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Author Topic: art and the alternative society
Lima Bean
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posted 24 October 2003 11:19 AM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As an aspiring artist photographer, I find myself thinking often of what practical function art serves in our society, and whether or not my best efforts would be better spent in a more 'useful' endeavour. I wonder if it's enough of a contribution to the world to make art for a living.

And I think, most of the time, it can be--if the art has a point. And to that end, I feel that the role of art in a society such as ours (now more than ever, yada yada) is to show positive alternatives. Art depicting and explicating the horrors of a particular era or regime is useful as well, but I feel that showing, by invention, innovation, and genuine creativity how things could be different--and better--is more likely to inspire real change.

What do y'all think?


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
athena_dreaming
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posted 24 October 2003 11:33 AM      Profile for athena_dreaming   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I appreciate your motives, but I think in principle that Art For a Cause is usually a bad thing. There is a fine line between that and propoganda. Art that shows the world as it really is is, IMO, more useful. And more artistic.
From: Toronto | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged
mighty brutus
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posted 24 October 2003 11:39 AM      Profile for mighty brutus     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by athena_dreaming:
I appreciate your motives, but I think in principle that Art For a Cause is usually a bad thing. There is a fine line between that and propoganda. Art that shows the world as it really is is, IMO, more useful. And more artistic.

Yes, but we can only show the 'world as it really is' from our own subjective viewpoint, right?


From: Beautiful Burnaby, British Columbia | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 24 October 2003 11:39 AM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Art For a Cause is usually a bad thing.

Is that because the art is generally bad, or just that political/ideological art is a bad idea?

Do you see any way that it could be good art, and not cross the line into the realm of propaganda, but still contribute to a political/societal movement?


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
lagatta
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posted 24 October 2003 11:47 AM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Athena, much as I'm adverse to art dictated by party line - or ad agency - requirements, I agree with Lima's quest and her intuition on the usefulness of art. There is a Utopian longing for a more harmonious universe that can come through in the various forms of romanticism - and can negatively in "realist" art depicting certain aspects of life as it now is. Needless to say both are always filtered through the consciousness of the artist, and his or her relationship to society - which can include our involvement in social movements.

(By the way, my cat Renzo must have Stalinist tendencies: he put out a paw and DELETED my entire post! I'll remind him that like all tyrants, Stalin HATED cats...)

Here is a Québec song text on this subject, "Pourquoi Chanter" - why sing when so much must be done...


Marie-Denise Pelletier
Pourquoi chanter   "Le rendez-vous"
---------------------------------------------------------------
Pourquoi chanter quand il y a tant à faire
Pourquoi niaiser devant ce beau parterre
Le temps précieux des gens soucieux
De trouver à qui vendre
Je l'ai perdu un peu vendu
Pour bien me faire entendre
Pourquoi chanter alors que le temps presse
Pourquoi rêver et chanter les caresses
Comment savoir qu'en certains soirs
On voit la fin du monde
Au fond des yeux, au fond des cieux
Et sur toutes les ondes

Comment chanter ce qu'on ne sait pas dire
Sitôt qu'on peut rire
Comment pleurer
C'est une envie d'offrir la vie et le désir
Comme on offre une rose pour le plaisir
Le doux plaisir d'échanger quelque chose
Je veux chanter pour ce temps qu'il nous reste
Je viens verser la douceur
d'un doux geste
Je viens aussi porter ma nuit au-dessus de vos rêves
Avec l'espoir qu'enfin ce soir mon âme se soulève

{Musique}

Je veux chanter {3x}

{Musique}

Je veux chanter pour ce temps qu'il nous reste etc.....


From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 24 October 2003 12:19 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I tend to think that without some social relevance, art is extraneous and solipsistic. If it doesn't mean something to more people than just me, I don't want to make it--and I'm not interested in it. As well, if art's only function is to make me feel bad, I'm going to tune it out. I want art that makes me feel good and strong and effective. I want art that gives me ideas and inspiration.

I see art as the only medium (whatever form it may take) capable of offering up a vision of the alternatives for us. Only by pure invention and clear communication (be it photography, painting, sculpture, dramatics or writing etc.) can a new perspective, a new possibility be injected into the world's consciousness. And without an alternative, people will resign themselves, as we seem to have done, to 'the way things are'. We may fight the system from within, but only with a view to what we're working towards can we really force significant revision. In other words, I imagine that art could give people something to work for, instead of only being able to work against the way things are.


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
athena_dreaming
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posted 24 October 2003 12:37 PM      Profile for athena_dreaming   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, generally, I've found that the art itself is bad.

This may reflect my personal exposure more than any inherent Rule, but (for example) I've never seen or read a novel I enjoyed that presented a Utopia. I found that the ideology got in the way, I found the characters motivations unengaging and unconvincing, and I ended up spending most of the novel analyzing whether the Utopia was realistic and could function more than enjoying the experience of reading the novel.

My gut feeling is that most artists who end up making propaganda were motivated by similar concerns--let's show the world as it should be, not as it is! Except for certain state-motivated experiments, my gut feeling is that most propaganda is unintentional and motivated by a sincere concern to portray positive alternatives.

So, for instance, I've read some christian lit that shows how wonderful the world would be if only everyone believed the same thing. ANd hey, it's well motivated, but as art, it sucked. And maybe that's the central problem--no utopia, no society completely defined by one perspective, can ever exist--so there can be no willing suspension of disbelief.

I should emphasize that I'm very, very big on Big Ideas in art. I can remember photograph exhibits I've seen of homelessness that were very moving and changed hte way I thought about the issue. I can think of that book of photos that recently came out of pictures of young girls doing various young girl things--I can't remember the title--but I loved it, it was beautiful and made me see their lives and their world differently.

On the other hand, I can't even imagine a photo exhibit of "what should be done about homelessness" that wouldn't look like a campaign ad. Am I interpreting your intent incorrectly?

And hey, all the authors I love are very, very much Big Idea authors who touch on social and political issues in their work--Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood, Ursula le Guin, Octavia Butler, and so on. But they don't do it by showing the world what it *should* be like, but by carefully exposing unacknowledged parts of what it *is* like.

IMO, this is a very, very hard thing to do. Most people are completely unaware of the system that rules their lives for the greatest part of every day. If some book, or photo, or song can show them--even for just a brief moment--"hey, you're right, that is kind of strange; things don't have to be that way" and get them thinking about alternatives and solutions.... I'm not sure you can do more than that.

If anyone has good examples of great art that manages to show a positive alternative without becoming pedantic or artificial, I would love to see it. It would definitely change my mind.


From: Toronto | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 24 October 2003 12:59 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think I agree that if art is too didactic, it loses its aesthetic appeal (or tends to have none) pretty quickly.

I don't think art can tell us how it should be--I think that's largely misguided, though most likely comes from honest and good motivations. I think, more than anything, I hope to show alternative perspectives that spark a new line of thinking in the viewer. Something that makes them go "huh, I can imagine that--and this, and this..." and get them on a path to imagining a new way--or at the very least, to shake up their acceptance of the way things are.


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 24 October 2003 02:01 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
*digdigdigdigdig*

*dirt pile collapses on self, leaving pith helmet for the vultures*


From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Lima Bean
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posted 24 October 2003 02:20 PM      Profile for Lima Bean   Author's Homepage        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks, Doc. I knew we'd talked about it before.

Can we distinguish this thread from those by focusing on how art could function in bringing about a new societal order?

Is that too much to ask of anything? Are we all resigned to the way things are, or does anyone else think it's possible for things to be dramatically different, with art playing a role in getting us from here to there?


From: s | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
nonsuch
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posted 26 October 2003 10:24 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I believe the best thing art can do for society is to promote anarchy.

Well, see, if it's subjective and personal, it can't be propaganda. If it's anti-machine, anti-regimentation, anti-power, it can be accused of negativism, but not propaganda. If it's emotional, intuitive and spontaneous, it's too flaky for propaganda. If it's witty and obscure; if it shows up the insanity of 'rational' systems, it's too intellectual for propaganda. In other words, if it's art, it probably isn't propaganda, so you're safe.

However, art has no political power. It doesn't cause upheavals. It doesn't sway crowds. It influences one mind at a time, one idea at a time, unobtrusively. The most dramatic thing art can accomplish is to separate an individual's feelings and thoughts from the uncritical mass.

If you want to make positive art, you have to depict your own personal vision (your own private Utopia) and hope that someone recognizes it and wants to live there, too. The best you can hope for is to encounter one other mind (at a time) which is ready to be nudged that little inch -from despair to anger, from complacency to discontent, from resignation to hope, from isolation to kinship.


From: coming and going | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
windymustang
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posted 26 October 2003 11:44 PM      Profile for windymustang     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Lima Bean, as for your question of art being a "useful" endevour for yourself, that is only for you to answer.

As an artist, my art isn't about choice. It's about trying to convey a vision. That vision has included some political commentary songs, but it also includes other types of ideas. To me, I find inspiration comes from somewhere else, as in not from myself. I tap into something and if I have the motivation, I interpret the vision in whatever form is dictated by the vision (idea or whatever you want to call it).

IMO true art only occurs when passion is present. A directed, logical and learned approach is no replacement for passion. Education etc. can certainly take you so far, but without the passion, the art is just not there.

I don't think that art must have an agenda. It doesn't need to do anything but make people think - that is if it is good. If a work of art has made you think about it, then I believe you have accomplished a goal. I believe that most artists want you to see their vision. If you consider their vision, then at least the concept has got through, whether you enjoy it, agree with it or are repelled by it.

[ 26 October 2003: Message edited by: windymustang ]


From: from the locker of Mad Mary Flint | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged
bittersweet
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posted 27 October 2003 06:54 PM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The problem with prescriptive art is that the audience is denied the pleasure of using its own imagination. Making people think happens not by answering but by asking. It's also the case that the prescriptions usually lack nuance and turn out to be banal, cliche. (It's ironic that we're better at making up convincing dystopias than utopias--perhaps because the former are closer at hand to observe.) People intuitively recognize that the wider the field of view, the more truth disappears. Even with comedy, satire, there's more power in restricting the imagination to the particular, which is always in the present. Show one thing well, and you imply much more, including its opposite. "To see all the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower."
From: land of the midnight lotus | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
nonsuch
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posted 27 October 2003 08:15 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I bought a raggety old paperback of Thurber cartoons (Men, Women and Dogs) last weekend (perfaced by Dorothy Parker... think about it!). Among other gems, there is a minimalist drawing of five clothed men and five naked women (actually, i'm not sure about the fifth woman) and a flower. It's called 'The Last Flower'. The thing is 3x5", a few black lines, yet it contains several volumes of commentary on male-female relationships, attitudes, values, the world, humankind, society and the future.
That's what art is supposed to do.

From: coming and going | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged

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