I've heard people in the past display an issue with this under socialism. What exactly is wrong with it?
Well, according to some people, art is always used to represent the ideas of a certain class. Therefore they think that art in socialism should only be used to convey revolutionary, proletarian messages.
But that's bullshit of course.
All art is political. To assert that art should only exist for it's own sake is itself a highly political aesthetic position, and one which is hostile to the Marxist position that art is created by a particular class to be consumed by a particular class, and to a great extent embodies the ideology of that class.
"Comrade Lenin left us a great legacy, and we fucкed it up." - Josef Stalin
See, gRed, that's what I mean.
All art is subjective. So surely seeing it as political is subjective too? How can any art be objectively political? Do the majority of people go to galleries look at art in a political form? Do they not go to look at craftsmanship, skill, style, effect? Is the primary reason people value the Mona Lisa because of it's supposed political message (and what is that message)?
Well, things are not that black and white. The base of it, for me, is this:
There is an aesthetical dimension in our existence, reflective and not explicitly "useful." If we want to get Hegelian (and Marxian),we would say that it comes from the need to express ourselves, our world as our creation, to imprint a material and recognize it as made by us.
What we call "art" comes from this, as a historical development that isolates or emphasizes this aesthetic dimension, which is present in all facets of our existence. As a historical category, it follows that it is society that determines what is termed "art," what are its rules and who makes it (division of labor). It might sound a bit functionalistic, but we can see here that there is a social burden to art, that it responds to a collective need.
Back to the rules. Even though art is "created by an artist" (author function fixation), the ideas he/she channels, the context he/she works on (for example with pigments, on a canvas, which is then put in a gallery, which is viewed by certain people with certain appreciation), the aesthetic rules followed, all preexist the "artist" (social construct!) as a subject.
As a discipline, art is something established by rules that don't depend on an individual, therefore has a degree of objectivity. For example, Science, architecture are relatively objective. Back when we had guilds, everything was viewed as objective because it had to be worked according to a scheme, against a model, until you graduated with a masterwork. Art was pretty objective back then. Still, art reflects back not to an observable result like science, but to the sensual and our representations of the sensual, so it will always lie in between the objective and subjective. And as modernity has "progressed" and demolished discipline as a visible, rigurious institution, art has moved more and more towards the subjective end. That we see a work of art as emerging ex nihilo from a demiurge-artist is an ideological distorsion that comes from capitalism.
So, saying "art is subjective" is unilateral. Art is not made in a vacuum, it is a discourse made from within a certain mode of production, which leaves its marks on the product (this is what we call the "ideological component" of discourse). Saying something like "all art is political" is reductionist, but we can say that all art can be read from a political standpoint, from an ideological standpoint (without this negating the existence of a work of art as art, viewed from our aesthetic standpoint). The point is that, as Marxists, can we ignore these components when creating a work of art? I feel that we can't. The same way Duchamp railed against "retinal art" (art abstracted from all context), we too should work for art that becomes aware of its own gestation and responds to it conscienciously by fulfilling its social role. That doesn't invalidate "art for art's sake", it just recognizes it as ideologically blind (from an ideological perspective, from an aesthetic perspective, we could very well lie in awe of a particular work; or conversely praise a work from its ideological perspective, but deplore it from an aesthetic perspective, like Sholokhov's short stories)
My opinion is that art that is blind to its own social existence suffers, but not nearly as much as art that is denied its aesthetic dimension to make it comply with its social purpose.
I would agree with that analysis, praxicoide.
"Comrade Lenin left us a great legacy, and we fucкed it up." - Josef Stalin
Society determining art is a very broad concept. Surely different sections of society determine what is considered "art?” And how exactly is a supposed social burden manifested in art? What is the "collective need" that requires the life drawings I do? As far as I'm concerned it is a hobby designed for my own enjoyment and to practise and increase my skills.
So just because an artist is not being entirely original with his/her work in terms of medium, subject, style, technique etc he/she is automatically responding to a social need?
What are these rules? If they have a degree of objectivity they shouldn’t be too hard to define.
Distorted from what? What is the “correct ideology” of art?
Could you cite some examples?
So art created by Marxists has to be politically and ideologically “correct?” How is this possible when people will interpret it in different ways?
The art suffers? Meaning what exactly?
gRed Britain wrote:
Of course it is. But, it is done all the time. Any student of history will tell you about how artistic manifestations of a certain period or society are linked to material conditions and by extent to ideology. For example, we all know about the Dutch golden era of art, especially of painting, and it is often understood that it came from a rising bourgeoisie and the need to exhalt their new values (images of everyday life as a way of dignifying material existence).This wasn't done explicitly, the artists did not conspire to do this, though intellectuals might point out that this was happening. For instance, Romanticism had many intellectuals who explained their time and their aesthetic principles, but these were not the same men as those who actually carried this out (Diderot or Novalis, for example).
Well, sure. Art is not equal among all social strata, it never has. That the ruling classes reserved only their production, their entertainment, as "art" does not negate the existence of music, drawings, or just the existence of the easthetical dimension in all other walks of life. (In fact, during the rising nationalisms that came around the Napoleonic Wars, came the interest in regional art, folklore and music). The dumb fad known as "post-modernism" was partly this, breaking the circle of the academia, since the academia had lost its primacy as producers of culture because of mass-media.
From a strictly Marxian point of view, there is an aesthetic necessity in us all, which varies, obviously from one individual to the other (and let's not fall into metaphysics, this is a historical/biological need). This doesn't translate directly to art, but to phenomena such as preferring simmetry, doing things out of amusement, not basic goals (reproduction of life). Through our relations of production, division of labor, our ability to produce becomes increased, and with the satisfaction of basic needs come new, human needs. This allows for the production of art, be it functional or just for admiration. This more elaborate need, requires people solely dedicated to this craft (CRAFT! this is key, look at the etymology of artcraft and of art before the modern age). How this production takes place depends on the mode of production (under a patron or as a commodity producer).
Talking of "intent" is very delicate, but we can say that it is almost irrelevant. That you are able to practice and increase these "skills" comes from the historical establishing of a certain action as meaningful and of the product of this action recognized as of value by us (not necessarily economical value). The "author" is also an spectator.
It isn't about originality. If we call something "original" that is because we have a model/expectations to measure against. Everything leads us back to the social sphere. The most radical of ruptures is still placed in relation to whatever it is it ruptured from.
Abstraction and discipline.
There is no such thing. We might say that the proletariat ideology, but that's because that is what we strive for, but to state there is a "true" perspective is completely metaphysical. Our praxis defines our horizon, to a degree, of what is thinkable, what is expressed linguistically or extralinguistically. The production of any discourse (and here we can include works of art) will invariably come loaded with this horizon. The effects of production on the product is what we can call the ideological effect on that product. There is no "true" ideology, just different ideologies, which are more or less invisible depending on your own perspective. For example, the musical ideals of Gluck, Mozart or Haydn were presented as the TRUE calling of music (with barroque music being a "distortion" of music), Romanticism, threw away these ideals and presented itself as the TRUE calling of music. More in general, capitalist ideologues will always present capitalist relations, capitalist economy, capitalist psychology, as our TRUE nature. This is what Marx railed against. Not that a "true" nature was being hidden by a "veil" (capitalist ideology), but that any such ideology would present itself as absolute. We must never lose sight of that; it's what separates Marxism from vulgar materialism.
No. Politically we can judge any discourse, but artistically it becomes a lot more subjective (though not fully). What I meant is similar to what I think Engels said (and I'm just paraphrasing) that every man has a philosophy, whether it is unconscious and uncritical, or self-aware. An artist that is abstracted from life, from the substrate that he is inmersed in, might be a wonderful artist, or not, but he will only guess as to why. Artistic works are said to express truths, a certain state, a certain value, to the degree that they resonate with us and make us reflect, they are appreciated, and the more critical and aware the artist can be in relation to this, the more he/she can develop. Marx admired Balzac greatly because of this, his keen eye in observing all of society and raising great truths. Haikus can be placed at the other end of the same spectrum: briefly detailing just a simple moment, a sentiment, they can connect deeply to the reader. Kafka's absurdity mirrors the absurdity we see in our estrangled existence, comedy reflects our shortcomings, the examples are endless.
You often get self-gratifying pieces of art that have to be taken at face value. Speaking socially, surplus value goes to the training and production of these artists, that may not necessarily give back anything to those on whose exploitation he is living (this is a bit extreme, but this is what spurred the Mexican muralist movement).
Yes the examples you cite do display evidence of the ideology they represent. But these examples are very much clear cut and discernable. If we look at the art of today, particularly abstract work which doesn’t display any specific bourgeois context, how do we analyse that? Damien Hirst (if you aren’t aware of him he has a history of paying people to translate his ideas into reality while taking artistic credit for them) is very much a “capitalist artist” (for want of a better phrase) like Warhol. But his stuff does not (objectively) portray a bourgeois culture or materialism.
I don’t deny that art has become commoditised. But what if the individual refuses to put it on the market? What’s wrong with me doing art for art’s sake for my own enjoyment? A practitioner of art is not necessarily “an artist.”
You are talking as if my art is constantly in the public domain. Do amateur tennis players who don’t aim to be publicly observed practise because their “skill” is valued by the public? Or do they do it for individual gratification and to further participation in a (limited) social practice?
Where are these rules defined? Who by?
If “we” strive towards “proletarian” art, what is this (and who decides that “we” strive towards it)?
But how can society “get back” their “investment” in these artists if their opinion of their work is just that: a varying opinion?
If art for art’s sake is undesirable (and to whom?), what sort of art is ideal?
Damien Hirst is a hack! If you don't see his antics as part of our shock culture, celebrity cult and commodity fetishism, then, well, I don't know what to say.
I hope you're not giving me that "end of ideologies" postmodernist speech. Vade retro! That too is an ideological stance, seemingly "invisible" to those that are inside it, as always.
Capitalism, while a progressive force, spurred art, but as it became regressive, it began to hinder it, so that much art today has to be done against the grain, even while prisoner of its own ideology
I have no time for Hirst or the rubbish he produces (or rather, pays other people to produce for him) but I don't see how a shark in a fish tank is inherently "bourgeois." Sure his actions and means of production most definitely are, but his art as an object?
So what/how "should" art be? What is socialist art?
Yes, thanks, I'm familiar with his stuff. How is it inherently "bourgeois?"
What "should" it be instead?
What's with the quote marks? I haven't stated anywhere what art "should" be like, or how art is "inherently" anything. I spoke of the ideological effect of the mode of production over any given discourse, which includes art, and how therefore, you can carry out an ideological reading of any work.
The problem I'm seeing here is that, typically, we're falling into commodity fetishism and even author function fetishism. If you state abstractly "this is a skull made out of precious stones (which is already saying a lot!), how is this isolated product "x" or "y"?" then we're not going anywhere. So instead of replying, I would call attention to the fact that you are showing art as finished products, commodities (regardless if you keep them to yourself, Kafka's ouvre had to be rescued from the flames; intent is always out of the question), made out of the fancy of a protean creator (so instead of discourse, where we should be, we fall into psychology, biographisms, all of the premodern history of "Great Men and their squabbles that forge history").
What I meant with how art "should" be is how is art affected by socialism and the socialist means of production? How does it affect the content of the art?
As to bourgeois art, maybe I misunderstood but were you not implying Damien Hirst's skull is "bourgeois" art because it has been ideologically affected by its mode of production and the antics of its creator?
Under socialism would it be considered wrong for me to create any old picture in any particular style and of any particular subject for my own enjoyment?
I'm not bringing out Hume's guillotine here, but there's a difference between what something "is" and what it "should be." Understanding something does not necessarily mean making normative assertions; but an enriched understanding can give us is greater tools for its production.
So, on a discoursive aesthetical level, we can state that it is "wrong" to speak of "art for art's sake" because it is an innacurate, abstracted ideological stance, but we are not stating anything with regards to the actual production under this ideology. I did say, that a full understanding of the historical/social phenomenon of art might enrich our production since it means shedding light on something that is often shrouded in mysticism, and IN THIS SENSE, we Marxists owe to at least educate ourselves in this regard. I am not condemming particular works of art or am stating any normative contents as to how art should be produced. As to your inspirations, motivations, themes, and objectives that's for you to decide; as said before, intent does not even enter the equation here.
Marx had a very well defined aesthetic theory, that I feel is fairly correct, on art as the objectification of our creative ability, and of its power depending on its ability to resonate with us ("expressing the universal through the particular"). He is not, however, preaching as to how art is to be made (though you can take up his point of view), only explaining the reason for the appeal of certain art. Other art can also appeal for other reasons, for all I know. It is similar to making ethics. Ethics as the analysis of our behavior with regards to morals. We can erect a theory as to why we have such and such moral, but we are not preaching morals.
Lenin did make plenty of normative statements on art, and I'm sort of on the fence on that. But, he was talking about "party literature" "party art". As a party, they could make the decision to endorse a certain kind of art and not another, because they had goals in mind, which where the priority. The USSR as you know, had one of the most vibrant artistic communities in the world and lived and died for these discussions. I think that they did wrong when the party lines became the state line, and when the state line became the universe of possible art.
EDIT: We can make a comparison with political economy. We don't rail against commodities themselves or how they are produced, but we vehemently denounce the ideology, the abstraction, that masks the actual conditions of the world of production that makes them possible, as well as the mode of appropriation and the possession (management). Since our lives don't depend nearly as much as in this as in art, our objections are softer on art, but we try to shed light on the actual circumstances of artistic production, as with any other type of discourse, culture.
Art for art is decadent for sure
Actually the real bolschevik accusation was "Formalism" describing this technics in art, literature, music, that were not intended to express something, a feeling or a situtation nor they had any context.
For example a musician that writes music based on "forms", ie decostructing certain patterns and using mathematic ways to reconstruct them.
Only a professional musician can understand this in a technical level, but actually sounds detuned and incoherent, giving away no feeling.
Ofcourse such a technic transforms arts from a popular expression and mean to popular culture to a mere technical issue.
This forum just reminded me of this quote I read by the Chairman Mao, "There is in fact no such thing as art for art's sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics. Proletarian literature and art are part of the whole proletarian revolutionary cause."I think that there is definitely some truth to that statement.
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