“Artistic freedom” and political control

An interesting article, by Ned Resnikoff, about the so-called “post-truth” politics of Brexit and Trump. Relevant to this blog is the description of art’s place in this version of society (emphasise in bold are my own):

“Surkov’s philosophy is that there is no real freedom in the world, and that all democracies are managed democracies, so the key to success is to influence people, to give them the illusion that they are free, whereas in fact they are managed,” writes Sakwa. “In his view, the only freedom is ‘artistic freedom.’

This “artistic expression” can be nominally political, insofar as it takes on the guise of political rhetoric. But it is also fundamentally anti-political, both because its primary aim is self-expression, and because it has little effect on political power itself. It is essentially a form of narcissism. And it is harmless to authoritarian despots.

That quote needs to be read in context, and if you have the time then I urge you to read the whole article, especially if you work in the arts.

The reference to narcissism reminds me of Ulrike Groos’ description of the painter in Paul McCarthy’s Painter video. The quote also makes me think of Sebastian Egenhoffer’s 2008 analysis of abstract art as, “closely linked with the domination of social abstraction in the medium of monetary value” (from Figures of Defiguration: Four Theses on Abstraction), although the “artistic expression” that Surkov and Resnikoff refer to obviously includes art in a more general sense.

Thank you to Resnikoff for writing the piece, the brilliant documentary maker Adam Curtis for shining a light on some of the issues discussed, and @SethMacFarlane for posting the link to Resnikoff’s article (and for making Family Guy).

ps. It’s not just artists who decide the role of art in society. Jerry Saltz is senior art critic at New York magazine, and has proposed a boycott of Mnuchin gallery in response to the gallery’s connections with Trump’s team. Will other critics do the same? What about collectors? Few of Mnuchin’s artists are alive, but those who are could certainly afford to take a stand: Koons, Prince, Hirst, Scully, Richter, Ruscha – do they have anything to say on the matter, and do we care?



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