Sunday, 17 December 2017

Art, Democracy and The Masses

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Truth Of A Statement, RTomens, 2017

What a terrible choice to have to make: equal misery/conformity or unequal 'freedom' - so it went, or seemed to go whilst the Cold War raged - not that you or I had to make that choice and only Commie spies went willingly from one to the other.

Socialist 'equality' (State-controlled) or capitalist 'freedom'? Make a list and decide, over breakfast if you like. "Well, do you have a better option?" people have asked if I dared express discontentment with our socio-economic-political set-up. No, but what am I, an all-powerful entity capable of magically creating an alternative?

These thoughts stem from an argument (friendly) had at a dinner yesterday with a woman of strong socialist leanings. It began when I asked if she'd been to any good exhibitions recently, she cited Red Star Over Russia at Tate Modern and before we knew it the issue of State-controlled art became a subject of debate. She said the Russian state was right in curbing avant-garde individualistic tendencies in art, although the basis for her belief now eludes me. It was something to do with what 'the masses' understood, I think. My response was to say that I didn't respect the opinion of the ignorant, which raised her hackles, as it would, since I presume the masses can do no wrong to a committed socialist. She then said I had no right to say 'they' were shit for not understanding art, to which I reminded her that I'd never said such a thing, only that I couldn't respect their opinion, should it amount, collectively, to the idea that all avant-garde art is rubbish, or meaningless.

There's always an explanation for ignorance, of course. I should know, being uneducated (officially) and largely ignorant of most subjects except, perhaps, Jazz, about which you may test me any time. Whilst post-Revolution in Russia a literacy programme was set in motion this English prole took basic education for granted, of course. My eventual ignorance of anything much aside from the basics had everything to do with an unwillingness to learn rather than lack of opportunity. 

In the broader context of world literacy in the 20th century Art education may pale into insignificance, especially if there's a new society to be built in the process. Yet I'm as absurdly idealistic with respect to Art as socialists are about their vision of a Utopian society. The difference between myself and the woman I argued was is that I have no agenda, or political line, behind my opinion. In my Utopia everyone would be wise about Art and even practice it since I do believe Art can enhance everyone's lives. To apply another level of idealism, I would go as far as to say Art can foster freedom of thought, therefore a kind of psychological liberation. This, however, is a problem for socio-political models. Should people be free-minded and individualistically inclined, they're less likely to believe in a party line. Societies as we know them would break down.

Naturally Brexit came into the argument, as did Christianity's role in art. Regarding the former, I simply said that I can observe the whole process objectively because I side with neither party. As such, I can only hope the process eventually benefits the country. This stance may lead to acknowledging that a Tory did something right, which is naturally impossible for a socialist to concede. When she said something to the effect that Christianity's role in art must be considered important to all living artists my hackles started to rise. Whilst no-one can deny historical importance, to say it must matter to a practising artist is total nonsense. 

This touched on the issue of contemporary art, which we didn't get into deeply, other than her generalisation about all modern art basically being a waste of time. I chose not to suggest that her view of contemporary art may be narrow, not wanting to rile her again. I knew she was a lover of painting, even 20th century painting, although whether that includes, say, Pop Art or the Abstract Expressionists I don't know. I'm sure she thinks little of the idea of creating art on a computer then flinging it onto the internet. Although, considering that, any socialist should surely encourage the most democratic form of art possible.

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