The Pendulum Theory of Art and Politics

When I was pursuing my history degree in college, I learned about the Pendulum Theory, or so my professor called it. According to the theory, history (and especially politics) swings to one direction until it reaches a tipping point (usually driven by popular mood) and then it swings back. This makes living in a two-party democracy like ours challenging at times. A Republican candidate may gain the presidency for 4-8 years, and then oftentimes the pendulum swings toward a Democratic candidate, and then back again. In most cases, the new president spends at least a portion of his time undoing what the previous president did!

As frustrating as this sometimes feels, the reality is that progress does get made. We did finally achieve the vote for women and African Americans, for example, and that was never overturned.

I read once of a pendulum theory regarding the visual arts, too. How it swings back and forth between line and composition and color as the supreme value. Maybe my writer or musician friends know of a similar comparison in literature or music.

I’ve even read this theory applied to sales. If the salesperson’s pendulum swings too much toward prospect meetings, they don’t have time to close deals. If it swings too much toward closing deals, their prospects dry up.

I think, as artists, we do this in another way too. We swing between making art for art’s sake and making art for money’s sake. We may even swing in our artistic themes or belief systems.

The point is, if you stick to this business long enough, eventually the things that matter most will stick. And you’ll have a diverse body of work that will tell a story, your story. I think there’s value in that.

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