Monday, March 14, 2011

Socialism and Abstract Art vs. Capitalism and the Street Art/Uncommissioned Art Movement

The revolution has not been televised.

In an interview in Juxtapoz magazine, Michael Gondry (artist, filmmaker) talks about growing up in France watching Bulgarian/Russian cartoons, how communism was good for art and that the free world doesn’t make very good art because they have to be so concerned with its commercial aspect. He points out that they have to sustain their viewing audience, whereas in the communist world the audience has no choice of which cartoons to watch. This gives the artists more creative freedom.

Concerning the art of our time, this poses a conflict. It’s now 2011, and Capitalism is the dominant socioeconomic system of our global society, not Communism. In this system, artists can only create what sells. In contrast, the role of the artist in society is to show people the way, to uncover the future. More precisely, they focus the zeitgeist, presenting it in a way that can be understood by the non-artist citizenry. Art is a coping mechanism, a medicine. If this is so, then how can artists give people only what they want if what they deliver is that which people do not yet know they need?

In a socialist society, people do not choose their art. Instead, the governing body takes care of the funding, and the artists do their job. Only in such a system could Abstract Art have been born. There is no way the people would have chosen such an insane premise as this: Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915). If this is so, then how does a revolutionary art movement take form out of the Capitalist ether?

Perhaps some discourse on Abstract Expressionism is in order; but that is too easy, and becoming less relevant to the real question at hand. Instead, we turn to the street art phenomenon of the 21st century. The 1990’s suburban American youth still had to trek out to New York City to get graffiti magazines. Then Nicholas Ganz publishes Graffiti World (2004), a graffiti artist’s bible. What was more impressive – the art within or the fact that such a compendium could be published in the first place? Street Art From Five Continents? Then Bansky. He redefines (or perhaps succinctly defines for the first time) the Street Art movement we now know. He releases Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), and writes the preface to Trespass (2010), a 320-page fullcolor book by behemoth art publisher Taschen. What’s happening here? Artists are straightup tagging canvases, putting them in galleries, and selling them to celebrities. Shepard Fairey will probably have his own reality TV show by the end of this year. We’re saturated.

Street Art has taken over as the dominant art form of the young 21st Century just as Abstract Art had done in the 20th, but this time Capitalist society is the breeding ground. Restating the original question: How can artists, whose role it is to give the public an understanding of a world which they have yet to comprehend, how can they deliver in a Capitalist society which requires investment based on speculated success and consumer demand? The answer is simple. Street artists are forcing a quasi-socialist system upon us by creating the art for free.

That’s it. You won’t invest? You won’t take our medicine? No problem (just remember what happened to Nurse Rached). And so, here comes art, like it or not, just as it always has, in your face and against your will. The empty space left by the fallen wall of Berlin was first shown to us as a Black Square. “Do you want to fall not knowing who took you?” (That's more of a threat than a question).


“Do you want to fall…?”, Jenny Holzer, Inflammatory Essays in Trespass

Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art

Carlo McCormick (author), Marc and Sara Schiller (curators), Ethel Seno (editor)

Taschen 2010, 320 pages

Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010

Graffiti World: Street Art from Five Continents, Nicholas Ganz. Abrams, 2004.

Michael Gondry interview in Juxtapoz magazine, Jan 2011 n 120 pp 66-75.

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