tag : bright yellow-green apples: this decaying foulness

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Sunday, March 20, 2005

this decaying foulness

figure 52.6. here we go

This is a photo of the Degenerate Art exhibition, organised by the Nazi Regime, showcasing all that they wished to destroy and repress. Many of the most formulative and radical creative protaginists of the time were eventually reduced to nothing or fourced to leave for other countries and societies, with the incresing public pressure and repression they faced. They were inconvenient, and worse - they would not follow the recived notions of the time. They spoke from outside, freely and with lively energy that would not fit structures, and were therefore deemed enemies. It was an appaling cultural crime comitted by people against thier own country.

My quote of the month comes in the form of a letter written to the Guardian a couple of days ago:

"It is essential that artists have the right to express themselves freely. Artists have always challenged the status quo. Sometimes in the process they have offended, sometimes uplifted, always questioned. While these roles can sit uncomfortably with one another, an open and tolerant democracy should welcome the grit in the oyster as well as the pearl."

I care little for notions of having 'a right'. But I do think that artists have a mandate, maybe even a calling, to be a questioning voice. At best, they challenge everything, are constantly exploring the relevence of the status quo. With a tangential perspective, the arts can speak to our deepest imagination and colourful perspectives without having to take sides by simple polemical argument. Of course there are many voices and many approaches, that take in intensely personal and confessional expression as well as overtly public telling. But ultimately, much of the best contributes to our societies by helping it to live with some wholeness of life - stimulating senses and offering visions of redeemed life, even as the way through might be challenging.

I should confess that I feel an increasing sense of solidarity with other artists. It's strange how a few acts of attempted censorship and attack - from the religious expression of rightous indiganation & offense to near villification of challenging modern painting in some parts of the media - seem to have engendered a more conscious realisation of how important and serious the act of making art can be. I can easily be accused of hype, and might have come close before. I certainly don't wish to bandy easy comparisons or accusations around. But. Maybe it's only when our voice is actually threatened that such thoughts come, but I sincerely hope that this is not the beginning of a trend...


Blogger Martin said...

Oh come on! We're not living in the Third Reich, or anything close. If 'challenging modern painting' is under threat, it's because not enough people like it. Which is up for debate, but let's start with that BBC2 had a documentary on Bacon last night - did you see it?

I'm also intrigued by your linking together of 'attempted censorship' and 'the villification by some parts of the media', because you're throwing in two things totally converse to one another. The attempted censorship by zealots - and firstly, let's not panic, it's attempted, so it's not being successful mostly - is clearly an attempt to restrict freedom of speech. The villification by critics that you refer to is clearly an expression and an upholding of freedom of speech.

To lump them in together is quite misleading, because that criticism is perfectly legimitate, and certainly not deserving of tacit comparison to Nazi Germany. Freedom of speech has to operate when we don't want to hear it as well as when we don't, otherwise we're no better than the fundies :-p

I'll leave it here, as this is the longest blog comment on ever and, as you know, I continue to be utterly mystified by these kind of 'justifying art' posts.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Obviously that should have been:

Freedom of speech has to operate when we don't want to hear it as well as when we DO, otherwise we're no better than the fundies :-p

11:05 AM  
Blogger mary said...

freedom og speech is an odd thing. of course, we think tis dreadful to deny people their jerry springer operas and what have you, and rightly so. but what about if people want to draw pictures of asylum seekers being chopped up because they don't like them very much. where does it stop becoming free speech and start becoming too dangerous to allow?

5:41 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

When it incites violences, in my view (and Tony Booth's). An example of this would be drawing pictures of asylum seekers being chopped up. Besides, this ere post of our Loz's is talking about art under threat of destruction, and I was merely trying to demonstrate that we are not by any sane standard even beginning to be in a comparable position to those threatened by the Nazis.

7:39 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Right, time to account a little.

Martin was right, in a sense, to describe that entry of mine as absurd. It is far too easy to bandy Nazism around in discussions - there are many facile and tasteless appropriations of that historical memory, and I came too close to committing the same fraudulent game. I hesitated before including the prologue because of this factor - fascicle hype does no good to a discussion.

So why did I include it in my post? Because it's the most graphic example in recent history, of the way our artistic life can be mauled, abused, and distorted by coercive interests. The parallels are limited - as I was saying to mum this evening on our patio, what we see at the moment is a fragmented and disparate expression of discontent, rather than a systematic controlled act. This comes down to my ever limited span of historic awareness.

I think…this alarmist tone I feel into was, as much as anything, an expression of the personal feeling of violence I had at seeing what certain people of religion were up to. The parallels were a touch ridiculous, but my main point - that the recent actions are a bad precedent for how people deal with the artists in their midst - is a strong one.

11:36 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Now, for this little comment at the end:

"…I continue to be utterly mystified by these kind of 'justifying art' posts."

This is why I was reluctant, for example, to talk about that picture I posted up in a discursive and analytical manner. Even when you asked me to. To talk about art too much is crude and bruises the mystery. I prefer to let expressions speak for themselves, and the uncomfortable nature of this entry demonstrates that well. I'm not really on good ground when having to talk about the subject - preferring to stick up a poem or image and leave it at that.

11:51 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Mary -

I can see what you mean, and it is quite ominous to have a 'no limits' freedom to artistic expression. But, from another angle, once you begin to draw lines all over the place then it's a self-justifying continuance of new boundaries. Until to merely critique a position becomes a heinous crime. Luckily most cheap art, of the tasteless variety you allude to, doesn't really get done all that much simply because it’s bad art and is thus is factored out.

Morality does come into it, of course, though sadly some people confuse that notion with either a desire to create 'moral majority' sanitised art or with an oppressive force that impairs creation.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Bill Baar said...

I haven't followed the ins and outs of your discussion here. One curious fact though is the US Gov I think holds the largest collection of Nazi art. We captured it at the end of the war, and now we don't want it. The Gov wants to give it back to the Germans but they don't want it either. Realisms, which is what the Nazi's promoted, is a very popular art form and draws big crowds on display. Anyways, it sits in a warehouse now in Colorado... we really ought to just burn it.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Re the picture you posted - I do not remember asking you to talk about it in a discursive and analytical manner. I know for sure that I would never sit down and say "Oh, my song is about such-and-such a thing", so I wouldn't ask it of you.

What I did ask is for you to admit that you do actually have something in your mind which motivates you when you create a piece of art, rather than waiting for everyone else to put their interpretation across in order to give it any meaning.

And you do seem to come back to this 'artists are needed in the world for reasons x,y and z' line, which I'm not arguing with but I'm still quite puzzled by.

With regard to the other chap's comment - I would never advise the destruction of art (aside from my school self-portrait with the pirate patch) simply because it relates to something historically uncomfortable.

8:56 AM  
Blogger postliberal said...

I find it hard to extract out talking about meaning and analysis, apologies - this is more my trouble with semantics. I really am happier not talking about pictures in any way, to be honest. At the very least it feels unfortunately pretentious to do so.

Maybe I'm a little odd, but I really do a lot of my stuff without any conscious meaning in my head. I will draw in a certain way becuase it looks and feels 'right', then maybe begin to weave some themes in. I hope to leave them open enough for others to find thier own meanings in - I can't stand anything too literal or defined, or figurative. I like mystery and confusion.

And as for the xyz, as I think I've said before it's as much something to talk about as anything else. We talk about politics and religion, what they should be at thier best, and where they might go, so why not creativity too? ;P It does read oddly, but I rather like doing it from time to time. Expect something a little lighter next...

11:27 AM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Bill -

I find ideological art, such as that produced in by dictatorial regimes, to be quite rubbish on the whole. It's often tacky and kitsch, nakedly opressive. But I'm not convinced destroying it is the best responce. Quite often, they're part of a whole bunch of artifacts that can help people make sense of thier past, and come to terms with what went on.

11:30 AM  

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