Monday, February 9, 2009

No Such Thing as Establishment Art (I try to explain myself)

There are only Establishment critics and readers.

All art is subversive!

That is not to suggest that it's possible to identify 'art' from 'not art' by determining whether or not a particular work is subversive. By subversive, I mean whatever remains antithetical to established political, social, moral, religious and intellectual structures: that which remains after reductive interpretations have been exhausted, namely, aesthetic value.

It's all too clear that there is nothing that post-capitalist technological ideology, availing itself of corporate ingenuity, can not itself subvert and put to use for its own ends. No music, no visual, literary or dramatic work that can't be packaged and sold, and put to work selling in its turn. Anything that can't be digested and put to use will be perceived (correctly) as antithetical to the mechanisms of this ideology; its existence must either be denied, or destroyed. Condemned as a means to those ends, only an ersatz caricature of aesthetic value survives, where pretence to aesthetic judgement is merely one or another measure of effectiveness.

Critical analysis doesn't need to search for and identify subversive elements in art; it's enough to understand the ideological forces that seek by every means available to capture and enslave it, and to demonstrate the possibility of encountering in a work the remnant, the aesthetic reality. While this reality remains nameless (a name is the first manacle we apply to subjugate and enslave), we can meet it and speak meaningfully of the encounter.

We need a criticism that frees us to meet the aesthetic in all its useless wonder, and to resist and expose those who betray art and artists by delivering the nascent aesthetic reality to the world rendering it fit for the tasks of corporate empire building.


  1. I am going to have to think about this. But first, I've got to get to work on a short story, where it is my plan to subvert everything I can possibly think of subverting.

  2. So does the statement "all art is subversive" really mean "all art is subversive TO CAPITALISM"? There are other systems in which art would not be subversive (a painting which portrays an absolute monarch as entirely worthy of being an absolute monarch reinforces the current regime and helps maintain the status quo, a work extolling religious virtue would hardly be subversive within a church, etc.).

    That would mean that art is subversive to the contemporary dominant ideology in America, but not that all art in all times and places is subversive.

  3. A relevant question. I would first restate what I wrote in the post: "By subversive, I mean whatever remains antithetical to established political, social, moral, religious and intellectual structures"

    Those structure are relative to time and place. The subversive power remains the same: by remaining outside those structures, an encounter with art offers the possibility of free response, a respones not entirely predicated by the existing structures.

    This unpredictability means that it is impossible to know in what way art may prove subversive--that is its power and its danger.

    A work of art is the product or residue of a fee encounter with the world, an encouter which is both an embrace and rejection of that reality (as in my deliberate misreading of Camus): a rejection of the world for what it lacks, and for what it is.

    Art is one of the sources of human freedom. I don't mean 'freedom' in a general sense, but as action, a form of engagement and encounter, freedom is always subversive.