Self-Portrait - Man with Pipe by Gustave Courbet, 1848-1849a

The antinomy of art and politics

A critique of art as cultural resistance

Untitled.
Image: Gustave Courbet, Self-Portrait:
Man Smoking a Pipe (c. 1848-1849)

untitled2

Introduction

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This article first appeared in September 2011, the same month that Occupy Wall Street officially began its reclamation of public space. It was written by Chris Mansour, a good friend and member of the Platypus Affiliated Society, the organization to which I formerly belonged. My reasons for republishing it here are several: the two-year anniversary of the movement recently came and went to little fanfare, my ongoing interrogation of the relationship between architecture and politics, and my reposting yesterday of an article by the German-French Marxist and architecture critic Claude Schnaidt on “Architecture and Political Commitment.” In that reposting, I recommended Adorno’s essay on “Commitment” as supplementary reading. Chris draws upon this article in the course of his own exposition. A good piece that is worthy of reflection.

Platypus Review № 39, editorial introduction: At the 2011 Left Forum, held at Pace University between March 18–21, Platypus hosted a conversation on the theme of “aesthetics in protests.” Panelists Stephen Duncombe (Reclaim the Streets), Marc Herbst (Journal of Aesthetics and Protest), Chris Mansour (Platypus), Laurel Whitney (The Yes Men), were asked to consider: “What are the historical roots that contribute to the use of current aesthetic interventions in political protests? In what ways do they expand or limit the possibilities for protests to transform the social order? How does experimenting with aesthetic and artistic sensibilities influence our political consciousness and practice?” The same theme was the subject of another event held at the New School in NYC on May 23, which featured Marc Herbst (Journal of Aesthetics and Protest), Chris Mansour (Platypus), A.K. Burns (W.A.G.E.), and Beka Economopoulos (Not An Alternative). A full recording of the discussion at the Left Forum can be found online. The article that follows is a modified version of the opening remarks made by Chris Mansour of Platypus at both events.

The antinomy of art and politics

by Chris Mansour

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The very notion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political position.

— George Orwell

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There is an interesting passage in Herbert Marcuse’s short book, Counterrevolution and Revolt, which aims to flesh out how art relates to politics. In reflecting on art’s role in revolutionary struggle, Marcuse writes,

In its practice, art does not abandon its own exigencies and does not quit its own dimension: it remains non-operational. In art, the political goal appears only in the transfiguration which is the aesthetic form. The revolution may well be absent from the oeuvre even while the artist himself is “engaged,” is a revolutionary.[1]

Marcuse cites the example of Courbet, whose paintings signal the birth of modernity, and who founded a socialist club in 1848 and was later a member of the governing council of the Paris Commune in 1871. Yet, counterintuitive though it is, Marcuse remarks that “[there is] no direct testimony of the revolution in his paintings…[they contain] no political content.”[2] The “weight and sensuality” of Courbet’s still lifes — which were painted shortly after the collapse of the Commune — are far more “powerful” than any “political painting” could ever be.[3] Writing these statements in 1972 — four years after the failed “revolutions” of 1968 — it was becoming clearer to Marcuse that the politics of the New Left were losing their grip and its revolutionary energy was deflating. Likewise, the situation that Courbet found himself in after 1848 or 1871 was probably similar to, if not more tragic than, 1968.

Gustave Courbet, Still Life: Fruit, c.1871-1872. Oil on canvas, 23 1/8" × 28 1/4" (59 × 72 cm)

Gustave Courbet, Still Life: Fruit (c. 1871). Oil on canvas, 59 × 72 cm.

The separation between art and political activity that Marcuse was pointing to in Courbet may appear a bit strange to self-proclaimed cultural radicals or art-activists today. From Marcuse’s point of view, art remains autonomous from any exterior motives other than itself, and art cannot — and should not — act merely as a functional device for putting forth political aims. [4] “Political” art, actually abdicates its status not only as an art object, but also as an object potentially producing a novel political effect. But, on the other hand, we can also see why this approach of treating art as autonomous seems especially fraught for a politically minded person; weighing in on art’s formal qualities is ostensibly apolitical in nature and has no direct link to improving the qualities of social life. Construed this way, Marcuse’s inclination is viewed as a retreat from politics during a time of political crisis for the Left, and any deep concerns over aesthetics are perceived to be staunchly conservative, as a distraction from the “real issues” at stake. It is this latter view that we should interrogate.

As art has continued to develop since Marcuse’s time, the perceived necessity and desirability of keeping art autonomous has been under increasing attack. More and more cultural productions under contemporary art have been given some kind of political function and are understood as the wave of the future in progressive artistic practice. I would like to categorize the projects that seek to directly influence political life under the umbrella term “cultural resistance,” irrespective of whether some of these projects are considered to exist in the realm of art or not. Regardless of what forms they may take, or what discipline they are considered to reside in, upholding a politics of resistance best summarizes all these practices — and it is this core politics that remains underclarified but widely expressed.[5]

Cultural resistance seeks to dissolve the boundary between art and political life by making art socially responsible (or “operational” in Marcuse’s terms). Historically speaking, socially responsible art has taken many forms, from designed objects to artworks that incorporate direct commentary on political events, or even works that seek to become instruments in social life. Cultural resistance has its roots in the constructivist movement, which originated in the early stages of the October Revolution, and in the “committed” literature and theater of Brecht and Sartre in the early to mid-20th century. Whereas once the political commitment of art was contentious and sparked a whole series of critical debates between some of the most important Marxist thinkers of the day,[6] art as cultural resistance has now successfully created a niche for itself in the mainstream art world and is generally left unchallenged. The examples are endless: there is art activism seen in protest groups such as the now defunct ACT-UP or the Guerilla Girls; public stunts and media intrusions under the rubric of culture-jamming committed by Reverend Billy or The Yes Men, which seek to satirize mainstream culture tainted by consumerism; in the performance arts, a movement known as relational aesthetics or social practice set up platforms for social interactions beyond the alienation brought about by capitalism, as seen in the collective Critical Art Ensemble or the artist Jeremy Deller; and finally, there are interventionist practices that carry out Situationist-inspired détournements that are meant to symbolically subvert the capitalist system, seen in performances by William Pope.L or the “subvertisments” of Adbusters magazine.

To survey these people and groups, one has to wonder why, at our current historical moment, so much political energy is put into aesthetic, often largely symbolic practices. Conversely, why must so much art, in order to justify itself as art, rely to such a large degree on a putative ability to perform political work? Despite its apparent place at the cutting edge, why is it that such practices oddly hearken back and even echo the quaint moralistic arguments about the social good art does, and how art is “good for the soul”? In short, what is actually at stake, for art as well as for politics, in intentionally blurring the boundaries between art and politics? Is art emancipated thereby? And are we? If we are going to assess the quality of such projects, it might do them better justice to analyze them on different standards, judging them on their aesthetics and their politics.

First, cultural resistance cannot simply voice support for a particular political program, or if it does, reduces itself to little more than a one-dimensional slogan. So in trying to escape this sort of pigeonhole, cultural resistance art aspires to educate its audience, provoking them to experience a new kind of “attitude” towards life. But in seeking to invite its audience to share a certain attitude, cultural resistance art unwittingly reinforces what may be one of the most disturbing aspects of the status quo that it claims to be disrupting, namely, the fact that so much of politics exists only at the level of subjective “attitudes.” It is thus hard to see how such art would adequately raise political consciousness in the service of overcoming the conditions that are supposedly being resisted.

Reverend Billy "exorcises" the evil spirit of BP at the Tate Modern (July 19, 2011)

Rev. Billy “exorcises” the spirit of BP at the Tate Modern (July 19, 2011)

On the one hand, in the attempt to convey the “truth” of social reality through acts of cultural resistance, political questions of how best to respond to the dynamics of capitalism are trivialized, flattened out to suit the predigested message to be delivered. Art as cultural resistance often takes for granted precisely what a reflective political approach would seek to raise as a problem that needs to be worked through. Reverend Billy loses all his satirical force when it becomes clear that his politics are really no more than persuading consumers to “see the light” by resisting the urge of materialism and conspicuous consumption. He preaches a politics of lifestyle to combat the alienated dreamworld of capitalism, as if all one needs to do is snap out of itas though the world were only just sleepwalking. In Reverend Billy’s rhetoric, what constrains our freedom in the modern world is understood as a mass addiction to consumption. In the language of politics, the utopian character of Reverend Billy’s performative activism is little more than a promotion of the petty bourgeois demand for “local economies” and the romantic return to a more immediate experience that was supposedly existent prior to the exchange-relation in capitalism, or else to an earlier configuration of capitalism — back in the “good old days” [the status quo ante]. However sincerely intended, Reverend Billy’s activism, in terms of form as well as content, is hard to distinguish from what a viral ad campaign stunt might look like.

On the other hand, considering cultural resistance purely by the criteria of art, or aesthetics, one cannot help but note that in its execution cultural resistance art typically strives only to transmit an idea or attitude. Its medium and form of expression merely becomes a vehicle. The particular qualities of the aesthetic object and its medium of expression lose their authority and become incidental, and thus largely insignificant in their individual, idiosyncratic qualities. Each new artwork offers only that which is shared, familiar, and redundant. Its material properties end up becoming an illustration for a political or ethical message. Even when the message is new, the relationship between the material and the message is seldom ever novel. Paradoxically, cultural resistance often takes the path of least resistance in terms of its aesthetic presentation because the mere presentation of a message precludes, a priori, those tensions, ambiguities, and deferments of resolution that distinguish art from advertisement, traffic signs, and smoke signals. Prioritizing the issue of transmitting its political message in the most efficient and accessible way as possible, the formal elements of cultural resistance willfully accommodate themselves to the status quo — that is, to the current political situation, in which all political groups, right and left, vie for the sleekest political package, and all ideas are mangled in order to fit this Procrustean bed before they have even fully formed. Form becomes a mere instrument for expressing content that is outside the experience it brings. Or, as one of the most predominate curators and critics of cultural resistance projects, Nato Thompson, writes, cultural resistance artists use aesthetics as “tools” in order to bring in “political issues to an audience outside the insular art world’s doors.”[7]

Cultural resistance is often defended on the grounds that it creates “prefigurative political space,” as if the work or performance is able to construct “temporary zones” of “freedom” that anticipate what a post-capitalist world would look like. Here the questions of art and politics are merged — it takes a certain aesthetic arranging to create a zone in which people can feel “free” or see the injustice of the status quo more clearly. Nato Thompson further describes this strategy to make cultural resistance projects to function much like a “spa” that can temporarily ease the modern subject from the overwhelming speed of life of neoliberal capitalism. As he says, “In this spasmodic era, we find the arts recalibrated as a temporal, spatial, and bodily escape.”[8] However, what is troubling about treating cultural resistance in this way is the fact that setting up alternative “spas” to clear out the senses functions no differently than going off on holiday only to return to the drudgery of everyday life once again. Cultural resistance is based in the notion that “prefigurative politics” participates in the creating the semblance of momentary freedom rather than making legible the unfreedom that still remains, underlaying all apparent choices as well as any fleeting, ecstatic fantasies of escape. In the case of Reverend Billy, when one is “saved” from the veil of consumer culture one takes solace in one’s ability to make sophisticated consumer choices while capitalism as an oppressive and exploitative system not only continues, but is primed to expand to a new frontier in the increasingly profitable market for “ethical consumer goods.” To imagine oneself as temporarily “free” or outside of bleak social conditions only strengthens the system all the more.

As I asked at the outset of my remarks, why is it that, in our historical moment, we find this urge to overtly link artistic struggles with political struggles, and subsume one to the other? Indeed, this a trope has been a theme since the early 20th century, but the absence of proponents arguing for art’s autonomy in the present day forces us to understand the political commitment of art as cultural resistance in a new light. While it was once thought that a new world and society was around the corner (in the case of the constructivists), today this is no longer the case. I take this trend to be an expression of the Left’s current political helplessness, as an eager and desperate urge to overcome very real social ills when all possible options to do so seem unreachable. In response, so-called progressive artists (and activists) have become impatient with the peculiar facets of their practices, and disenchanted with the failed goals of modernist artistic autonomy. However, it is not simply a matter of making a compromise between autonomous art and cultural resistance, as they can only exist antagonistically and are irreconcilable when brought together as a whole. The politically committed art of today is only a shadow of yesterday’s, partly because its audience is politically confused, while autonomous art remains an impossibility. Adorno identified a tension between Brecht and Beckett, as exemplars of “committed” art versus “autonomous” art. But today we are confronted with ever more obtuse aesthetic symptoms that further obscure the problem of freedom. Cultural resistance fails to transform history by overcoming its Brechtian phantasm, which was arguably a more provocative approach towards politically committed art than what we are presented with today. Meanwhile, contemporary, “formal” art has become routinely neo-modern and complacent with familiar styles. What used to be two opposite poles in productive tension are now two dismal resemblances of each other. Each is pastiche.

Cultural resistance art, in falsely synthesizing politics and art, assumes that art as an autonomous field has little of importance to actually say about politics, and vice-versa. To take the compatibility of politics and art, as they exist now, for granted is tantamount to naturalizing the impossibility of both. As Adorno reminds us, autonomous art fulfills the desiderata of politically committed art better than it itself can, since  “non-conceptual knowledge” can communicate by signaling the issue of freedom, or the lack thereof.[9] But even this might no longer be the case, as autonomous art, much like art as cultural resistance, has become a caricature of itself. Art and politics: each seeks to change the world, but in different ways. Their approaches are not incompatible, but they are not identical either. Though the “correct” approach cannot be worked out in advance, it is clear that art’s autonomy must be defended, as it is clear that any demand for art’s autonomy cannot be construed as resignation, nor merely as a call to imitate the art of another historical era. |P

Notes


1 Herbert Marcuse, “Art and Revolution” in Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972), 105, emphasis added.
2 Ibid., 106. Marcuse actually attributes this observation about Courbet to the surrealist André Breton. He is probably referring to Breton’s 1935 essay “Political Positions of Today’s Art.” See André Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972), 212-233.
3 Marcuse quoting André Fernigier. ibid., 110.
4 Ibid., 106-107. Marcuse further argues that art’s political effect resides in the ability to render new techniques or “translating reality into a new aesthetic form.” The creation of a new perceptible reality out of our existing one is where art’s political potential lies.
5 Ever since the 1970s, the politics of resistance has been the battle cry from the activist left. As Žižek notes, the politics of resistance assumes that capitalism as a world-historical force stabilized itself as a form of social domination, and is now objectively impossible to overcome. In response, the Left assumes its role to “resist” certain aspects of capitalism, or to simply reform its structures in order to make a “better” more “humane” capitalism. From this perspective, human emancipation — and even political emancipation — becomes cynically viewed as a pipedream and ipso facto an impossible feat. See Slavoj Žižek, “Resistance is Surrender,” London Review of Books, Vol. 29 No. 22 (15 November 2007). Or, to see a broad historical outline of how the politics of resistance has come to be, see Stephen Duncombe’s remarks at the forum in “The 3 Rs: Reform, Revolution, and ‘Resistance’ — The Problematic Forms of ‘Anticapitalism’ Today,” Platypus Review, № 4 (April 2008). A video of the event is available online.
6 For the most exemplary debates on this matter, see Adorno et al., Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 2007).
7 See Nato Thompson, “Trespassing Relevance,” The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 14.
8 Nato Thompson, “Contractions of Time: On Social Practice from a Temporal Perspective,” e-flux Journal #20 (November 2010): 2. Also available online.
9 Theodor Adorno, “Commitment,” Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 2007), 193.

12 thoughts on “The antinomy of art and politics

  1. Thanks for this Ross. I’ve been making this argument myself among my friends and colleagues for many years now. Academics in the humanities are especially guilty of conflating the artistic and the political, to the detriment of both. The academy has become a place for neither art nor politics, but merely safe political posturing in which the impulse for public political action is sublimated into the “work” of the “radical” academic. Instead of teaching the subjects of, say, literature or painting, and then participating in extra-academic politics, the new radical academic throws the actual artworks out the window, and instead makes his teaching and writing a form of cultural politics, and in the process becomes no better than the urban professional who throws herself into her work without any regard for the political consequences of such ostrich-like deference to one’s career. This is especially sad to to see in the academy because it is precisely the brightest and most effective communicators, those who could do the most good, who are effectively removing themselves form the political sphere.

  2. This article assumes a number of positions to be held by the makers of ‘culturally resistant’ art that, like most generalising statements, are not invariably true. For example, I know few artists who insist that art should be either autonomous, or not autonomous – it is never one nor the other, in any case, though in some instances it may start to lose its identity as artwork, and in others, its potential to speak about, to, or with a world beyond itself. The worry about art losing its autonomy is not really a problem for art, but for critics, curators and artists (in terms of markets etc). It’s just action in the world, interested in seeing what one can do with form, image, shape, dynamic, body, materials, ideas and dialogue.

    Nor do I know of many artists who are chucking a message out there as if the artwork were merely the containing bottle. It is a much fairer criticism to suggest that art proposes a change in attitude, which is as problematic as is suggested here… although not a problem that has gone unrecognised by critics who, on the contrary, tirelessly discourage any kind of activism on the grounds that it is insufficient and probably compromised.

    Well, probably it is. However, I do think it is more complicated than this. This week I saw a performance in a bureaucratic city building that evoked, through video, testimony, dance, text and audience contribution, the multiple and shifting image of our city, the contiguity of poverty, homelessness, displacement, consumption and other, happier elements – not telling anyone what or how to think but finding its own way towards portraying and analysing the unportrayable, unfinished whole that is a small city, including what is forgotten (I’m left remembering the cardboard sign that read ‘I forgot the woman who died in a tent’ – referring to an event this year that yes, I had forgotten). I also picked up a flier (OK, I know the artist rather well), for a work that will be extended over 6 months and is a kind of imaginative ‘charrette’ for the future design of this same city, beginning with excursions that owe much to the dérive. Again, no banal message, no proposed attitude, but an exploration in the open terms that art can encompass, which has yet to discover its own final form. Then today, a conversation with a research student who is revisiting apparently conservative open air performance to try patiently to understand what is actually going on with this desire to be in open spaces.

    I’m not pretending that this work changes the world by itself, but I think its cultural resistance is more interesting than your article suggests. There are problems with the idea of ‘relational aesthetics’, but this is a fine art label, not coming from performance. You are right about the antecedents of this work, however, although I hope contemporary art is not confined to ‘dismal…pastiche’.

    Yours are the kinds of questions that should be being asked, but it is also too easy to shut things down. We do what we can. Art isn’t going to give up on politics, even if it’s often ineffectual. Who isn’t?

    • Chris Mansour wrote this article, and not me, so I’ll try not to answer for him. (I will, however, notify him as to your comment, and perhaps he’ll be able to respond). That said, these are my thoughts:

      Politically “committed” art, as opposed to a supposedly “autonomous” art, are each relatively recent ideals in the history of aesthetics. Artworks created before 1789, for example, often served an ideological function in representing and communicating the institutions that commissioned them (the monarchy, the clergy, or the nobility), but were in no way intended to galvanize the “masses.” The “masses,” Gustave Le Bon’s “crowd,” were themselves an invention of the nineteenth century. It was not that precapitalist art was merely aloof; it simply didn’t have “society” as an audience to address. So it’s a question of conditions of possibility.

      Obviously, as you point out, the extremes of this classic debate have been dulled. Few artists think of their work as “pure” works of art, or on the other hand subordinate all of their creative output to base political ends, as propagandists. Ironically, however, during the Russian Revolution, both extremes coexisted and influenced each other. Malevich sought to create a pure language of painting, according to its own self-given laws, untainted by the messy materiality of the world it seeks to represent. At the same time, Tatlin and Rodchenko sought to tear down the wall separating art from life, making art and life identical. I think it is important that we entertain the idea that this simultaneous tendency toward either extreme was symptomatic of the radical historical transformations then underway. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can bring about a revolutionary situation merely by aping the most unequivocal formulations of the heroic avant-gardes; however, such extremities may begin to appear again as social antagonisms again surface to the level of consciousness.

      On one of the other terms you use, and I know this is probably poor form, I recently wrote up a divagation on “activism” in aesthetics and politics that takes issue with the concept. My aim is not to discourage any and all attempts to transform the world or improve material conditions, however. The inadequacy or inefficacy of certain procedures, political or aesthetic or whatnot, should not by itself be cause for despair. The idea that something must be done should be predicated on the idea that something can be done. Instead of lamenting the fact that a set of actions don’t effectively change the world, we must instead ask what would actually be required to do so.

      • Yes, apologies for mis-attributing the article. I agree with much of this, and I see what you are saying about ‘activism’, although I am not sure I accept it.

        It’s also perhaps a fair point that JD Hoff makes about ‘safe political posturing of the academic’ – although if we include politics in our ‘work’ (love the scare quotes) it doesn’t follow that we are not also engaged in ‘extra-academic politics’. The compromises of the academic institution are not accepted lightly or without question and continual re-consideration. In any case, I don’t know what it would be to teach theatre and performance without writing and thinking and to some extent teaching about politics, activism and ethics. This is one reason why theatre has always been the bastard child of the arts, because the idea of a pure theatre is pretty hard to sustain (Malevich’s involvement in theatre notwithstanding).

        ,

  3. First of all dude, thanks so much for sharing this thing. It was a great read and as a painter myself, your boy Chris has my humble stamp of approval. Really piqued my interest.

    Real quick before I start rambling on, the bit about “the quaint moralistic arguments about the social good art does, and how art is ‘good for the soul’…” reminds me of the first chapter of a Leo Tolstoy book called “What is Art?”. Tolstoy hovers around this point and uses it as an interesting jumping off point for the rest of the book.

    Anyway, the biggest inner conflict I’m left with after reading this piece is contained within this passage here:

    “Paradoxically, cultural resistance often takes the path of least resistance in terms of its aesthetic presentation because the mere presentation of a message precludes, a priori, those tensions, ambiguities, and deferments of resolution that distinguish art from advertisement, traffic signs, and smoke signals. Prioritizing the issue of transmitting its political message in the most efficient and accessible way as possible, the formal elements of cultural resistance willfully accommodate themselves to the status quo…”

    Now, as a representational painter (of people and things), I’ve often thought long and hard about the role of “aesthetic presentation” when it comes to painting. When I hear Mr. Mansour talk about the “path of least resistance” as being antithetical to the “tensions, ambiguities… that distinguish art from advertisement, traffic signs…” I do sympathize with, and appreciate his nod to the sublimity and autonomous authority of art itself, but still feel that here, he may be taking a dangerous position.

    There is simply a question in my mind of the relatability of art which abandons its own communicability. I’m not advocating a watered-down aesthetic presentation, just a tempering of one’s disgust for certain “shared” or “familiar” aesthetics. These universals are what make paintings like Courbet’s still lives so “powerful”.

    Otherwise we wind up with millions of folks so fed up with the apparent bourgeois elitism of contemporary art- the deliberate ambiguity- that they simply throw up their hands and say, “Ughh, I just don’t get art.” That’s a place we’ve been heading for the better part of a century, and it brings a tear to me’ eye. :'(

    Anyway, sorry to go on, but again, I appreciate the article!

  4. Pingback: The antinomy of art and politics | Research Material

  5. Great article! I have to agree on many points. Art and the making of art can be among the most powerful methods of creating culture, as powerful expressions of our humanity. Beauty and shared experience are what matters most, particularly in times of crisis. Empty slogans and symbols offer little comfort when your city is burning down. There is a correlation between Courbet’s still -life’s and war, Picasso’s neoclassical period and world war, Signac’s landscapes and his vision of anarchy. This is not self-censorship, as we have in our current Orwellian reality show, but a change of focus to what art embodies on a more transcendent level.
    I believe art and politics are inextricably linked, regardless of the intention by the artist. There are a couple of things that may be overlooked in this article. The first being that it begins by talking about Courbet and what he represents to the avant-garde. A different point of view is that “Courbet” or this type of persona, could be exactly what is needed to break from the repressive cycle of contemporary art which we live. One, that as the article mentions, throws out history in order claim authority. I find the current climate of contemporary art as synonymous with political power. One that appears to operate from a hidden source with hidden agendas. There is little integrity or transparency in either arena. Hence, the utter confusion about both from the general population. As for political art or propaganda, it serves it’s purpose. It forces the viewer to momentarily acknowledge an issue, considering the audience. It cannot save the world, but develops a certain degree of awareness. That at least is a first step in the face of ignorance, moving out of denial. As for this type of performance art, art as social practice, can be a powerful tool. Anything which helps open up the mind, to see deeper into the human condition.
    And to answer your question: yes, I believe there is a sort of continuity to the past, maybe not a straight line, but one that must accept the past, in the present. We inherit the Earth. We must come to terms with our culture and it’s origins are deep in the past. Doesn’t history repeat itself? We maybe moving at the speed of the fastest internet connection, but it doesn’t discount the very essence of nature. We are humans not machines, yet.

    • I agree that “art and politics are inextricably linked.” As the French philosopher Alain Badiou claims, the four methods to truth are science, art, politics and art.

  6. Art is one way of avoiding both sweeping generalisation (not to be confused with abstraction, grounded in the concrete) and a banal understanding of cause and effect. If politics involves having a cause to effect impact on the transformation of a general system, then art is not usually political. In fact, whatever artists claim or hope for, the more complex the artwork the more likely it is to unsettle any degree of certainty or absoluteness about politics or revolution (see Meyerhold, Brecht). That’s not the same as relativism. It can be passionately committed, but still tends to find images for the tensions, doubts, uncertainties, paradoxes, doubleness and complex experience of any given situation or worldview. That said, politics needs art because both sweeping generalisation and banal understandings of how and why things actually happen are damaging to political analysis. The other problem is that art as specialism is largely dominated by the bourgeoisie. However, politicians of all persuasions tend to like it that way, as it makes it easier to dismiss, since the shimmering perceptions of the world that art offers are not useful in a context where blunt instruments can be more ‘effective’. Or perhaps because they exclaim, with Leon’s millions, ‘Ughhh, I just don’t get art’. In short, I agree with Punk Toad, it is ‘political’ in this other sense and another method to truth; one which makes of truth something so intricate as almost to seem relative, perhaps sometimes to seem deliberately obscure, but crucially, NOT SO. As this is a sweeping generalisation no doubt you can find fault with this as well. I am sure there are examples of art that would belie this too, and there are certainly examples that hope to do something other than this. They tend not to be very successful as art, but there are exceptions, as there always are, however absolute we might like everything to be.

  7. I go for straight up propaganda. As I said once in a review: “Much of what we call “fine art” is in fact propaganda, first by its creation then by curatorial selection. Our cultural standards of beauty, for instance, are created by and reflected in accepted works of art. Does this not both express a point of view while manipulating the viewer to accept it? Of course it does. But such propaganda flies under the radar, because we, as a culture, believe so strongly that art, great art, is somehow value neutral.”

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