Friday, June 20, 2008

Compare and Contrast

Art in America's June/July '08 issue focuses on Art & Politics. You can guess some of the political leanings going on...

I found the contrast of two articles particularly curious;

In Activist Esthetics, Tom McDonough makes the (in my opinion, highly contestable) claim,

The social history of art, as it fitfully developed over the course of the 20th century, has always been bound up with the troubled history of the workers' movement, and more particularly with its state-socialist variant. There seemed few ways to think through the relation between art and the social outside the parameters provided by the canonic Marxist ontology.


At least he is up front with his agenda. It's such a sweeping statement, it makes me wonder about all the art training I've gotten and all the artist's relationships I have that are distinctly non-Marxist. We must be some sort of aberration.



Later, there is a very interesting interview with Ai Weiwei, described as "China's most outspoken artist..."

Mr. Weiwei's first response to the interviewer is as thus,

I grew up in a Communist society and amid ideological struggles. The system devolved into extreme totalitarianism with no personal rights, no freedom of speech or expression. Justice was replaced by class struggle, which is really just an excuse for the government to maintain its power. From a very early age, I found it almost impossible, in those conditions, for individuals to develop self-consciousness or any real awareness of esthetic values. Instead, there was a severe conflict between individual and state power. These struggles pervaded the environment in which I grew up. And still, after 30 years of so-called "opening and reform," we have a reduced version of the same state. Today, we are still under a one-party system with very limited space for freedom of expression. (emphasis mine)

It's interesting, that a westerner who (I'm assuming) has never grown up under Communism places Marx on a pedestal of heroic proportions, saying in effect that all 20th century art owes it's social impact to Marxism. On the other hand, the first thing said by an artist, who has actually grown up under the thumb of Marx, is how Communism makes the conscious expression of art and esthetics nearly impossible.

It is a wonder, the ignorance shown by those who simply will not learn from history.

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