Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rhythm-A-Ning

Rhythm-A-Ning, 2005. Acrylic on panel, 10.5" x 8.5."

I'm a very political person: a dedicated leftist; a believer in the possibility of a Socialist alternative. As such, my belief in art as a primarily visual enterprise is something that I've struggled with on and for a long time. How can a leftist make purely visual art, which is essentially a status item for the privileged few? How can one make art that deals with color and space while the Bush administration fosters misery and death both domestically and abroad?

My current thinking on these issues:

After grad school, my interest in Marxist aesthetics led me to the conclusion that the art object was a crass reification; a commodification of the pure transmission of an art idea. While I felt this way was it was basically impossible for me to paint; my primary mode of expression became improvised music, which is something that can never be owned - each performance is unique, and disappears into the ether upon completion.

But a close reading of Marx's views on the alienation of labor reveals that Marx wasn't opposed to objects per se, but objects that couldn't be closely identified with the their maker. Alienated labor is a condition of the production line, wherein the maker becomes slave to the object; himself or herself a commodity of a lower order, and more miserable, than the object they help to fabricate. Art is perfectly at odds with this mode of production: the maker is intimately and inextricably linked to the object he or she creates; which should be the model for all consumer objects, from the simplest to the most complex.

And if one changes the way he or she makes art as a response to the Bush administration (or any other illegitimate and coercive state), doesn't that mean the oppressors have already won? If the revolution ever actually happens, one of the reasons we'll fight will be for the privilege to paint pictures, compose symphonies, and write poems about love.