Friday, April 10, 2009

Politics, Art, Praxis, and artists (some starving)

Ok, so this is my response to some recent activity over at Reading the Maps (more here), mostly concerning a post by Jared Davidson aka Garage Collective (yes, it's one guy) at indymedia. This whole business is patently ridiculous, especially considering the fact that Jarred's work is anything but revolutionary, in any sense that you take the word. proof of this can be found in his constant production of posters for pop gigs. The fact that they are for sale, and that he had a gallery show at HighStreetProject, and is currently ragging on galleries as being the tools of the bourgeois establishment shows the inconsistency of the whole thing.

In his tirade against the establishment Jared posits that any art that is not overtly political, and does not seek to bring down the capitalist system "and replace it with logic, frankly, should be left to die". These are big calls, and , like the entire piece, are contradictory, inaccurate, historically unaware, and inherently wrong. What is being proposed is a form of Neoplatonic Idealism (Cf. Plato on art and poetry in that handbook on fascism, The Republic), and, in the prescriptive nature of his pronouncements, he falls into the trap of fascism as so many hardcore traditionalist Marxist have before him.

The cultural economy, especially in a small city like Christchurch, actually does not produce (or procure) a large amount of capital. Try selling an installation work, or publishing a volume of poetry, or putting on a show without Creative NZ/ Creative Communities funding and you'll see what i mean. Contrary to this, Jared's posters are 'hip and down with the kids'; and Blink from alowhum likes them so he's probably doing a fair bit of business.

Jared asks questions regarding the place of 'art', the value of the term itself, and the praxis of situationism's breaking down of the barriers between art and life, but is seemingly unaware (aside from the situationist name-drop) of the history of radical art, or it's current status. What about Fluxus? Theodore Adorno? It is interesting that he rips terms such as "culture industry" directly (or, more likely second-hand) from Adorno's writings, cites the Situationiste Internationalle of Guy DeBord, and brushes over an essentially Fluxus practice, without understanding them at all. And, just where the hell is Dada, especially Marcel Duchamp, in all of this? His works' functioning as critiques of the bourgeois art establishment is very pertinant to the discussion, and its not as if he' s a paticularly obscure figure.

On to Adorno - in the 1930s there was a very public debate on the role of political praxtice in artistic production between him and György Lukács, regarding the relative political value of Franz Kafka (championed by Adorno) and Bertold Brecht, championed by Lukács. Lukács' argument was for a socially responsive realism that is is able to comment on the sociopolitical in the real-world, and from a Marxist perspective, offer alternative courses of action that will move forward the revolutionary ideal. These realists will "depict the vital, but not immediately obvious forces at work in objective reality. They [will] do so with such profundity and truth that the products of their imagination can potentially receive confirmation from subsequent historical events". He was highly critical of modernist techniques such as impressionism and surrealism, seeing them as "decadent", and create art that is 'subjective' rather than the objectivity' he purports to find in realist literature.

Of course, this is relatively easy to counter. ANY artistic production is subjective, even the chance operations of John Cage and Jackson Mac Low rely on a subjectively constructed operational technique, and the choosing of (subjectively produced) source materials. Then there are subjective decisions about the success of the work, and whether is is finished, and/or fit for performance/publishing.

Adorno's response to such ideas, and Lukács indictment of his (overtly Marxist as well) theories on aesthetics as evidence of his dwelling in the "Grand Hotel Abyss", was simple, and comparable to Rauan Klassnik's comments on political poetry (in the review, check out the comments section for more). essentially Adorno cites the ineffectuallity of overtly political art, and its inability to affect real political change. Art's political value comes from its inherent (conventional) non-functionality, allowing for a line-of-flight from dominant economic models of exchange/use-value. Of course this does not apply to all forms of art, and it seems that a large percentage of overtly political cultural production falls outside of these parameters.

Take, for example, music. every 'revolutionary' phase in music that has garnered widespread popularity (I'm thinking of Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, Punk, Hip hop) has been effectively co-opted by the commercial/state apparatus, defanged, and sold back to the public in a watered down, demilitarized form. And I can't help but laugh when i see bands like Rage Against the Machine wearing their Sneakers, releasing their albums on Sony/Epic, and still "rallying against capitalism".

The alternatives here are not simply to pander to the state apparatus, but far from it. I think the political has it’s place in artistic practice, but rather than a dictation of a polemical position, politics (or ethics even, I’m thinking of Steve McCaffery’s writing on the applications of Levinas’s ethical writings to poetic practice in Prior to meaning) should be demonstrated or performed within the work, and the way the work is created and functions. A pertinent example of this being Bruce Andrews’ essay “Writing Social Work and Political Practice”, and its ramifications for his own work. That piece could be seen as a dogmatic diatribe, and is, for the most part, but knows that it is one piece of the ongoing conversation on “poetry and praxis”. Perforative rather than polemical artistic work has a long and fruitful history, from its origins in the genesis of modernism through Dada, Fluxus, and Situationism through L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry and the performance art of Marina Abramović, the theatre of Heiner Müller and Sarah Kane (drawing on the work of Antonin Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty) to new practices such as the poetics of the Gurlesque (see essays and discussions here, here, and here).

So it seems that Jared's Garage collective activities not only indict himself on his own terms, ie:
"Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die", and any art that does this isn't going to actually achieve a hell of a lot.

Furthermore i wish to add that the charge that these works be 'left to die' is highly socially irresponsible, as, even if not meant in such a way, it functions as essentatially a call for the erasure of history. And once more, we are back at Platonic fascism as a means of social control.

There's my two cents. and, in the interests of fairness, you can catch Jared's here.

13 comments:

Garage Collective said...

It seems my comments a while back on indymedia has stirred a few pens into action regarding 'radical art'. For myself, that is a good thing, and much needed in these dire times. Ross has extended to me the right of reply, which I will gladly accept, if not only to tidy up some irregularities on the part of his research into my own practice.

It seems a quick google search has brought up some of my PAST activities, including band posters and a show I had at HSP A FEW YEARS back. Please note the emphasis, as these were primarily my modes of praxis after leaving school. Time has passed since then — I am no longer making band posters, nor having shows. My text on art has become a sort of signing off to that aspect of my production, so while it shaped my consciousness to some extent, it no longer features in my practice. Anyone interested can read about the evolution to where I'm at here.

And please note, I am not a Marxist. I consider that an insult, and will put it down to a lack of understanding on the ideas of anarchism and libertarian socialism. Nor would I consider my work 'revolutionary'. No work, individual, movement or party could ever be 'revolutionary', as the term (and as history has shown, with the fallacy of Russia, Cuba, China etc) equates mass, participatory and spontaneous action on a huge, liberatory scale — not lead or driven by a minority, but far reaching and social. Therefore, the most one could be is PRO-revolutionary. And this is definitely the most screenprinted posters or most art/movements could ever come close to being, in terms of its content. That includes Situationism, Fluxus and Theodore Adorno, Neoism, and yes, Dada too. I am well aware of these movements (I'd recommend reading 'Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War').

These past movements, including Dada, tried (and failed) to change capitalism. Where they only tried to revolutionise 'art', we should now look to change life, in its totality. Ross gets hung up on the idea that what 'radical' art has to SAY forms it's revolutionary value — yet to continue to make art in that context continues the division of maker/viewer, reworks hierarchy and perpetuates the privileged system of relations its supposedly critiquing. As Tony Lowe states in 'Give Up Art, Save the Starving': "to call one person an artist is to deny another the equal gift of vision — and to deny all people equality is to enforce inequality, repression and famine". If this is understood, then isn't any art, revolutionary or not, merely art in its current and historical understanding?

I am interested in the notion (proposed by the people such as Black Mask, Stewart Home, Art Strike 1990-93, Tony Lowe and to some extent Situationism) that by continuing to make work, and therefore to define ourselves as 'artists' — we deny others the equal gift of vision and keep art firmly separate to everyday, creative acts ie life. In this way, we perpetuate a system of inactivity, passivity, hierarchy — and most importantly — privilege. Ross mentions this himself: "Art's political value comes from its inherent (conventional) non-functionality, allowing for a line-of-flight from dominant economic models of exchange/use-value". And to become non functional and pro-revolutionary art should discontinue in its current form, not just in terms of economic exchange, but in the relations of production it continues to uphold. After all, Capital is first and foremost a social relation.

Herein lies my current position. Art which ‘criticises the establishment’ is reintegrated into it, defusing any useful comprehension of its horror. Since this kind of ‘edgy’ work often defines itself in opposition to the very thing it critiques, the work — and the artist making that work — has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. In the end these sub-cultures within the art world only serve to diffuse the potentially radical energies of the creative public so that they pose no real, collective threat to established culture. The critique of the spectacle remains an integral part of the spectacle itself, and in turn legitimises it. And that includes my past practice (which I'm quite happy to admit).

It should be plainly obvious by now that art making, in itself, is an insufficient response to social crisis. The libertarian possibilities of disavowing art as an individualistic activity that is somehow special or superior to other human activities are endless. Creative energies could be channeled into any (or every) action one could imagine. To give up artistic privilege, consumption and productivity — addictions which capital has convinced us gives our individualistic lives value — is the negation of art, the negation of domination.

Ross Brighton said...

Ok so several things, and i'll go through Jared's post and reply in a chronological order, for the sake of clarity. Regarding my comments on marxism, I was simply following the terminolgy that he used, and drew concusions from those who were cited, and the language used. There are clearly Marxist concepts being employed, but if Jared is not a marxist, then I happily retract.

Regtarding his statement that I appear "hung up on the idea that what 'radical' art has to SAY forms it's revolutionary value", I direct him back to my original post: "the political has it’s place in artistic practice, but rather than a dictation of a polemical position, politics (or ethics even, I’m thinking of Steve McCaffery’s writing on the applications of Levinas’s ethical writings to poetic practice in Prior to meaning) should be demonstrated or performed within the work, and the way the work is created and functions". My own practice, I hope, demonstrates these concerns (to a greater or lesser degree), an escews ideas about representation, mimesis and dictative content that continue the artist/viewer (or, in this case writer/reader) power imbalance that Jarred discusses. For more on this see Bruce Andrew's essay "Writing Social Work and Political Practice" in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E 9/10, available in pdf here.

This brings me to my next point, that these concerns have been being adressed within the paradigm of 'radical' art for the best part of one hundered years, since the genesis of the modernist avant-garde in Europe at the turn of the century, and in earnest since the inception of the Zurich Caberet Voltaire. The idea that Tony Lowe proposes, that "by continuing to make work, and therefore to define ourselves as 'artists' — we deny others the equal gift of vision and keep art firmly separate to everyday, creative acts ie life. In this way, we perpetuate a system of inactivity, passivity, hierarchy — and most importantly — privilege" is patently absurd, unless one imposes a series of very restricive norms onto ideas of artistic production and expected interaction between art and the general public. One only has to look as far as Fluxus as to see that this is not the case. Fluxus happenings, Dadist ready-mades, and the chance-generated works of practitioners such as John Cage and Jackson Mac Low, even the films of Andy Worhol, is to involve others in the practice, and the construction of the work. These works are easily replicatable as a direct and intentional deconstruction of the reification of the artist as some kind of prophet figure, and alowing the entry and cross-polenation of the everyday into art, and vice versa. When art consists of a snow-shovel, or 4:33 of silence, then anyone can do it.

The Major ploblem that i have with Jared's position is stated in his final paragraph, that "it should be plainly obvious by now that art making, in itself, is an insufficient response to social crisis". There are several things very wrong with this statement, though i do not debate it's veracity, rather its disengenousness. If anyone arges that art is a sufficent response, they are either stupid or naive. The problem is twofold though, as such a statement presupposes that art can and should be politically effective, and that all art is an expression of a political ideal. It also assumes that an artists production is his/her only form of political engagement. None of these are true. Karl Stead (though i do not agree with some of his politics, especially his statements regarding Tangata Whenua) writes modernist confessional lyrics heavily influenced by TS Eliot, yet attends protest rallys and refuses to accept antisemitic literature.

Furthermore there are many points that I raised in my previous post that have gone unaddressed. What about the lack of earning potential that the arts have, and the amount of artists who actually lose money on their efforts? how does this tie into the "culture industry" that Jared is indicting? What about the problems of ethics involved in the censorship advocated by statements that certain practices "should be left to die", and their echoing of Plato's Republic? And the ahistorical perspective that such an erasure advocates i find very unpleasant.
Finally, is such a presciptive diatribe not in itself Fascist? It most definately is out of line with any Liberterianist standpoint that i have encountered.

Ross Brighton said...

Sorry, My HTML didn't come up. The Andrews essay is here, in issue 9/10:
http://english.utah.edu/eclipse/projects/LANGUAGE/language.html
The Post on Karl Stead is here:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/03/karl-steads-got-it-right-lets-blackball.html.

Jared Davidson said...

Is to be against capitalism to be inherently Fascist? By implying that because I am against exploitation and want something to cease I therefore become a Fascist negates the act of liberation that would arise from that act...more comments soon!

Ross Brighton said...

It's not That that i mean is fascist, its more the polemical dictations on what people should and shouldn't be doing.

Jared Davidson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jared Davidson said...

I admit the tone of the original was purposefully antagonistic, and rightfully so. But it's pretty obvious that if an action, activity or practice (ie art as it is currently understood) is hindering rather than aiding the path towards more egalitarian modes of living, then surely there is cause for it's end?

As to your comment on Fluxus, I whole-heartedly agree with you (as I mentioned earlier) that these movements and practices have started breaking down the division of maker/viewer. The evolution of Fluxus into Neoism, whereby the term 'artist' was rejected, the notion of identity was subverted with multiple name concepts (an aspect of Dada also) etc etc is essentially where someone like Tony Lowe was coming from, and tacking it to its logical conclusion. My critique (essentially that of Black Mask) is that these acts, while much needed, failed to have a total or holistic analysis any further than the artist realm — keeping there acts firmly rooted in the art world, and lacking concrete class/community/social struggle praxis. The fact that someone like Warhol is easily consumed and even taught in school (as is Fluxus and Dada) should be an example of this.

From Black Mask #4:

"The call for revolution can be no less than ‘total’. To change the wielders of power is not enough, we must finally change life itself. One must seize direct control of their environment — socially, economically and culturally. We can recognise no power outside of the people, no elite (whether it calls itself revolutionary or not) which determines the political direction, no separation between politics and the rest of life. The same must be done culturally — a ‘total’ culture needs no experts, no artists — it needs only us."

Which leads nicely onto your next point — that art is not the only aspect of one's identity and mode of operating. While I agree that we are multi-faceted people, this notion throws up some interesting concerns (in my mind at least):

a) how can one separate politics from other acts ie their artistic practice when everything is essentially political? There is absolutely no way art can be kept separate from politics (as I mentioned on Maps' blog):

"Nothing is created in a void — all actions, values and intentions are inherently political to some extent. Even to say "I do not make political work' is to take a political stance. Politics is not some removed realm, debated in the great chamber halls of Wellington — personal life is deeply effected by structural and political systems. The personal is the political, and the failure to recognise this fact has resulted in the continuing exploitation and domination by a hegemonic system based on the control of the many, by the few. Hence the need to base art in everyday life, to encourage self-activity, to take direct action, to collectively empower."

b) how can one protest against a system one day and then turn around and perpetuate it within their artistic practice the rest of the year? Surely this is a major paradox? Surely this illustrates the privilege an artist has to be able to feel like they are aiding 'the struggle' while being able to return to the comforts of their social position? I realise this is a huge generalisation, but it shows how art is nicely seperate from everyday life, if political protest is simple a thing you attend once or twice a month — or vote in every three years!

Now, to turn to your question of capital in terms of the Otautahi art world. I mentioned in my first post that 'Capital, first and foremost, is a social relation'. While economics are a big part of the culture industry and class, it is also the relations of production which we must be aware of. In this sense, a system of privilege (class) is upheld — not just through the ownership and the resulting wealth of production — but through hierarchacal relations. Its not simply a matter of who earns or looses what within the art world, but the fact that certain (I should mention, the same old) people are in the position to do so, while others are not. This crosses over to notions of value (what is good or bad art, and who defines those values), identity, content and praxis (mainly individualistic). To say that some artists lose money in the Otautahi art scene doesn't eradicate the existence of a scene, who makes up that scene, and what the values of that scene are.

I hope I've dealt with ethics enough above. As an anarchist, it would be a contradiction to impose upon or cease another's output — but as an anarchist, it is important to illustrate the positions of privilege, hierarchy, class and injustice in the hope to enable others to take a position and act.

Cheers.

Ross Brighton said...

Several things
1)It seems that you're getting most of your scholarship from that book "assult on Culture", and I don't think it's particularly good scholarship. While i am sympathetic to the political position, it gives skewed representations, for example, of both Fluxus and Letterisme; and, like much political writing that focuses on the class struggle, sidlines the radical work of Indigenous poeples (Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco for example) and Women (Marina Abramović, etc) and is represents an eurocentric paradigm that is a false representation of radical art.

2) what is wrong with Dada and Fluxus being taught is schools? I realy dont get this point.

3) re: Black Mask and subsequent comments regarding opositional positions- I profoundly disagree. Change, if it is to come, must be popular, and radically antagonistic propositions, while they may initially garner attention, are liable to alienate those who could provide base-line, grass-roots support. This kind of thing is liable to do more to hurt the cause then help it.
Furthermore i believe that any lasting change must come from within, ie changing societey rather than defining oneself in eternal oposition.

4) I agree; "The personal is the political" - Guy Debord

5) I disagree with your characterisation of art in Otautahi, not so much as an observation (shmoozing and cliques abound) but on principle. To characterise the "scene" as homogenous is disingenuous, and works with the system to prop up the hierachies that you propose to undermine, by erasing difference and silecing dissenting voices.

Furthermore to 3 - Engagement with the "mainstream" i believe is neccesary to instigate any real far-reaching social change. hard-line Radicalism, be it political or aesthetic, can often hinder the cause in ways that are not intended- an examp[le being the recent activity by the Ral IRA in Ireland, whose actions is likely to cement the position of loyalists and the british government, cause crackdowns and retaliatory action (both UK sanctioned and independent) and cause real suffering for republicans living in the (occupied) North. For the record I am a staunch supporter of a free and independant Irie.
Likewise, the decenering of the Individual site of subjectivity, such as that done with multiple name concepts of the explosion of speaker and frustrution of pronouns in the work of writers such as John Ashbery or Lyn Hejinian can work against Minority/indigenous peoples - as recounted by Harryette Mullen when describing a Black girl, after a class teaching Hejinian's work, approaching her to argue against it's politicality by saying that "we need our subjectivity".
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco, too, would argue that art is being employed as a from of community action all over the world, see for example their traveling shows, and GGómez-Peña's work with the Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo.
I would propose a means of infiltration as a more effective means of subversion than destruction.

Jared Davidson said...

"2) what is wrong with Dada and Fluxus being taught is schools? I realy dont get this point."

If Dada and Fluxus is taught in schools it shows how watered down and co-opted their ideas have become. It goes without saying that an institution wouldn't teach an idea fundamentally oppsoed to its mental and ideological tenent. So we can learn about 'Dada' from the safe distance of the textbook, void of any concrete analysis likely to challenge the institution.

3) Of course change has to come from within and directly by mass, spontaneous action — otherwise we'd end up with Stalinist Russia! But to water down our politics in order to cater to suit the current political consciousness (or our perceptions of political consciousness) is counter-productive — not only do our radical and alternative possibilities become watered down and lost, but the potential for radical activity is watered down too. 50 plus years of nice, containable protest with the fear of not alienating people has done nothing to grow or strengthen movements for social change, nor produce any tangible change in our economic systems. So I have to disagree with you on this point.

5) Please realise I am talking about mainstream aspects of Otautahi. There may be people on the fringes (such as yourself) but overwhelmingly Capitalism is still the bully round school. This is what I address my ideas towards.

"Engagement with the "mainstream" i believe is neccesary to instigate any real far-reaching social change.'

How do we do that when our creative acts are neatly defined to a gallery? When the majority of the people able to bring about social change (ie workers etc etc) have no interest whatsoever in going to a gallery, a poet evening, or a poster exhibition? 7 out of the 10 women at my work had never heard of HSP, let alone visited obscure and radical art fringe events. This is the crux of the issue — that art is removed from everyday life and catering predominately to a select audience, trained in the ways of appreciating 'art'.

"Likewise, the decenering of the Individual site of subjectivity, such as that done with multiple name concepts of the explosion of speaker and frustrution of pronouns in the work of writers such as John Ashbery or Lyn Hejinian can work against Minority/indigenous peoples"

I agree. It is all discourse, which once again, leads to inactivity.

"I would propose a means of infiltration as a more effective means of subversion than destruction."

I would propose a means of destruction via the infiltration of art into everyday life, and a resulting subversion of the domination of privilege and consumption.

Ross Brighton said...

Much of my reading on radical art has been inspired and encouraged by lecturers and tutors, many of whom harbour radical positions themselves. I do not believe that being included as educational content equates to "watering down", an example being Edward Said's longstanding tenure at Columbia University, which was never incompatible with his activism regarding palestinian rights. Futhermore i would argue that the more people are exposed to such practices, in any form, the more will look into them and investigate them themselves.

I agree with you generally on the rest of your points, but that "50 plus years of nice, containable protest with the fear of not alienating people has done nothing to grow or strengthen movements for social change, nor produce any tangible change in our economic systems" seems a bit broad. Maori representation in Parliment, adn legal battles re Treaty claims have done a lot (though not enough) and activity like Class War (what have they got to do with art, by the way?) is more likely to feed negative perceptions of anarchism in the populus than garner large-scale support.

re: art, i don't dispute that. however art has a small-scale, specific audience, kind of like croquet or highland dancing - not everyone is going to apreciate it. if you were going to attempt to garner widespread appeal, the practice would have to be tailored to public taste, which i believe would be a compromise, mimicking the techniques of popular moneymaking authours, film makers, advertisers etc. I don't think there is a way around this. Political practice has it's place in art, but art as a political tool designed to bring about widespread social change is, in my opinion, utopian in the etymological sense, ie U-(no) -TOPIA(place).

Fatal Paradox said...

An interesting discussion - if I might add a few (somewhat belated) comments of my own;

I understand where Jared is coming from in his impatience with the failure of successive artistic movements and artists to mount a challenge to the relations of capitalist exploitation which does not merely end up being co-opted by capitalism itself. However I think he may be expecting too much of art, which in the absence of revolutionary movements in wider society can hardly be expected to bring the system crashing to its knees.

Moreover, in a period of protracted political downrurn such as we are living through at the moment (at least in the Anglophone countries) where the basic social and economic conditions that would make an anti-capitalist revolution objectively possible *simply do not exist* it seems to me that "giving up art to save the starving" is not only a counsel of despair, but also accomplishes absolutely nothing in practical terms.

As someone who is currently writing a dissertation on the poets of the Latin American vanguardista movement of the period from roughly 1916-1935 (which was at various points influenced by Cubists such as Apollinaire and Reverdy, the Surrealist school, Futurism and Dadaists such as Tristan Tzara) I have quite a keen interest in the political possibilities and limitations of avante-garde art.

It is certainly true that many of the avante-garde had a fairly exalted idea of the role of the individual artist - the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro's characterisation of the poet as a "little god" springs to mind - however I do not think this should be read as evidence of some kind of "will to power over" their fellow human beings or denial of their right to participate in the creative process.

Rather they (the vanguardistas) were concerned to assert their autonomy in the face of hegemonic political and literary ideas. While some avante-garde schools (such as the school of "creacionismo" founded by Huidobro) could be read as containing elitist tendencies, one of the most problematic aspects of the rival surrealist school was its promotion of "automatic writing", based on the idea poetry amounted to nothing more than tapping into the unconscious - an egalitarian idea surely if ever there was one (although it proved to be less than sucessful!).

But what we should really ask ourselves is how realistic is it to expect art in bourgeois society to escape the social pressures and contradictions inherent in that very same society? Surely you cannot abolish the distinction between artist and non-artist without first overcoming the division in bourgeois society between intellectual and physical labour and between individual and collective consciousness - something which can only happpen in a classless, communist society. And to believe that we can expedite this process simply through artists renouncing art nothing more than idealism pure and simple!

Bear in mind too that in the mid-1930s a large number of avante-garde writers (Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, Louis Aragon for example) renounced their earlier work in accordance with the diktat of Stalin and those in the Comintern who argued that everything (including art) must now be subordinated to the anti-fascist struggle!

However I am sure that even Jared would not claim that this was a progressive move.

In the end I guess it comes back to the question of what is the purpose of art - to express a political message in crude didactic form or to enliven and enrich human experience?

As Leon Trotsky pointed out in his book "Literature and Revolution", artists will inevitably be influenced by and respond to the conditions of their own material existence. They are therefore fundamentally reflections (often contradictory and fragmentary in nature) of society, modified by the agent of the individual human consciousness - not determing agents in and of themselves.

This is why I can enjoy the work of a reactionary writer such as (say) Miguel de Unamuno or TS Eliot - because despite their subjective prejudices they still manage to encapsulate in their work some essential facet of that underlying material reality.

The alternative view put forward by Jared - that it is whether or not the artist stands for or against revolution that is the sole arbiter of their work - concedes I feel too much power and status to the individual artist and perpetuates the kind of elitism that he is so keen to avoid in the first place.

Fatal Paradox said...

P.S. apologies for the numerous spelling errors in the previous comment!

Ross Brighton said...

Thanks man, that's a realy good post.
I think the dialogic writings of Cage, Ronald Johnson (RADI OS), Mac Low and others are also pertintant to the discussion. I agree that the main point of difference here is to do with conceptions of the purpose of art, and as to how much agency one is willing to expect of it (this goes back to adorno again). I'm happy to have my work do little more than perform my ethical beliefs, rather than expect the world to move as a result of it. Maybe I expect to little, but i think, while political practice and ethics in art are important, to expect more is to ask too much, especially when operating on the fringes.