musings on meaning by chris o'kane, written for jigsaw #8 in june '03
YES DARLING BUT WHAT IS ART ?
Broadly speaking art today is based on the principles of modern government; representative democracy. The idea that everybody has an important artistic statement to make coincides with the idea of a voice in representitive democracy-- where everybody's opinion is important because their votes create the government; the government is the will of the people.
But art is not only a vote, but a cultural and economic product. As art resides in the marketplace of ideas. The market place in theory is a wonderfully ordered place where through competition the best ideas beat out the terrible ones. This is the classical liberal viewpoint (conceived by adam smith), which also gave birth to lovely little fads like social darwinism, which ironically was its own victim.
(see john locke for more on the origins of classical liberalism-ed)
YES DARLING BUT HOW REALISTIC IS THE CLASSICAL LIBERAL VIEW OF ART ?
I would state the classical liberal conception is hardly
realistic mainly because the world necessary for such a view does not exist. The liberal view supposes a level playing field where ideas triumph becuz they are inherantly worthy. Were this true our world would be a nauseating place, well an even more nauseating place. The eagles would be considered the best band and john grisham would be the greatest author enough of a horrible thought to end this discussion right away.
What the liberal viewpoint ignores is what seperates the
people at the top from everyone else, fuckinā class man. The pople at the top hold the keys to power....capital. With all this capital they are able to influence what is considered or chosen. john grisham sells more books becuz his books are sold at every bookstore and airport in the freaking world.
This is a crude model but is still more apt then the liberal one. Another important corallary of economic monopoly is ideological monopoly. People like rupert murdoch who owns countless media outlets has more of a role in shaping peoples opions then i do. i work at the ymca and dont own a single media outlet. Therefore more people will come into contact with Murdoch's ideas then mine, they will come to
agree with them and thus agree with his interests. this type of ideoligical influence is prevalent in every facet in information and or education dissemination.
YES DARLING, SO HOW DOES POLITICAL ART FUNCTION IN THIS WORLD?
Art exists within this world not apart from it as museums would imply. Becuz the definition of art im examining is more then biblical pictures but is an nexus of music, painting, film, photography, writing etc. nowadays art can be anything as long as the appropriate people define the object as art. Art within the larger world is a product both in the economic and social sense. This is true with both the popular mainstream such as the matrix reloaded or 50 cent as it is with your cliched art college duchamp homage. both exist/function within the market paradigm. both are products which are consumed by respective parties.
But these products have more of a personal association then what type of q-tips or pillowcases you own. The notion of brand loyalty or conspicious consumption gives the people who buy these products characteristics and status. the old saying you are what you eat has probably already been parodied by adbusters into you are what you buy, but adbusters readers are just as guilty. while person a
wears hillfigger and likes the neptunes and is thus a hip hop fan/hip hopper person b who likes zounds and reads z is also a crusty thru consumption. the main and perhaps only difference is one of content. Person A will probably consume at a faster and altered rate then person b who may gain certain convictions from their products and consume less.
So while art must function as a product there is a
possibility it may adjust consumer attitudes.
YES DARLING BUT WHAT DOES THE DIFFERENCE IN CONTENT MEAN FOR
DIFFERENT FORMS OF ART? DOES THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ARTS FOR ARTS
SAKE AND POLTICAL ART EXISTS?
there are and there arent different forms of art. Looking at the political art/art for arts sake dichotomy from the simplistic pseudo marxist perspective i have been using would obliterate this distinction. since politics/society/economics are inexorably connected every art product makes some type of political statement.
What is considered apolitical ie art for arts sake is political by virtue of the a political nature it posesess (especially if you believe meaning is defined by action not intention) so something like a jim carrey movie is political becuz it is escapist and ignores politics connotating an apolitical view. this apolitical perspective is roughly fuck politics i am willing and able to ignore them. the
fact that this political action is possible speaks volumes which are no less political then the great political work of art the guernica.
A loose examination of history will reveal that theses two types of art hither and dither depending on the historical moment. The Russian artists were highly political becuz of the position of the intelegensia within the tsartist state. The decadent fin-de-siecle were a political becuz of ther halycon pre wwi europe they lived in. This decadent era more closely resembles our current past where apart from jingoist action flickes and crying eagles the
most popular art has been overwhelmingly apolitical.
YES DARLING, BUT WHAT IS POLITICAL ART THAT IS ABLE TO CREATE CHANGE ?
For art to be political enough to affect change it must be subversive in some manner. otherwise the change will be from the top up and will change nothing. how something can be subversive is quite complicated. there is no single type of affect of subervision. some type of subversion like yr typical duchamp college art is in fact quite impotent. other types are more profound. the most profound is of course revolution which doesnt degenerate into tyranny.
How art creates this change is an unreasonable question for art alone is insufficient. Art can aid but other numerous factors must be present. but art can be a factor in galvanizing and creating like minded coaltions of the willing. art can be utilized as the product is its which if it becomes popular enough can change buying habits. thus forcing some type of chain reaction where there is a
signifigant enough shift in the economic/social/political/cultural market for it to reorient to serve this new group. For art to be subversive at a mainstream of grass roots level art must utilize this system for its own means.
YES DARLING BUT IS IT ART ??
i cannot answer that question. ask dan treacy
chris o'kane is one of olympia, washington's cool guys and is currently employed by the downtown YMCA. to find out where dan treacy lives, go here: http://www.televisionpersonalities.co.uk/