Monday, February 19, 2007

Art is Not the Tablescraps of Commerce.

Julio García Espinosa has argued against the refined “reactionary” arts, and for a revolutionary art which is “no longer interested in quality or technique.” By this he does not mean to assert that aesthetics should not be a concern for those devoted to artistic exploration, but rather, that an aesthetics of “art for art’s sake” is insufficient when confronted with an aesthetics of hunger.

Espinosa recognizes that art possesses “its own cognitive power,” while asserting that this power resides not in elite academies, but in art’s potential to express the diversity of culture as a whole. He rejects claims that art must be seen as either “committed” or otherwise, purposeful or self-serving, and suggests that art might be liberated from these arguments if it is viewed as an activity fundamental to daily life.

Only if art is regarded as a life activity, produced by all for the appreciation of all, can it be a pure and uncommitted activity, while at the same time serving to further revolution.

Only if every man and woman has incentive to become a man or woman “of culture” can the artist be freed of struggling at the margins of society, and thereby allow art to diffuse from the domain of the elite to the domain of the many. Because revolution is an ongoing process – one which is never complete – revolutionary art ought to address itself to this incompletion. An art wholly entrenched in timeless institutions cannot change as culture changes. Only a popular art can do this: an art which fails to engage the popular idiom will fail to reveal the processes by which a society expresses and transforms itself. At the same time, it should be noted that a revolutionary art demands an awareness of the materialist histories against which the reactionary arts define themselves.

A revolutionary art is an assertion of Life. Art is a basic human activity, like eating, sleeping, or making tools. Only when it is controlled by elites does it only yield its pleasures by engaging “the functionality (without a specific goal) of our intelligence and our own sensitivity.” Such a condition undermines the role of art as a basic human activity. The elites who control distribution thereby dictate the terms of production, and transform art into employment. When art is regarded by industrialist societies as employment, it becomes subject to Fordist pressures to specialize; a specialized art as employment demands the full devotion of an artist, too often to the exclusion of other human endeavor.

The dissolution of contemporary controls over the means of artistic production and distribution demands not just a democratization of these means, but also a decentralization of them. Art must be free to express what it finds wherever it finds it, and must not be relegated to illustrating statements that “can also be expressed through philosophy, sociology, [or] psychology.”

To the industrialist, an artist engaged in developing a style is engaged in a process of branding his or her self. The industrial artist cultivates an image, and uses this image to engage the markets of spectacle.

To give one’s image to commerce is to surrender control of how one’s image is used. This is the basis of the commercial arts. To use images for commerce is often to analyze, reduce, and reproduce them, appropriating conventions from the fine arts.

The commercial potential of art relies upon the conventions of the fine arts, which supply the commercial arts with the material history by which artistic expression is rendered identifiable as a sequestered facet of our culture. The commercial arts exploit copyright to manipulate the conventions of the fine arts (which are produced by consumers of commercial art). Current definitions of copyright are political tools to secure the profitability of commercial art (do you assume a political message whenever you see an advertisement?).

Industrialists have this interest in reinforcing the illusion that art is an elite practice: scarcity creates value.

1 comment:

immanuel williams said...

i've said the same thing, in fact, every single thing i ever wrote about art amounted to this same thing, only you said it better. to me, the popular aspect of art is essential: though there are plenty of art that is aware of its historical significance and engaged with its world (Like Mark Lombardi), that art is secreted away along with all the other art by those with holding the reigns. There, it is ineffective, it may as well not exist.
Most telling is the reaction of just about everyone to Michael Moore: MM is a truly revolutionary artist, and an effective one at that. The reaction of the "left" to MM's movies is telling-- it reveals them for who they really are. Which is, "arbiters of taste," and fascists, so much of the time, in disguise, pretending they are populists or whatever. they are only revealed when confronted with the real thing: then, the two things which appear similar on the surface are shown to be near opposites. thanks for your writing.