I also don’t usually do scholarly work on pop culture.
Obviously, I’d still do whatever I needed to in order to cover my ass legally, in the bibliography at the end, or whatever, but, wherever there might be wiggle room for me to act as an “artist,” a “creator,” myself – it would certainly be fun to think of myself as not only scholar, but also as artist; to think of my creations as not just text, but as “art,” and as snarky and socially activist in whatever small way.