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Give up art and save the starving?

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Intro from the upcoming edition of 'RIVET — Art and Activism'.

Give up art and save the starving?

If art and design is understood as the expression and reflection of a particular set of values, systems and interests, then most artistic practice today tends to express the interests of the class that controls and profits from society — the bourgeois or corporate class and their markets. It is these interests that dominate and control the standards of value in art — that defines its emphasis, and excludes its more subversive, egalitarian alternatives. Likewise, when our society places so much importance on the individual, technical virtuosity of an artist instead of the social motivations and commitments of that artist, one doesn't have to look much further than the world of art and culture in our society to see where fascism breeds.

These are heavy and rather confrontational definitions of mainstream art, but one only needs to experience the fishbowl of a typical art opening to take them as truisms.

But what of alternatives? For practitioners of a completely different kind of art, these dominant understandings make using the term 'artist' rather problematic. Are we artists, or something else? Should we separate ourselves from the term 'art' altogether — or reclaim it for an entirely new set of standards and values, values in tune with our political, social and economic realities? Or, do we completely destroy the separation of art and everyday life, as the Situationists tried before us? Do we take it one step further, to 'give up art and save the starving', to 'paint all the paintings black and celebrate dead art', as Tony Lowe would have us do. And why not? Capitalism and the global financial crisis continues its drunken march of exploitation, playing havoc with the millions of working people who always suffer the effects of the hangover while never being invited to the party. For practitioners truly willing to empower more than just themselves — the barricades — and not the gallery, may be the new canvas on which to create.

Of course, practitioners with any kind of decent analysis should already be 'on the barricades'. Cultural production plays an integral role in the current way of life — it is the means by which a monopoly of content and control by a few over the many is kept in check. Consumption, and the spectacle of consumption, contribute to the alienation and social poverty we currently experience. And yes, that includes hip, avant-garde, 'edgy', political work supposedly with 'something to say' while continuing to hang upon the white (or brick) walls (or pages) of our capitalist utopia.

If we decide not to leave art for dead, and instead embrace its omnipotent potential for radical, social change — it will be important to collectively create perspectives and values which clearly illustrate the realities of everyday, working life, and the possibilities of libertarian alternatives. Rearrangement of our institutions — cultural ones included — is simply evasive. A tree that has turned into a club cannot be expected to put forth leaves. Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die.

Jared D

Image by Icky at www.justseeds.org. Look carefully and you'll see some natural propaganda…

Related

http://www.garagecollective.blogspot.com

Comments

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

It seems that the Garage Collective means to refer to writers as well as visual artists when they talk about 'art', so I suppose my name would have to figure somewhere on their lengthy blacklist of bourgeois artists that the proletariat ought to 'leave for dead'.

Over the years I've produced a lot of political writing - leaflets, articles, and so on - for various left-wing causes. I've even argued for the 'abolishment (sic) of capitalism', as the Garage Collective demands that I do. At the same time, though, I've published poetry in a number of journals, and in a book.

My poems do not argue for the abolition of capitalism, or indeed for any other worthy cause. Nor do the poems, novels, and paintings of my friends in different parts of the arts community. Is this evidence for the Garage Collective's argument that we're a bunch of corporate propagandists? If we are, then we're not being paid very well for our propaganda - most of us are broke. And we'd make poor propagandists, even if we were paid well, because most of us have solidly left of centre political views. Although my political views are probably further to the left than most of my peers, my involvement in political activism is not unusual. I run into poets and painters and musicians on all sorts of demonstrations.

The demand that art take to 'the barricades' by communicating a particular political message is not new on the left. It was the basis of the doctrine of 'socialist realism' which pro-Moscow Communist Parties imposed upon their intellectuals for decades. Party bureaucrats rejected almost all modernist art as 'bourgeois', because painters like Picasso and writers like James Joyce didn't seem to 'take sides' in the class struggle. Party publications featured 'literary pages' which were full of dreary odes to Soviet tractors and Stalin's moustache. I realise that the Garage Collective doesn't advocate Stalinist politics, but they ought to be aware of where the demand for the unification of art and politics can lead.

I believe that art and politics should be kept apart, or at least at arm's length, because good art can achieve things which political discourse cannot. It is not a matter of valuing art over politics, or politics over art, but of recognising that they offer two different ways of thinking and acting.

The hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who enjoy art in its various forms are not all simply hopeless dupes of capitalism, imbibing the propaganda of the Business Roundtable as they admire a Hotere canvas or read Janet Frame or listen to Miles Davis.

For many of us, art offers a space in which we can escape from the day to day exigencies of life in a twenty-first century capitalist society and enter into a contemplative frame of mind. In this frame of mind we are able to look at our lives and our world from new perspectives, and receive insights we would otherwise miss. Art also helps us to imagine alternatives to the way we live our lives, and to the way our society is organised. It is art's refusal to caught up in the urgency of day to day issues and political sloganeering which makes it so valuable, especially in a society like ours.

With their demand that art be useful - that it get onto 'the barricades' and help promote this or that cause - the Garage Collective actually betray the influence of the ideology of capitalism on their thinking. Capitalism relentlessly instrumentalises both people and things, demanding that they prove that they are 'useful' if they want to survive. In our society, even public hospitals and forest parks have their value 'quantified', and are subject to business 'plans'. The artist who refuses to be 'useful' by creating works that can easily be interpreted and co-opted is taking a far more radical stance than the person who churns out political propaganda.

To say all this is not to argue in favour of 'art for art's sake' or against the idea that art can have political consequences. It is to say that art can be at its most radical and powerful when it refuses to push a political barrow. One of my favourite contemporary New Zealand artists is Brett Graham, who is of Ngati Koroki and Ngati Pakeha descent and frequently addresses the history of colonisation and anti-colonial struggle in his work. I've written about Graham's recent exhibition Campaign Rooms, which is a response to the 2007 police raids on Tuhoe Country that refuses easy political slogans. Graham works on a deeper level than sloganeering can reach, meditating on the conceptual foundations of the colonial state and the symbolism used by that state. My review of Graham's exhibition is here:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/02/war-in-head.html

I've written about the idea that art shoukd be revolutionary by being anti-political at greater length in this essay, which was published last year in the literary journal brief:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2006/12/seeking-different-reality-pri...

Scott

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Hi Scott,

Not sure how you got writers from this, as it certainly wasn't my intention. I'm at work so I don't have time to reply now, but I will try to sometime soon.

Thanks for your comments,

Jared D

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Ok, to clarify:

I too have published work in journals, newsletters and what-not. My line 'the white (or brick) walls (or pages)' was a dig at work like Adbusters, Shepard Fairley (OBEY), and artists who actually reenforce the system while thinking that they are bucking it. If one realises that contradiction then its a start, Most do not.

In terms of a 'blacklist', thats not the intention. 'Give Up art' was a text written by Tony Lowe in the early 80's. THe idea of leaving art for dead was his, and I was trying to play with that idea and engage people with it. Seems I have so far!

Of course, at the bottom of the text it says that art should not be left for dead, but instead used collectively to empower. My critique is of the individual artists and the individual act of making art:

"Likewise, when our society places so much importance on the individual, technical virtuosity of an artist instead of the social motivations and commitments of that artist, one doesn't have to look much further than the world of art and culture in our society to see where fascism breeds."

Instead, I come from another point of view. Individual images alone are not enough. Further exploration of participation and facilitation in design and the design process can only set the basis for future non-hierarchal, organic organisation. Structures and ways of working with others raised in ones practice could essentially form patterns and guides for the self organization of a more libertarian society. Therefore the act of making work could be as empowering as the visual message itself. Both collective and personal processes of making work could lead the way in eventual liberation on a more macro level, exploring the 'unlimited perfectibility' of both design activity and social organization.

So, its more than simple 'stalinist' propaganda, but engaging in pratice that will empower people, and more than just escapism for individual artist and individual viewer. Don't get me wrong, I like Picasso and Joyce too, but ever pressing urgency is needed in our collective response to — and not from — 21st century capitalism.

"The artist who refuses to be 'useful' by creating works that can easily be interpreted and co-opted is taking a far more radical stance than the person who churns out political propaganda."

Have to disagree here, because again, you confuse propaganda with radical change.

I'll have a read of your link when I'm not at work, and maybe I can make more sense!

Cheers Scott,

Jared D

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

I think I can identify the point of difference bewteen our ideas. And there are also points where I agree with Scott . The main point of Scott's argument above is based on propaganda and sloganeering. The abolishment of capitalism, or themes thereof, are immediately associated with the sloganing of past political art. Because I advocate a kind of practice which encourages radical change, Scott views it through a typical political framework of party messages and political slogans. Essentially, Scott takes the view that work of this kind MUST be IDEOLOGICAL, and therefore be propaganda. But this negates the process, or act, of making work. These ideas are where myself, and a large movement of anarchist practitioners (see www.justseeds.org) are coming from. Here is the essential difference, and it relates to ones conception of political action and social change.

For anarchists, and anarchist ‘artisits’ (excuse the term), the advocating of radical change through the self-activity of the masses is essential. Therefore it’s not just the message, but the medium which must be empowering. Instead of a particular ideology, we think in terms of self-activity. It’s not a matter of certain slogans, or a correct political message, or art without that correct message as being 'blacklisted'. It's a matter of encouraging direct action, self-activity and empowerment. Does current artistic pratice do that? Some work, as Scott mentions, can provoke thinking and thought, but does it promote further action? Does it deconstruct that mental division of maker and viewer? Sadly, often it doesn’t, and this is the crux of the matter. Radical change = mass self-activity and participation. Art therefore could, and should, encourage this self activity.

Anarchists have a problem with the seperation of artists from everyday life, and the seperation of art itself from everyday life. Currently art is a thing to be consumed, to be left to an elite few, who through their artistic wisdom and skill allow us to transcend everyday life, and more often than not, to consume culture. We must all participate and have a say in culture if we are to direct its values and concerns. Hence the self-activity proposed (and therefore the abolishment of class division and capitalism). The Situationists went further, proposing that the destruction of a factory, or the throwing of a brick at a cops head, was indeed, art. Like the seperation of politics from our own lives through parliament, artistic practice (and therefore cultural values) are seperated from everyday life by the division of artist and viewer. A goal should be to challenge that.

Now I agree with Scott when he states that art can help imagine alternatives to our current way of thinking. The problem is a lot of that thinking or relection provoked is void of any kind of class or structutral analysis, or of any kind of forward moving direction or action. Instead, art could, and should, do both — relfection and broadening of ones ideas, and proposing positive possibilities for social change.

"Ideally, art can inspire hope, encourage critical thinking, capture emotion, and stimulate creativity. It can declare another way to think about and participate in living. Art can document or challenge history, create a framework for social change, and create a vision of a more just world. When art is used in activism it provides an appealing and accessible entry point to social issues and radical politics" (from 'Art Against Authority').

The everyday individual or anarchist design practitioner, through the basic act of joining their libertarian principals with their material production, should, and could, greatly contribute to the transformation of everyday life — towards a more just and humane existence. As educator and mediator, it is the responsibility of anyone with an understanding of visual communication to instill in people's minds a broader sense of possibility, using the communicative powers of artistic imagery to empower, encourage and enrage. It is important to shift societies' many urgent concerns from the fringes and into the public realm, in a direct and unavoidable manner. However, purely negative and angst-ridden critique (while sometimes useful) can only go so far — it is the sense of positive possibilities that need to be associated with the ideas of radical art.

So we agree that art can inspire — the difference is what exactly it is it should inspire. Reflective, contained, individual thought? Or collective, self activity and direct action? Here is the essential difference to our view of art and artistic practice.

Cheers

Jare D

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Hi Jared,

I have no objection to you and your circle producing artworks which promote anarchist ideology, if that's what you want to do.

What I do object to is the sweeping dismissal in your post and subsequent comments of the work of the thousands of New Zealand artists who are not producing work of the sort which you champion. A tiny handful of these artists can be considered wealthy opportunists with links with the corporate world (stand up Dick Frizzell), but the vast majority work conscientiously with little financial support because they love and believe in what they do. The work that they produce is extraordinarily varied, in terms of both the audiences it attracts, the materials it uses, and the styles it displays. All this work shouldn't be dismissed simply because it doesn't do what the Garage Collective would like to do.

If you want to write seriously about art, then you need to take the trouble to look at some individual artworks. You haven't mentioned a single artwork or artist in your post and your comments here. Once you actually grapple with a real-life artist's work, then you'll see that the generalisations you've been making are unsustainable. Do you really think that Brett Graham's intricate sculptures, with their roots in Maori tradition as well as the world of the twenty-first century, fit with your claim that carefully crafted art is a reactionary breeding ground for 'fascism'? Does your claim that art galleries appeal only to an 'elite few' make any sense at a time when Wellingtonians are flocking to see Cezanne canvases at Te Papa?

Despite your protestations, you do seem to be in favour of some form of propagandistic 'socialist realist' art. This statement of yours might have been written by Zhdanov, the Soviet Union's notorious 'culture Tsar' in the 1940s:

'Now I agree with Scott when he states that art can help imagine alternatives to our current way of thinking. The problem is a lot of that thinking or relection provoked is void of any kind of class or structutral analysis, or of any kind of forward moving direction or action. Instead, art could, and should, do both — relfection and broadening of ones ideas, and proposing positive possibilities for social change.'

If these are your criteria for good art, then every major artist that this country has produced - McCahon, Hotere, Fomison, Clairmont, Rita Angus, Shane Cotton, Laurence Aberhart, Ans Westra, Lois White, Milan Mrkusich - fails them. None of those artists showed 'class or structutral analysis' in their work, and none of them created work which provided 'an appealing and accessible entry point to social issues and radical politics'. This doesn't mean that some of them weren't involved in various types of activism, and that many of them have a lot to tell us about New Zealand history and society. It means that art works in a different way to political discourse.

Scott

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

MANIFESTO OF THE NEW DESSERTERS

To be human is to be an artist. We can't give it up any more than we can give up eating ice cream.

We could give up talking about it, but talking about it is fun.

I see ephemerality as the key to a de-commodification of art.

Art should be like ice cream, enjoyed for the moment, unable to be re-sold or invested in.

Make art out of ice cream. Enjoy making it, take it out of the freezer, briefly gaze in awe, then gobble and wobble.

Let the capitalists try and invest in that. One faulty freezer or power cut and it's gone.

Cheers

sam buchanan
art object

PS. The best exhibition I've ever seen was Cakes of the 20th Century by The Mens Art Club, which consisted of cakes decorated to represent assorted 20th century disasters (The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the KKK, the 1981 tour, Jackson Pollock, The birth of Kim Il-Sung, etc.), so maybe we should work in any edible medium that melts or goes stale within a reasonable time frame?)

Re: Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Sam,

how can you advocate icecream when it is so closely tied to the price of milk?

The dairy industry has capitalism written all over it, and where do you think the power comes from that powers your freezer?

All you're advocating here is turning the art into the end point of the material comodification process, and your exhibition becomes the point at which capital gets converted into cultural capital, to be consumed by "discerning" artwankers.

Playing with your food is not de-commodification, it's just the display of western affluence.

Re: Re: Re: Give up art and save the starving?

"The dairy industry has capitalism written all over it,"

...and the Organics industry does not?

"and where do you think the power comes from that powers your freezer?"

...probably the same place that your fridge uses to chill your tofu and your computer uses allowing you to type such inane comments

Re: Re: Re: Re: Give up art and save the starving?

"The dairy industry has capitalism written all over it"

True, as does the paint industry and the paper industry and the guitar induustry, et al. That leaves spoken poetry as the only possible non-capitalist art.

Though my solution would be a Cows As First Artists scheme, by which collectively-owned cows collaborate with artists to produce the ice cream.

"your exhibition becomes the point at which capital gets converted into cultural capital, to be consumed by "discerning" artwankers."

Not sure that 'cultural capital' makes sense here, by this argument, any experience can be derided as 'capital'.

"Playing with your food is not de-commodification, it's just the display of western affluence."

Not really, food remains art until absolute desperation sets in. Many decidedly non-affluent people still make choices of ingredients, cooking methods and presentation that contains an artistic element.

Cheers

Sam

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

You can hardly call it a debate. Besides getting my information completely wrong (I'm from Otautahi), you haven't posted my text in full, or my subsequent replies. Instead, I'll post them myself once I reply here.

The fact that two fronts of debate have opened up because of this wee text, and has ruffled a few feathers, illustrates a few points. One: that the call for the end of artistic practice separate from everyday life threatens some who prefer to see culture as something we consume at Te Papa, and not to be actively participated in. Two: that art and politics must somehow be kept separate. And finally, that work exploring possible alternatives to the current exploitative system known as Capitalism is propaganda. I'll try to illustrate the failings of these ideas below.

Firstly, my call on 'celebrating dead art' — this is nothing knew. In fact, the name of my text is a blatant reference to a text written by Tony Lowe in the 80's, influenced by Situationist, Dada, and Fluxus art practices (see 'The Assault on Culture' by Stewart Home — AK Press). The idea that art is everyday life, and everyday life is art — therefore breaking down the division of maker and viewer, producer and consumer — is again, an old idea. Nor is it my random musings. There is a huge movement of people engaged in community art projects working to these ends (see www.justseeds.org or 'Art Against Authority' — AK Press). Like I mention above, this prospect must really challenge those who would rather see art or culture as separated from the realities of everyday, working life. As I mention earlier:

"Anarchists have a problem with the seperation of artists from everyday life, and the seperation of art itself from everyday life. Currently art is a thing to be consumed, to be left to an elite few, who through their artistic wisdom and skill allow us to transcend everyday life, and more often than not, to consume culture. We must all participate and have a say in culture if we are to direct its values and concerns. Hence the self-activity proposed (and therefore the abolishment of class division and capitalism). The Situationists went further, proposing that the destruction of a factory, or the throwing of a brick at a cops head, was indeed, art. Like the seperation of politics from our own lives through parliament, artistic practice (and therefore cultural values) are seperated from everyday life by the division of artist and viewer. A goal should be to challenge that."

So, what I proposed was if we can't let the separation of art and everyday life die, then an alternative would be to use artistic action to empower more than oneself, to use it to encourage self-activity and direct control over the cultural process, in tune with our realities under 21st century capitalism. While Scott looks back and decries my definitions when compared to past or current artistic work — I am looking forward, to a new way of working. I am charged with not mentioning names, of not being based in 'artistic reality' — guilty as charged. I have no desire to fluff on about the merits of work that do nothing in ending the exploitation and spectacle of everyday life.

Which leads me to point number two: the separation of art and politics. This is virtually impossible. 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. Again, as I mentioned earlier:

"For anarchists, and anarchist ‘artisits’ (excuse the term), the advocating of radical change through the self-activity of the masses is essential. Therefore it’s not just the message, but the medium which must be empowering. Instead of a particular ideology, we think in terms of self-activity. It’s not a matter of certain slogans, or a correct political message, or art without that correct message as being 'blacklisted'. It's a matter of encouraging direct action, self-activity and empowerment. Does current artistic pratice do that? Some work, as Scott mentions, can provoke thinking and thought, but does it promote further action? Does it deconstruct that mental division of maker and viewer? Sadly, often it doesn’t, and this is the crux of the matter. Radical change = mass self-activity and participation. Art therefore could, and should, encourage this self activity."

This is not propaganda or ideological slandering. I don't wish to take over and control art towards political ends (as Scott compares me to Zhdanov that must be his reading) — I want to open up art to everybody, and to end art as a separate and elite category from our own lives. Art will continue to be elitist as long as 'Wellingtonians are flocking to see Cezanne canvases at Te Papa' and not deconstructing the producer/consumer division so engrained in our social structures.

Above is an understanding of artistic practice quite different to past and current mainstream conceptions — one that deconstructs the privilege of the artist and bases the act of creation back amongst the collective. One that wants to encourage and explore the possibilities of a better world, a world free of exploitation, division and hierarchy. One that would like to see art as egalitarian and meaningful as possible. That conception of art challenges people (and may even piss them off) says a few things louder than this wee text possibly could.

Cheers
Jared D

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

"If art and design is understood as the expression and reflection of a particular set of values, systems and interests, then most artistic practice today tends to express the interests of the class that controls and profits from society"

How does it do this?

"...excludes its more subversive, egalitarian alternatives..." an example? You cant avoid BTW in talking of art of bringing in wider areas of creativity - poetry, music, architecture, movies etc I'm not sure if it is capitalism or any class that excludes - art as in paintings and happenings, installations, at galleries tend to be very expensive but poetry for example is not an earner at all -or virtually not - there is tendency for "subversive" or "marginal" work (creative work - writing art etc) to be excluded but how that happens I am not sure. It is not a plot - it is simply the result of the market (supply and demand etc)

"...when our society places so much importance on the individual, technical virtuosity of an artist instead of the social motivations and commitments of that artist, one doesn't have to look much further than the world of art and culture in our society to see where fascism breeds..."

This can be true but this is a big jump - art can also counteract fascism - the Nazis destroyed much "bourgeois" art.

"If we decide not to leave art for dead, and instead embrace its omnipotent potential for radical, social change — it will be important to collectively create perspectives and values which clearly illustrate the realities of everyday, working life, and the possibilities of libertarian alternatives."

An huge amount of art does this - true mostly it doesn't earn the big money or get collected. The language poets looked seriously at this issue the in 70s and on even to the 90s - and I think there are still alternatives - but it is not a case of "giving up art" because someone earns big money while someone else starves - giving up art wont save people from starvation - but there does need to be a kind of art that embraces - potentially at least - everyone in society - that is basically - the people. (It doesn't mean that the other art has to stop - there is room for all kinds art or writing practice - to take two "arts".)

"Rearrangement of our institutions — cultural ones included — is simply evasive. A tree that has turned into a club cannot be expected to put forth leaves."

" Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die. "

maybe - but the point is to create a form or practice that involves all people - in this we can see a multiplicity of forms of "art" so - call it ART - in which the contribution of everyone - everyone - is valued. This will be the beginning of attack on the problem Marx called "alienation"...will this lead to the destruction of capitalism? Maybe - that may not even be desirable - but it may be a step toward a ean there - in psychological or even a "spiritual sense" society. because even if the class system as we know it is changed we will still have many social crises, issues problems - struggles - contradictions in fact to work on. (These will never cease in fact - nor is it desirable that struggle should cease)

My EYELIGHT is underpinned by ideas I got from the Language poets and elsewhere (and my own ideas!) but here is a link to it

http://richardinfinitex.blogspot.com/

Now - potentially - the Infinite Poem - was to be a completely free - open project (art, texts, music etc) that "disappears it's author" and begin slowly to involve ALL people (of course in practice and in one sense it is really more a "template" or a "model" for a possible practice for change in art methods or production.

Looking at what I am doing now (I have no overt ideology though) - it may seem almost "elitist" but the "drive" is in fact toward a method - perhaps like that of the Situationists - I am not familiar with them - but nothing - potentially is excluded. My involving politics - if necessary - or as I feel - it means there is no "propaganda" aspect - there is some overt poetics - but the gist is activity potentially - key word - by everyone.

That is the hope for (some form of) socialism (not the botch up of the late Soviets - actually botch ups started early - not social realism - not propaganda - no ONE ideology dominating what we say - but freedom - and - a method of working toward a progress) and so on) - a free art that everyone can participate in - non-judgmental art that enhances the creativity and talent of as many as wish - at the moment schools etc tend to exclude - "mark" - judge - wound - the individual - and in that sense I know the art gallery opening feeling - but my take is not to get rid of the other art (or even confront it - more guerrilla war of art if you like - I don't mean violence (it could be a tactic in some scenarios but it is not what first comes to mind) - but to develop these alternatives - the internet in many ways is doing this also.

My gist is I feel you perhaps over simplify a complex and interesting issue - but you put it quite well (certainly there is a challenge there) - and it is good you raised this issue.

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

"Therefore the act of making work could be as empowering as the visual message itself."

This is something I am interested in - I am interested in process and making - not selling or results -

not that I object to selling or kudos - but I would want - somewhat a greater involvement by more people at all levels in some or many creative projects - non judgmentally run. And not one dominating ideology.

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Hi Richard,
You raise some interesting thoughts, thank you.

"If art and design is understood as the expression and reflection of a particular set of values, systems and interests, then most artistic practice today tends to express the interests of the class that controls and profits from society"

It does this naturally, as we are all socialised within Capitalism and therefore unwillingly or willingly reflect the dominant ideas of the times. I don't think its a plot or anything, but from my experience in Otautahi, there is not much work willing to acknowledge the fact that art and design is a huge part of the cultural realm of capitalism. As I say in my other text (focused on graphic design, where I'm trained):

"Graphic design has predominately been, and still is, the tool which beautifies, communicates and commodifies a set of ideas, ideals or products within various tenets of our social and economic relations. Unfortunately, it is fair to say that this creative tool is overwhelmingly used in an economic/commercial sense — consciously or unconsciously using its talents to exploit — to raise profit margins and material wealth for the benefit of a select clientele. While graphic design lends its talents outside of the commercial realm in the form of an informative and communicative visual language, and in academic or self-authorship, research-based practices — the primary role of graphic design as a medium is that of the visual instrument of the powerful; the seller of sales, the convincer of consumers — employed by the corporate body or state-sanctioned by capitalist/socialist totalitarian governments in order to perfect and reinforce their hegemonic positions. And while design academia can wax poetic about the virtues of graphic design and its specialised visual language — conveniently side-stepping more tangible issues — the design industry practitioner, whether one chooses to acknowledge his/her role or not, must realise that their labour is nothing more than the harbinger of consumerism, used in the service of monolithic capitalism and all of its ails. Without graphic design those who sustain these ills of society have no face, no visual identity, no point of reference, and most importantly, no effect."

By the way folks, there are various ways to argue for the abolition of capitalism, blatantly or otherwise. Any critique of the current way of life is a start, and I realise a lot of work does this. But it could do more.

Process becomes increasingly important in more egalitarian art. Community artwork and projects, for example, often have zero visible outcomes. But the means used become the ends, and this is something we could all be exploring in our creative fields.

Sorry, my knowledge of Poetry is limited to Lola Ridge, Pablo Neruda and some Lettriste movement (ie not much!)

Jared D

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

This is an interesting discussion.

I basically agree with Jared that art needs to be judged against its defence or rejection of capitalism and not any spurious concept of <art for art's sake>. There is no such <art>. There is <beauty> however which is a different thing. Beauty is apolitical, art is not.

Lenin, who was an admirer of Beethoven, because of the sheer beauty of his music that went straight into the brain cutting through ideology, said he couldnt listen to Beethoven as it distracted him from the revolution.

I think the universal aspects of art are not the values it expresses at any given time such as Beethoven's free bourgeois individual (which is certainly an invention of the bourgeoisie and not timeless) but the emotional synapses generated by it. The brain is very plastic and has a voracious need for beauty. Great art slips its values through into our unconscious subliminally because it enters the brain directly. Crude art fails because the message is left floundering in a wasteland of banality.

Shakespeare's sonnets are great art because the sheer brilliance of conveying emotion causes involuntary brain activity. His values, representing the struggles of the infant bourgeoisie to emerge within feudal society, are not timeless, but his evocation of the brain chemistry of love is.

I can appreciate good art whatever the values it serves (and it all descends from mythical or religious representation of the meaning of life in particular historic societies) as it always evokes emotions that drive thoughts. But I don't make the mistake of calling it <art for arts sake>. It never is.

Fomison for example took the language of celtic and polynesian myth to express his own inability to find meaning in capitalist society. He looked for meaning in past cultures to make sense of the alienated culture he was living in. His images convey that loss but leave us with partial answers. Pre-capitalist society was not alienated, but it is not the way out of alienation. But the sheer fact that he posed the question was good enough for me. Tony died too young to be a convert to Marxism which IMO is a tragedy.

Great art today is that which slips its anti-capitalist values through behind a direct stimulation of beauty in the brain through all the senses. Under capitalism, art is either for or against capitalism. The reason is not as Jared says, we are all conditioned to capitalism, which is true in a general sense, but that we live in capitalism and cannot escape its alienation other than by conscious acts to destroy that alienation.

I think that Jared is correct in the sense that to destroy alienation today we have to stop acting as individuals and act collectively. Only the working class has the power to destroy exploitation and thus alienation. The artist ceases to act as an alienated individual making a personal statement, yet still trapped in that alienation, but acts as a collective that consciously breaks the social relations that reproduce alienation. The stimulation of beauty in the brain becomes less an act of solitary production and consumption, but an act of solidary production and consumption. I am thinking of the best revolutionary art of 1917 which was a call to arms.

give up starving. save art.

the only way to the abolishment of capitalism is the abolishment of art.

in nazi germany would we condone those who compose poems about the natural beauty of ash falling from the sky in the sort light of sunset?

i think not.
give up starving.
save art,

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

I want bread, but roses too...and art

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

'In nazi germany would we condone those who compose poems about the natural beauty of ash falling from the sky in the sort light of sunset?'

A lot of us would need poetry in order to survive in Nazi Germany. The German philosopher Karl Jaspers and his Jewish wife, who lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation during the Nazi era, said that they only managed to preserve their sanity by reading Shakespeare.

Art in all its forms supplies me with a space in which I can step back and reflect upon the world, and in some obscure way (art is mysterious - we don't and can't understand how it works) replenish myself. I wouldn't be able to do anything politically if there was no art in my life. I think that the imaginative, contemplative qualities in art are something that members of our society desperately need. As William Carlos Williams said:

Poetry costs nothing
and yet people die every day
for want if it

I have no problem at all with people designing posters and similar works with a simple, unambiguous political message. I've designed a lot of posters myself. But I don't find that work of this kind satisfies and replenishes me.

As I said to Jared on my blog:

'You talk of 'opening art up' to people, and letting them participate in art, but great artworks necessarily do that already. Great art is different to political discourse partly because it demands that its viewers complete its meaning, by entering into a sort of mental communion with the artist and interpreting his or her work.

Compare one of the posters reproduced on your blog with a painting by, say, Cezanne. Whereas the meaning of the poster is completely unambiguous - capable, in other words, of only one correct interpretation - a Cezanne canvas cannot be interpreted 'rightly' or 'wrongly' in strict terms. It is designed to stimulate the imagination of the viewer, and to force him or her to enter into its world. It is an invitation to an encounter, not a lecture. Cezanne retains his force, and attracts millions of viewers, long after almost all the political propagandists of his day have ceased to interest anyone beyond historians.'

Art is a broad church, and there is room for the enthusiasms that Jared discusses (as Richard notes, many of the qualities Jared wants to find in art - cooperation and the diminishing of the gap between the maker and viewer/reader, for instance have been important threads in the art history of the last twenty or thirty years. This is what makes the 'give up art' slogans so silly.)

What I object to, and what every artist I know would object to, is the idea that there is a certain way of making art which has to take precedence over others. Art, by its very nature, is always opposed to such dogmas. The imagination can't be bound by political prescriptions - it has to have the freedom to wander where it wants. The artist should be like Shakespeare's clown - an odd man (or woman) out, not a follower.

When I think of the great art of the Russian revolution, I don't think of the propaganda posters (superb though they were - I saw an exhibition of them in London a few years ago), but of the extravagant language of Futurist poets like Velimir Khlebnikov, who rejected ordinary logic in favour of a new 'beyonsense', and the bold abstract canvases of the great Kasimir Malevich. One of the signs of the degeneration of the Russian revolution was the persecution of artists like Malevich and Khlebnikov, because they did not satisfy the demands of the 'socialist realism' that became a house style under Stalin. Let's not reproduce that sort of dogmatism today, but instead celebrate the diversity and richness of New Zealand art.

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

sorry, last comment by Scott.

Here's a link to Kasimir Malevich's painting 'Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions':
http://www.artchive.com/artchive/M/malevich/r_square.jpg.html

More Malevich here:
http://www.artchive.com/artchive/M/malevich.html#images

This is revolutionary art

This is what I mean by revolutionary art - Annenkov's storming 1920
A mass reenactment of the Storming of the Winter Palace in 1917. Here the art depicts a revolution based on the demand peace which achieved all three.

I think Malenkov should not have been banned and persecuted. His art should have been left to speak for itself. I hope he painted a two dimensional fascist's blood staining Red Square.

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Should be Malevich not Malenkov
The three demands of the Revolution, were <peace, bread, land>.

In the Russian Revolution <art of revolution> succeeded in feeding the starving by stopping the war and taking the land.

MANIFESTO: TOWARDS A FREE REVOLUTIONARY ART

This manifesto was written by Andre Breton and Leon Trotsky in Mexico in the late 1930s. Diego Rivera was a co-signatory.

We can say without exaggeration that never has civilization been menaced so seriously as today. The Vandals, with instruments which were barbarous, and so comparatively ineffective, blotted out the culture of antiquity in one corner of Europe. But today we see world civilization, united in its historic destiny, reeling under the blows of reactionary forces armed with the entire arsenal of modern technology. We are by no means thinking only of the world war that draws near. Even in times of "peace" the position of art and science has become absolutely intolerable.

Insofar as it originates with an individual, insofar as it brings into play subjective talents to create something which brings about an objective enriching of culture, any philosophical, sociological, scientific or artistic discovery seems to be the fruit of a precious chance, that is to say, the manifestation, more or less spontaneous, of necessity. Such creations cannot be slighted, whether from the standpoint of general knowledge (which interprets the existing world), or of revolutionary knowledge (which, the better to change the world, requires an exact analysis of the laws which govern its movement). Specifically, we cannot remain indifferent to the intellectual conditions under which creative activity takes place, nor should we fail to pay all respect to those particular laws which govern intellectual creation.

In the contemporary world we must recognize the ever more widespread destruction of those conditions under which intellectual creation is possible. From this follows of necessity an increasingly manifest degradation not only of the work of art but also of the specifically "artistic" personality. The regime of Hitler, now that it has rid Germany of all those artists whose work expressed the slightest sympathy for liberty, however superficial, has reduced those who still consent to take up pen or brush to the status of domestic servants of the regime, whose task it is to glorify it on order, according to the worst possible aesthetic conventions. If reports may be believed, it is the same in the Soviet Union, where Thermidorian reaction is now reaching its climax.

It goes without saying that we do not identify ourselves with the currently fashionable catchword: "Neither fascism nor communism!", a shibboleth which suits the temperament of the philistine, conservative and frightened, clinging to the tattered remnants of the "democratic" past. True art, which is not content to play variations on ready-made models but rather insists on expressing the inner needs of man and of mankind in its time - true art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society. This it must do, were it only to deliver intellectual creation from the chains which bind it, and to allow all mankind to raise itself to those heights which only isolated geniuses have achieved in the past. We recognize that only the social revolution can sweep clean the path for a new culture. If, however, we reject all solidarity with the bureaucracy now in control of the Soviet Union, it is precisely because, in our eyes, it represents, not communism, but its most treacherous and dangerous enemy.

The totalitarian regime of the USSR, working through the so-called cultural organizations it controls in other countries, has spread over the entire world a deep twilight hostile to every sort of spiritual value. A twilight of filth and blood in which, disguised as intellectuals and artists, those men steep themselves who have made of servility a career, of lying for pay a custom, and of the palliation of crime a source of pleasure. The official art of Stalinism mirrors with a blatancy unexampled in history their efforts to put a good face on their mercenary profession.

The repugnance which this shameful negation of principles of art inspires in the artistic world - a negation which even slave states have never dared to carry so far - should give rise to an active, uncompromising condemnation. The opposition of writers and artists is one of the forces which can usefully contribute to the discrediting and overthrow of regimes which are destroying, along with the right of the proletarian to aspire to a better world, every sentiment of nobility and even of human dignity.

The communist revolution is not afraid of art. It realizes that the role of the artist in a decadent capitalist society is determined by the conflict between the individual and various social forms which are hostile to him. This fact alone, insofar as he is conscious of it, makes the artist the natural ally of revolution. The process of sublimation, which here comes into play and which psychoanalysis has analyzed, tries to restore the broken equilibrium between the integral "ego" and the outside elements it rejects. This restoration works to the advantage of the "ideal of self", which marshals against the unbearable present reality all those powers of the interior world, of the "self", which are common to all men and which are constantly flowering and developing. The need for emancipation felt by the individual spirit has only to follow its natural course to be led to mingle its stream with this primeval necessity - the need for the emancipation of man.

The conception of the writer's function which the young Marx worked out is worth recalling. "The writer", he declared, "naturally must make money in order to live and write, but he should not under any circumstances live and write in order to make money…..The writer by no means looks on his work as a means. It is an end in itself and so little a means in the eyes of himself and of others that if necessary he sacrifices his existence to the existence of his work…..The first condition of the freedom of the press is that it is not a business activity." It is more than ever fitting to use this statement against those who would regiment intellectual activity in the direction of ends foreign to itself, and prescribe, in the guise of so-called reasons of state, the themes of art. The free choice of these themes and the absence of all restrictions on the range of his exploitations - these are possessions which the artist has a right to claim as inalienable. In the realm of artistic creation, the imagination must escape from all constraint and must under no pretext allow itself to be placed under bonds. To those who urge us, whether for today or for tomorrow, to consent that art should submit to a discipline which we hold to be radically incompatible with its nature, we give a flat refusal and we repeat our deliberate intention of standing by the formula complete freedom for art.

We recognize, of course, that the revolutionary state has the right to defend itself against the counterattack of the bourgeoisie, even when this drapes itself in the flag of science or art. But there is an abyss between these enforced and temporary measures of revolutionary self-defense and the pretension to lay commands on intellectual creation. If, for the better development of the forces of material production, the revolution must build a socialist regime with centralized control, to develop intellectual creation an anarchist regime of individual liberty should from the first be established. No authority, no dictation, not the least trace of orders from above! Only on a base of friendly cooperation, without constraint from outside, will it be possible for scholars and artists to carry out their tasks, which will be more far-reaching than ever before in history.

It should be clear by now that in defending freedom of thought we have no intention of justifying political indifference, and that it is far from our wish to revive a so-called pure art which generally serves the extremely impure ends of reaction. No, our conception of the role of art is too high to refuse it an influence on the fate of society. We believe that the supreme task of art in our epoch is to take part actively and consciously in the preparation of the revolution. But the artist cannot serve the struggle for freedom unless he subjectively assimilates its social content, unless he feels in his very nerves its meaning and drama and freely seeks to give his own inner world incarnation in his art.

In the present period of the death agony of capitalism, democratic as well as fascist, the artist sees himself threatened with the loss of his right to live and continue working. He sees all avenues of communication choked with the debris of capitalist collapse. Only naturally, he turns to the Stalinist organizations which hold out the possibility of escaping from his isolation. But if he is to avoid complete demoralization, he cannot remain there, because of the impossibility of delivering his own message and the degrading servility which these organizations exact from him in exchange for certain material advantages. He must understand that his place is elsewhere, not among those who betray the cause of the revolution and mankind, but among those who with unshaken fidelity bear witness to the revolution, among those who, for this reason, are alone able to bring it to fruition, and along with it the ultimate free expression of all forms of human genius.

The aim of this appeal is to find a common ground on which may be reunited all revolutionary writers and artists, the better to serve the revolution by their art and to defend the liberty of that art itself against the usurpers of the revolution. We believe that aesthetic, philosophical and political tendencies of the most varied sort can find here a common ground. Marxists can march here hand in hand with anarchists, provided both parties uncompromisingly reject the reactionary police patrol spirit represented by Joseph Stalin and by his henchman Garcia Oliver.

We know very well that thousands on thousands of isolated thinkers and artists are today scattered throughout the world, their voices drowned out by the loud choruses of well-disciplined liars. Hundreds of small local magazines are trying to gather youthful forces about them, seeking new paths and not subsidies. Every progressive tendency in art is destroyed by fascism as "degenerate". Every free creation is called "fascist" by the Stalinists. Independent revolutionary art must now gather its forces for the struggle against reactionary persecution. It must proclaim aloud the right to exist. Such a union of forces is the aim of the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art which we believe it is now necessary to form.

We by no means insist on every idea put forth in this manifesto, which we ourselves consider only a first step in the new direction. We urge every friend and defender of art, who cannot but realize the necessity for this appeal, to make himself heard at once. We address the same appeal to all those publications of the left wing which are ready to participate in the creation of the International Federation and to consider its task and its methods of action.

When a preliminary international contact has been established through the press and by correspondence, we will proceed to the organization of local and national congresses on a modest scale. The final step will be the assembly of a world congress which will officially mark the foundation of the International Federation.

Our aims:

The independence of art - for the revolution.

The revolution - for the complete liberation of art!

Re: MANIFESTO: TOWARDS A FREE REVOLUTIONARY ART

Marx makes an appearance

Spot
Karl Marx

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

Ban nothing! Bash fascists!

Re: Re: Give up art and save the starving?

the revolutions over you ignoramus! here's a hint - the side you would've been on lost - oh but that's right - you were'nt even there! stop blowing wind out your arses and pretending to know about revolution.

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

give up capitalism and save the starving

freedom of creative expression

art is good

emhmm

Re: Give up art and save the starving?

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