Salman Rushdie: Dangerous Arts

At the New York Times, Salman Rushdie contrasts the endurance of art with the vulnerability of artists, with specific reference to Ai Weiwei and Liao Yiwu:

Art can be dangerous. Very often artistic fame has proved dangerous to artists themselves. Mr. Ai’s work is not polemical — it tends towards the mysterious. But his immense prominence as an artist (he was a design consultant on the “bird’s nest” stadium for the Beijing Olympics and was recently ranked No. 13 in Art Review magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful figures in art) has allowed him to take up human rights cases and to draw attention to China’s often inadequate responses to disasters (like the plight of the child victims of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province or those afflicted by deadly apartment fires in Shanghai last November). The authorities have embarrassed and harassed him before, but now they have gone on a dangerous new offensive ….

The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime.

We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight.