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September 21, 2009

Whether art and ideology are one and the same thing


Given tomorrow's (forthcoming) revelations about Obama and the NEA - and given Obama's Frankfurt School agenda - it seems à propos to turn to Marxist, philosopher and wife-strangler, Louis Althusser and his seminal "A Letter on Art" for guidance.

What art makes us see, and therefore gives to us in the form of ‘seeing’, ‘perceiving’ and ‘feeling’ (which is not the form of knowing), is the ideology from which it is born, in which it bathes, from which it detaches itself as art, and to which it alludes.

Yadda, yadda, 'yadda'. I should confess I have never had any patience for Althusser, for all his bloviating morphed into the post-structuralist memeplex on discourse still causing latency issues with my nervous system. Allow me to summarize (for the linked article does not): To cultural Marxists, art is not only a structural expression of a given mode of production, not only a primary means whereby ideology is promulgated in the service of an hegemonic class (so far, so Gramscian). Rather, art may be used as a tool by representatives of a subaltern class (waxing Althusserian here) in order to undermine the taken-for-grantedness of a given mode of production and its attendant social and political organization.

In other words, art as resistance or rebellion is authentic while art as self-expression, art as genius and especially art as entertainment are expressions of ideology and consequently are inauthentic as art. Remember: only opponents of Marxism produce ideology, Marxists produce scientific knowledge; Marxists produce authentic art, artists you and I would call artists produce "kitsch".* If you think this distinction does not stray far from a romantic condemnation of commercial art (i.e. art people actually want to consume) vs art for art's sake (excellent if you are an independently wealthy dandy or have a wealthy dandy for a patron), you would be right. The difference between a Marxist and some latter day romantic being the Marxist's a priori that there is no art independent of economic or political expression (whether that expression is emancipatory or in the service of power). This is, of course, entirely at odds with the romantic ideal of tormented genius in the service of Beauty and the like and, not coincidentally, entirely at odds with what most people think of as (non-commercial) art.

Hence, Obama and the NEA. I doubt it occured to the administration they were creating a conflict of interest in this case any more than they did when they thought it was fine to have Obama propagandizing in every classroom of the nation. To cultural Marxists, art has no function but in relation to ideology. Either art is in the service of ideology or art is harnessed to fight ideology (ideology being the preserve of any state apparatus not controlled by Marxists). To Obama and his ilk, directing the NEA to promote art in the service of Obama's agenda is nothing more than directing the NEA to promote authentic art at long last.

Expect blank stares from Obama and his team when they are called fascists for the trouble. Say what you like, they will only hear yadda, yadda, 'yadda' from so many pawns in the service of reactionary ideology.

* See Clement Greenberg's seminal "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" for this claim in its excruciating fullness.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 21, 2009 12:07 PM


The market for art has exerted its hegemongy over artists for too long. These "random forces" have kept deserving artists in poverty too long.

It's obvious that we need a greater melding between those with the talents desired by those who seek change. And who seemingly now controls the checkbook.

Posted by: OregonGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2009 06:38 PM

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