Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund

 

 

On Government and Art

Thoughts on Control and the Place of Art in Resisting Authority -  (2007)   


FORWARD

 

Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.

Leonardo da Vinci

 

As an artist, both creative and re-creative, and with experience in business, academia and religion, I have watched those around me tie themselves into emotional and intellectual knots over seemingly modern issues of politics, whatever it means to be "modern" in art, and the arguments seemingly grounded in "science" which argue for ever greater social control in the name of said "science." I place quotes around the word, science, for so much of hard science is itself skeptical of raw political power, by affirming that ever more and newly understood natural laws cannot be manipulated but rather must be observed and obeyed. (The scientific method has nothing to do with exercising power and control over others, but rather quite the opposite.)

 

It is of course to be admitted that mankind has always acted in groups, as well as individually. For this reason, we apply adjectives to ourselves and others, defining our nationality, our religion or lack thereof, our ethnic or national background as distinct from an actual nationality, our gender and even our sexual preferences now, so brazenly announced in the public square.

 

But what has proved so interesting to me is the utter inconsistency of many of the arguments which people make. Given that rationality is supposed to make for sense and commonsense, I thought perhaps to be rational in re-examining our places in society, and about the governance of that society.

 

Herein I do not argue for anarchy any more than for slavery, but rather I argue that there seems a sliding scale between the two in governance as in art and life in general which can be grasped simply. Where one places one's self on the picture below bespeaks one's politics, but where one places others tells of one's hidden premises behind such politics. Conversely it also speaks of one's dedication to the pursuit of art, which I contend stands in opposition to greater political governance.

 

Let it be noted that those who intend to lead are usually reticent thereafter to following. Even so, artists can appreciate one another's work and dialogue over differing perspectives for this involves no application of raw power, one over another.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Exposition of a Theme

 

...when a man is buying a basket of strawberries it can profit him to know that the bottom half of it is rotten.

Mark Twain, Notebook, 1908

 

1.1    What is Society

 

Modern adherents of such seemingly new notions as an "Open Society" and notions like "the common good" bandy about such words, with hopes that clarity will not be found. Or so it seems to me. Paulo Freire  [ 1 ]  suggests:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. 

Society seems well described as a "system" of men and women living and working together, not necessarily with anything more than the minimum for rudimentary common causes, such as to meet basic needs of life. Society is not in its nature monolithic, consistent, nor predictable. Some oppose one thing, and some oppose another, and all seem to oppose someone else, somehow, somewhere at some time. Therefore the word is rather large and stupid, as well, for its captures much and little at the same time.

 

Society like its subset, education, can become, as Freire suggests, something which integrates its members to "bring about conformity" or it can allow for the "practice of freedom." Freire makes clear that conformity is not his recommended choice; the best choice is the "practice of freedom." All societal governance is not alike when examined through this simple lens. What then is government?

 

1.2    What is Government

 

Government is the exercise of collective authority over some issue, behavior or practice. The word itself stems from Middle English and Old French from the activity of piloting a ship, as well as the earlier Greek, which also referred to steering in the same way. Directors of companies and social institutions, as with directors of film or theater, are governors, at their societal level, just as at the highest levels of government, national and international political leaders propose to "pilot" and "steer" a populace towards some goal. There is nothing particularly value-laden in this, for some instances of governance has proven themselves often tyrannical and destructive at all levels, and other instances of governance have proven themselves profitable to a society in some ways. How does one differentiate between them, and how does this relate to art?

 

One governs one's own emotions at times at an individual level, as a group governs itself with expressions of core definitions and principles which might be different than another group's core definitions and principles, and whole nations govern themselves -- or are sometimes governed by dictate and mandate -- and negotiate those principles which are to define said governance.

 

As with the modern notions of political correctness, which is a kind of enforced governance, the arts have had their fair share of enforced correctness at times. One only need identify the governors and observe their actions to deduce their core definitions, principles and beliefs. But first...

 

1.3     Some thoughts on Freedom and Liberty

 

Given the massive writings by political theorists over centuries, some of which I have found instructive and some ludicrous, one can become quickly awash in words and more words. I prefer to think in other terms, and so choose to illustrate my notions with numbers and pictures.

 

To that end and as a method of cutting through verbiage to some underlying ideas, I propose nothing new. Rather I prefer to look at what seems to me to be an obvious range of human practice as regards governance. And so, I think in the picture which follows in figure 1:

 

Fig. 1

 

As there is a limit to thought, one can imagine a range from zero to one hundred percent of any thing. There is, in this picture, no 150 percent of something so elusive as "freedom" or "control."

 

When an artist makes a decision at the rudimentary level of choosing which note follows which, or which color stands beside another, there is a combination of freedom and control. Utter freedom is anarchy, and few would argue that utter freedom would generate a consistent body of art works. Utter control, in like fashion, can stifle that "freedom of expression" which each artist seeks in order to be different from another.

 

Just so with political governance, wherein total control is slavery of the many who are controlled for the service of the few who control. It is the absence of freedom. But the complete absence of control is anarchy, with which no constructive societal work can be accomplished. Of course, I argue against both anarchy and slavery in art as in politics.

 

It became fashionable in the art theory and art criticism world to bandy about words like freedom of expression and control with little clarity, as some of my reading in these areas proved all too easily. This is what the simple blank map looks like, when one imagines the opposition between overwhelming control and utter freedom, though I shall use the words "slavery" and "anarchy" in their place:

 

Fig. 2

 

As with art goes society. Governing is an act which stands between these polar opposites. The artist, convinced by a school and by "rules" for art, can become second class and uninteresting, while the artist who is known as a breaker of rules is thought to be "imaginative" and creative. Looking at various forms of fine art, we see this over centuries, wherein the socially approved art of a time was less fit, in the Darwinian sense, across centuries. The lives of many fine composers, painters, poets, sculptors and dramatists prove this out, wherein those who would "govern" them -- meaning impose rules upon them -- were so often proven wrongheaded and counterproductive.

 

But the individual artist likewise confronts the area between utter control -- slavery to rules -- and utter freedom -- in which no expression over or control of a medium has merit or meaning. Just as Nietzsche, in arguing that God "is" dead also argued that without that God there could be no binding and objective moral order, one might well argue that one cannot have artistic freedom without artistic control, and one cannot effectively employ artistic control without employing for the purpose of freedom of expression. Even so, both remain within the province of the individuality of the artist, and not under the authority of any government.  [ 2 ]

 

Therefore between slavery and anarchy, there is an "operating range" of effectiveness. Step outside these difficult to understand boundaries, an art becomes an impossible pursuit. Individually, artists have acted in ways in which they have rejected the authority of political governance, while government has often asserted and attempted such control over artists. One need think no farther back in history to the era of Soviet Socialist Realism, wherein certain forms of art were state-sponsored, or to the exodus from Europe which the Nazi era created, in which artists of all kinds fled such strong arm political control over art, declaring some art and artists "degenerate."

 

Where then do such political governance appear in the picture I hope to further flesh out? First, I prefer to look towards historical perspectives.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Development and Fugue

 

The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.

Thucydides

2.1    Societies - Monarchies

 

Art developed within societies, though artists whose works we value today are valued more today than in their day. One might think of Mozart being dumped into a pauper's unmarked grave, or the art establishment of Paris (a governing body) attempting to suppress the fine works of Toulouse-Lautrec as being "counter" to the prevailing artistic "controls" of that place and time. Societies have often attempted to govern art, largely by providing sustenance and subsidies to it.

 

The earlier forms of governance, prior to the last several centuries, were monarchic in one form or another, and some of these monarchies went so far as to declare themselves deities. Histories a plenty would flesh out this topic, so I leave the details to others. Yet, monarchy was also a matter of providing for the arts of any given time as well. This was through the allocation of societal resources -- usually raised by coercion -- to fund art towards the glory of the patrons themselves, such as one might see in oil paintings of the crucifixion in which the art patrons face and form finds a place. In such times, the monarch wielded the means of subsistence and purchased art thereby.

 

Fig. 3

Monarchy stood against societal anarchy, sometimes in seemingly benevolent ways and sometimes by  the most repressive of methods. For this, I place in my picture of governance, especially as it relates to art, monarchy at the top of the range, as in figure 3. Certainly monarchies ruled over less than free societies, and some enlightened monarchies assisted the transition to parliamentary forms of governance, thereby preserving themselves beyond the urges for revolutionary action against them, as one saw in the Marxist-Leninist overthrow of the short-lived democracy which followed the fall of the Romanov house in Russia.

 

Monarchies were entwined with religions. This is not a Western behavior, for Muslim and Eastern regimes also were "shared" governance, in which the state and religion were together ruled by monarchies, and then oligarchies. Such regimes had their royalty and minor royals beneath them with a cadre of those still further down in the governing ranks to see the social control enforced. Therefore I add this cast of characters to the pictorial argument, as below in figure 4.

 

fig. 4

 

Thus minor princes of the church, nobles and even political supporters had a had in the historical "command and control" over the arts, providing sustenance and approval at times, and exercising editorial control at other times as deemed necessary. Many of the Western canon's classical giants, such as Bach, Haydn and Mozart, were in service to these governors without which, it may be argued, their talents and works might not have been nurtured nor preserved. Even so, there are many historical instances in which artists have come into confrontation with their governors over artistic decisions and designs.

 

I argue this is because artists in general were working themselves away from the higher plateaus of this picture I am honing, and moving towards greater artistic freedom. Moving from position to position on the chart creates contention between those who would have freedom from control and those who would control. I further argue that, through to the Western era in which art became officially designated as "degenerate" under such as the Nazis, artists were seeking and finding new ways of expressing their individuality in both the form and content of art, and in part causing such conflicts with their political "betters." Governors have a requirement of those they govern: to be governed.

 

Therefore, my picture of governance must be modernized through the political struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth century.

 

2.1    Societies - from Monarchs to False Monarchs and Marxists

 

Richard Wagner's political supporter, in his times of true crisis, was a monarch, Ludwig II of Bayern. One might argue that without Ludwig, Wagner's history would have been quite different, though many of his works were written by this time. Nevertheless, it was monarchic support which built the Festspielhaus and paid off Wagner's debts from other German city states, and more. However, the time of the monarchs was drawing to a close in many nations, and Germany and Austria were among them.

 

With the loss of the Kaiser's ill-fated adventures which blossomed into World War I, the advent of other forms of political governance were displacing monarchs. Even Napoleon's self-investiture as a new Emperor was short-lived. There arose the notion of Marxist socialism in many European and Asian nations, thereby supplanting the monarchs by violent overthrow and their new-found "control" over the arts, as they took the same position as early was occupied by monarchs. For this, I color the picture with others names, though the position atop the scale from anarchy to slavery is correct, for the new faux-monarchs were the Marxists, and they too exercised their own political control over the arts.

 

fig. 5

 

The National Socialist movement  in Europe began in Austria with Walter Riehl, Rudolf Jung and Hans Knirsch, who founded the National Socialist Party in Austria, and hence indirectly in Germany. In November, 1910, these men launched what they called the Deutschsoziale Arbeiterpartei, and established its program at Inglau in 1914. This party eventually adopted the name Deutsche Nationalsozialistche Arbeiter Partei, which, except for the order of the words, is the same name as "Nazi." In May 1918, the German National Socialist Workers Party selected the Hakenkruez, or swastika, as its symbol. Both Hitler and Anton Drexler, the nominal founder of the Nazi Party, corresponded with this earlier, anti-capitalistic and anti-church party.

 

Moreover Hitler said May 1st, 1927, "We are socialists. We are enemies of today's capitalistic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions."

 

Fritz Thyssen, one of the industrialists who helped bring the Nazis to power, said in 1940: "Soon Germany will not be any different from Bolshevik Russia; the heads of enterprises who do not fulfill the conditions which the ‘Plan' prescribes will be accused of treason against the German people, and shot." Any wonder that so many artists fled from these new masters?

 

Europe was a hotbed of this kind of thinking about governance. One notes that "fascism" was specifically a term that was originally used by the Italian dictator Mussolini to describe his adaptation of Marxism to the conditions of Italy after World War I.

 

In the early twentieth century of the Leninist-Stalinist Soviet Union and its forms of socialism, which they called Bolshevist communism to differentiate themselves from the Nazis' socialist practices, the same play was enacted, in which new masters arose to patronize and control the arts. I do not herein ignore the massive murderous history of these various twentieth-century socialists, for that can never be ignored. But there is documentation for this, and my purpose herein is to show that the passage from one form of enslaving a people passed from one kind of leadership to another, far worse form.

 

But "maximum" it was, as Vladimir Lenin openly stated, "Dictatorship is rule based directly on force and unrestricted by any laws. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule won and maintained through the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, rule that is unrestricted by any laws." [Stephan Courtois, "Conclusion," in The Black Book of Communism, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.]

 

(Conversations using today's chatter about right- and left-politics serve no purpose for this discussion, for the obfuscate where clarity is demanded. If National Socialism is supposedly "right wing" and Soviet Socialism is supposedly "left wing," then the image fails completely, does it not?)

 

With such details as the above to ponder, figure 5 replaces the monarchs with what I prefer to call "maximum leadership," supported by a leadership cadre, and its underlying bureaucracy. These new faux-monarchs also administered and enforced their views on the arts and artists, as did those before them. Art funding was linked to that which deemed "proper" or approved arts, while the power of the state was brought to bear against those artists who might use their art in such a "free" manner as to threaten the state's authority.

 

Ironically, German and Austrian Nazis, the Italian Fascists and Soviet Communists, and even the Vichy French quarreled, for the picture of governance I paint with these players on its stage saw each of themselves as the "maximum," thereby proving the other inferior. Or as Christopher Morley observed, "There is no squabbling so violent as that between people who accepted an idea yesterday and those who will accept the same idea tomorrow."

 

The response of artists to such "maximum leadership" was predictable. Many free-thinking artists opposed, fled and worked against such regimes, while those usually lesser artists stayed, obeyed and were celebrated for a time which quickly passed. The case of Richard Strauss and Carl Orff demand closer scrutiny, but that has been done for those who wish to learn more of them.

 

Largely however, artists fled such "maximum leadership" alongside many who were not artists. Given that patronage offered artists sustenance and perhaps even political influence, why did so many flee? The answer is inherent in art itself. If art involves free expression, then arts are by definition revolutionary in ways in which political revolutions can never be. More often than not, political revolutions cease to "revolve," and establish a new class and form of command and control whose main aim seems to be to survive in that privileged position for as long as possible. And open artistic expression of freedom -- and art is generally an expression of individuality, first and foremost -- becomes a challenge to such authority.

 

In terms of figure 5, one only need imagine where the artist seeking some new expression or individuality would find himself placed, as much by the "maximum leadership" as by that artist's own evidence and work. The answer is clear. Art opposes such leadership.

 

One finds this even among those who once may have espoused Marxist doctrines as a possible antidote to other Marxist doctrines. One fine example comes from the pen of Berthold Brecht in a 20s song composed by Hanns Eisler, titled, "Die Einheitsfront:"

Und weil der Mensch ein Mensch ist,
drum hat er Stiefel im Gesicht nicht gern!
Er will unter sich keinen Sklaven
sehn und über sich keinen Herrn.

 

[And because a man is a man,

we won't tolerate a boot in his face!

He will not come to be seen as a slave

Nor have a master over him.]

A most clear sentiment, and in the historical distance from that time -- Germany in the 20s -- this sentiment would have fared poorly not only among the Nazis which came to power a decade later, but among all the powerful governments which this world has known. The sentiment is political, but the lyric and song which sings it well up from the individual sources of art. Moreover, this was a sincere and open artistic act of political dissent. Political dissent is less and less allowed as one moves up the scale from anarchy to slavery, and when enslaved no man may dissent against his political masters.

 

For this one finds a distinctly American voice speaking the same political warning from the vantage point of an artistic stance. Walt Whitman wrote these words, which may be found in "Inscriptions" in his Leaves of Grass:

To the States, or any one of them,
or any city of the States,
resist much, obey little!
Resist much! Resist!
Once unquestioning obedience, 
once fully enslaved,
no nation, state, city of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty.
Resist! Resist!

This, I also argue, is a message of art. The independence of expression from political control requires one resist that control. And yet it was Marx, whom so many misunderstood, who clearly subsumed art into politics. "Religion, family, state, law, morality, science, art, etc., are only particular modes of production, and fall under its general law." [Karl Marx, Private Property and Communism, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.]

 

An ardent Marxist like Brecht might have choked on the political realization of this "modes of production" thesis of Marx, which ardent political Marxists observed quite well, enslaving art to the service of the state. For this reason, one need examine not ideological affiliations of artists, per se, but what their work actually demonstrates. For Brecht's lyric above standing alongside the challenge of Whitman, the answer comes to "resist."  Resist what? Political power. To paraphrase Brecht, "no boot" in the face of the artist.

 

2.2    Soft Maximum Leadership

 

In this time of state subsidies and grants to artists, artists themselves are being seduced into conformity as the reward of either 1) conformity, or 2) service to the maximum leadership.

 

I suggest something which might offend many modern artists whose mother's milk has been academic and political sustenance for politically correct works. Given that conformity is the aim of powerful leadership -- though the rhetoric is often warped to pretend otherwise -- and individuality upsets that applecart, it becomes the aim of the modern governors to see their wishes furthered through less obvious means than the "barrel of the gun" which was recommended by Hitler and Lenin. Marxist behavior dictates that conformity however be enforced, while free expression opposes this.

 

fig. 6

 

I am keen about the notion of freedom of expression for a number of reasons, but high on the list of images which reinforce my notion about art as freedom of expression is a campaign banner which I saw in a museum in Braunschweig, Germany. That campaign banner plead for "community, not individuality" and came from the era wherein the Nazis campaigned for the only election in Germany in which they succeeded in coming to power. (After that, of course they held no more "free elections," and the effects on artistic freedom of expression are all too well known.)

 

As in the time of the cultured monarchs who valued artists and their work-for-itself, means of support and sustenance became the leverage to see their aims realized, whether these were to be as monuments to themselves, or simply to enjoy the company of stimulating creative minds. Nevertheless, subsidies and grants were their softer form of convincing, not quite the overt coercion as Marxist-Leninist applications of governing power demanded.

 

I find the notion of state subsidies and grants quite like unto the time of the kings and princes of centuries past. Individuality is seduced, anthropomorphic is my image, from its place nearest to the free end of the scale towards a place higher up, a place nearer to conformity with the governing power of the time. While the aims of the governance might differ, the architecture of the argument is the same. Conform and be rewarded; disagree and be shunned.

 

fig. 7

 

It is a matter of degree, of course. How far towards conformity does "free expression" travel before it is no longer free? The artist was and is lured towards social control over some form of artistic expression by those who govern. I remind that my view of governance is not confined to national or international political leadership alone, for there are governors in universities, grants organizations, and gate keepers at the hallways to symphonies, opera companies, and galleries. That which is approved by governors is admitted, and that which does not conform is barred.

 

This is as it should be, in terms of the simple application of power and the perspective as seen from the powerful. It is however the inverse of the actual making of art, wherein individuality is paramount.

 

How does the poet write and composer compose? In the solitude of the mind, and with the motivations of the individual self acting in far greater measure than the exterior application of power for the purpose of control. And yet many grants organizations or those in academia are blinded by being placed in a position of governance, such that the Ding-an-sich of a work of art has less cachet than the political purpose to which a work of art or artist might be placed. Whatever that purpose might be, it comes to this. Conformity with the controlling normative powers and their wishes come first. This is why an artist should be encouraged to avoid such "soft maximum leadership."

 

There are bountiful examples of how artists have done this. Some were simply not able to be controlled. Some were forcefully recalcitrant and unapologetic.  Some "marched to the beat of a different drummer." Some were undiscovered until late in their careers. Some worked in isolation. Some simply did not care for the adulation and rewards being held forth by the powerful, and some recognized that the power of governance would extract its toll in time.

 

2.3     Funding Soft Maximum Leadership

 

In those relatively free nations, aside from the simple mechanisms of the marketplace which cannot evaluate and judge art until long after that art has been made, the Marxist-Leninist "barrel of a gun" is not an approved mechanism for accumulating societal resources for the purpose of funding art. Taxation is.

 

Taxation, for a free society, is a must. No society can function on anarchistic lines, for there are things used in common which we lump together under the term infrastructure. Some form of providing for the commonweal is necessary, and always has been. For this the Israelites were adjudged their tithe, now more often thought of as the percentage a religious institution should be able to extract from its congregants, it was a tax.

 

But there has always been taxation for social purposes. Too great a tax has spawned real revolutions for freedom, as the history of the United States tells. As a nation, it is not alone in this story, of course. Just as the original picture spoke of zero percent application of power and control over a person  as easily defining anarchy and one hundred percent defining slavery, taxation is a matter of percentages.

 

fig. 8

 

Confiscation is synonymous with enslaving, and enslaving is synonymous with the many socialist-motivated governments which recent history has shown us this truth about them in horrid detail.  I add to this obvious statement of fact the perspective of the artist, for alongside the greatest application of political power and greatest confiscation of individual assets towards that end comes the very real urge towards conformity with the prevailing power's value system. In opposition to this is the process of art, for when art is only "approved" art, it ceases to be individual and must instead conform.

 

The pleasant version of high taxes to subsidize the arts does nothing of the kind. Rather it subsidizes certain approved forms and formats of art, providing sustenance to those it deems worthy, and specifically not providing sustenance to those deemed unworthy. The architecture of this argument stands on the lengthy history of societies, wherein approval supposedly identifies the best among artists, yet so often fails to do so.

 

The history of art is replete with stories of artists at or near starvation, artists condemned by their own societies for reasons founded in an era's mores and standards and especially based on who held political power and governed over them. But to imagine that a benign and exceedingly powerful governance can define what art is or should be is simply absurd.

 

Which artist would suggest that he would be willing to let those who govern adjudge his work, in exchange for sustenance? Only those who are willing to trade their individuality for a crumb of bread or a fine auto, I suggest. They are there to be found, but I suspect that in time their approval will not be the currency of a future time, as art history so often teaches us.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Stretto

Marx, Darwin and Freud are the three most crashing bores of the Western World. Simplistic popularization of their ideas has thrust our world into a mental straitjacket from which we can only escape by the most anarchic violence.

William Golding

 

3.1     Golding Wrote Novels

 

Golding wrote novels, among the The Lord of the Flies. Since I read him, I find his writing quite convincing. As an artist, I do not feel the constraints of the wordy folks of the art community, academia nor government. Therefore I will add, Marx, Darwin and Freud also wrote novels. Oh, not in the limited definition of the word, but in a broader sense.

 

Darwin's several books come to a statement about "the Creator," and about an awe in nature and its natural forces and laws which we are only beginning to understand. As such, his is a theory, a novella with an imagined end to the story.

 

In spite of the modern Darwinians and their silly atheistic, socialistic pronouncements, anyone who cares to read Darwin's Origin of the Species will find his respectful reference to "the Creator."  [ 3 ]   I therefore leave off for the moment about Darwin.

 

Marx and Freud, I think merit other comment, for they too wrote fiction -- novels. As time passes, they seem all the more ludicrous to the critical mind, with thought tools which a century and more has developed since these "stories" were so persuasively told.

 

Freud's fiction is about his inner imaginings of what happens in the mind, and he populates it with fictional characters, the id, ego and superego, without any real scientific basis for them whatsoever. They are fictional, and therefore his work is fictional, however persuasive it has seemed. Looking to recent advancements in brain science and research into cognition, and one finds his "seminal" characters utterly absent in the modern literature. Why? Because they are fictional, and the story has evolved beyond the need for these passé characters.

 

Freud pressed the post-Nietzschean notion of man’s compelling psychological need to create a God in his own image as a pathway to resolve various feelings of guilt flowing from childhood trauma. One might rummage through Moses and Monotheism, Totem and Taboo, and The Future of an Illusion but I recommend doing this with the thought that one is reading fictional accounts of what is supposed to be, for most Freudian theory has been supplanted with the passage of time. Re-reading it as fiction underscores certain themes clearly as literature and definitely not science.

 

The notion, for example, of  "polymorphous perversity" was Freud's attempt to find rationale for childhood behaviors which would come before the "taboos" or supposed repression of adulthood, as if this time in early youth were more free. This is empirically ridiculous, for the judgments of this youthful moment of "polymorphous perversity" would yield no great art, no application to science and work, nor to adult happiness and satisfaction in accomplishment. To attempt a return to this stage and somehow throw off taboos and repression is not the business of art, wherein accomplishment and the acquisition of artistic skills far outweighs childish supposedly taboo-free and unrepressed play. From such storytelling comes no artistic opus, no achievement and no freedom of expression in the sense of having worthy of being expressed.

 

Marx [ 4 ] was a fiction writer as well, and a rather mean-spirited one at that by contemporary sensibilities. For example, in 1862 Marx wrote to Engels: "It is now perfectly clear to me that, as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicate, he is descended from the negroes who joined in the flight of Moses from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the father's side was crossed with a nigger). Now this union of Jewishness to Germanness on a negro basis was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid. The importunity of the fellow is also nigger-like." [Marx to Engels, 30 July 1862, in Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe , Part iii. Vol. 3] Such words tell more of the man than do generations of ardent followers who never read much of what he wrote.

 

Marxist fiction is filled with its own invented characters, and at best Marx was a fine handler of the stories about strife, social chaos and upheaval, but he was a misogynist, a bigot and racist, and an economic lightweight whose theories about centralized command and control of an economy have bankrupted whole nations. Those who argue this is not so fail to realize that many experiments based on Marxist fiction have all resulted in abject economic failure, something hard for any true believer to accept. But basically Marx wrote novels, fiction, and, in Golding's estimation as above, was a "crashing bore" in all except lessons on how to radicalize one group against another as a function of politics.

 

That Marx was convincing may be found in such remarks as Tony Blair's statement from 1983, that "Socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for co-operation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear." This was the founding principle of the SPD in Germany as well, which espoused the belief that socialism could be arrived at through successive democratic measures and maneuvers. This of course is difficult to reconcile with the previous attempts at socialism, such as Germany's earlier National Socialist regime. Moreover such a remark as Prime Minister Blair's came before the economic implosion of the Soviet Union, and does not explain how a career in public service managed to make Mr. Blair wealthy, that is to say, someone who acquired more than average amount of capital while espousing socialism. (This amusing dichotomy, alongside many other exceedingly wealthy public socialists and their very tangible capitalist behaviors could be a subject unto itself. Suffice it to say that when socialists are all capital-equal, i.e., fully middle class as measured by their wealth or, better said, lack thereof, we may see whether or not they would remain socialists.)

 

Herein, therefore, I would place side by side the first illustration and several which followed:

 

                                    
 

Golding observes above that "simplistic popularization of their ideas has thrust our world into a mental straitjacket from which we can only escape by the most anarchic violence." I find this the work of a fiction writer as well, for one of our great themes throughout history and literature is that of strife, striving against the oppressor, battling the titans.

 

Yet, the history of the arts is one of battling titans across centuries, and in the case of many great artists, we no longer remember some of the titans. Which pope argued with Michelangelo? Which mayor of Leipzig could not get the "best" and settled for the "second-best," Bach? Which in the French Academy led the attempt to suppress Toulouse-Lautrec?

 

Some of the titans we can never forget; nor should we. Could we imagine what would have happened to Weil and Brecht under the Nazis? A lengthy list of artists threatened by various regimes, most spectacularly and horribly by the National Socialists, is too long to reprint.

 

Lest we think this wholly European, it was the supposedly progressive President Woodrow Wilson who said, "Conformity will be the only virtue and any man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty." [ 5 ]   Governance proposes conformity, plain and simple. Art encourages individuality and freedom from conformity.

 

As to Marx' influence which lingers on the political realm, he reminds us in his own word that "capitalist production is hostile to certain branches of spiritual production, for example, art and poetry." ["Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour"] And yet history has shown that socialism in its many forms has been consistently "hostile to certain branches of spiritual production" when it served the needs of political domination to do so. Marx was not so much wrong about some parts of the capitalist system, but he failed miserably to see that his alternative would be even more "hostile," for that has been proven now to have been the case over the last century.

 

3.2      There is Fiction and There Is Fact

 

There is fiction and there is fact. Usually the fiction has a more powerful hold on the public, but as Polti  [ 6 ]  reminds us, there are only thirty-six dramatic situations. We must repeat them because there are no others. Therefore the art of the novel, of drama and the fiction writers is limited by the inviolate rules of storytelling. Marx wrote fiction, not fact and he repeated themes long known across literary history. Applied as fact, his socialism -- stories about people and how they attain power -- has alternatively failed many times, or, according to the true believers, never been attempted. Freud remains a fiction writer, employing and retelling the old myths of the golden age of Greece which was the soil for his fiction.

 

Darwin is another matter, for his storytelling is more closely akin to science, and these stories wait patiently to be validated in some way. In fact, in my estimation, Darwin has been ill served by the modern crop of so-called Darwinians who are anything but Darwin-based in their extrapolations and inventions well beyond the scope of the writings themselves.

 

But among Darwin's arguments is the notion of the survival of that which is fit, applied to life forms. I apply it now to art forms and works. Among the Western canon of art there are art works and the artists who created them which claim a greater appreciation than other works and artists. Placing it in the realm of Darwin's notions, some art is fit which the powerful in any era had deemed unfit. The mechanism by which this "error" in judgment was made may be seen in the graphic depictions above.

 

When the powerful who govern attempt to enslave the individual artist and his imagination, the methods are political. When the individual artist strives to express something individual, it often came into conflict with the ruling powers of an age. That art works survive and ruling powers expire could be seen a statement of Darwin's notion of survival. Fine art survives long after finely honed political power is long dead. This is a testament to individuality in the face of social control, and a certain measure of anarchy opposed to enslavement, and this makes the pursuit of art quite the polar opposite of totalitarian control.

 

3.3     Individualism - Nothing New

 

In his 1920 book, The Return to Laissez Faire, the English classical liberal Sir Ernest Benn argues that "a citizenship which is actuated by Individualism will wash its hands of that 'citizenship by proxy' which is variously called social reform, Socialism and Communism. All these shibboleths mean paying somebody else with other people's money to do your own duty — a very different thing."

 

Hitler campaigned against individuality, among all the shibboleths and straw men he set up solely in order to acquire power. In doing so he targeted artists among those whom he would "correct." Many said nothing, and others were fooled into following this dictator, just as Italians were fooled into following Mussolini, Russians deluded into following the Bolsheviks, Chinese tricked into following Mao (we need remember the "cultural revolution" was a war against art in large part), and the history continues with those who seek to exercise "maximum leadership" opposed to individuality.

 

Art, I argue, is first and foremost an individual's expression through certain media. As such, artists have been and will continue to be targets for those who say they are artists' governors, even unto the political correctness of this day. Those who pay homage to governance do so at the risk of their free expression, and in doing so they become part of the greater political force to "enforce" an approved art.

 

The battle continues, wherein politicized members of the arts community make a Faustian bargain with "authority" and the prevailing winds and find themselves a small part of the governance of said enforcement more than individuals expressing themselves in artistic outlets and allowing others to do the same. Spending time as a portion of the prevailing governance robs time from the inner life of creativity, which can only be individual and solitary.

 

3.4      Art As Individual Intention

 

One is tempted by new research into cognition and new strands of thought in philosophy to explain art in connectionist terms, perhaps through a Marxist line of academic thought. It is foolhardy to do so.

 

Among the tools of the composer are some few behaviors which stem from other sources. To that end I would quote, as I also have below, a small excerpt from Darwin's exposition of "laws."

These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms.

Growth with reproduction, variability, ratio of increase as a "struggle for life," and divergence of character and extinction of "less-improved forms."

 

Musicians might recognize similarities as they consider themes with variations, elongation, diminution, inversions and retrograde (a far less "competitive" element in composition due to issues of human perception over time), stylistic similarities and differences, experimentation with new forms and elements, and divergence between aesthetic stances. Lastly, one might ponder "extinction" from the perspective of styles which no longer speak to an audience.

 

However, ignoring the social arguments and abjectly twisted storytelling of those who would "govern" art and artists, specifically music in terms of this web site, Darwin's observations do not belong in the weak minded company of Freud and especially Marx. Rather, his argument is that we are still discovering and still have much to learn about the laws of nature. I find this no threat to humanity, except as filtered through the dark visions of those who seek political control over art.

 

Growth with reproduction makes eminent sense to the artist. Here is a vision, a theme, an idea, which is then worked out in a compositional process until a sibling work to that artist's opus is birthed. Variability keeps an art or artist fresh, and creates, as Stravinsky spoke of in terms of "mistakes" new ideas. Discoveries. New perspectives. In other terms, an evolution from age to age, style to style and aesthetic stance to aesthetic stance.

 

Note that nowhere in these passages from Darwin is there excuse for those who would govern to govern, especially to rule over the free expression of artists. Community is not the arbiter, dictator nor governor of art, for art comes from free expression. Therefore, recalling the graph, where the creative artist most assuredly should spend his energies is found in the lower ranks of these "percentages." This is the opposite of those who would govern, of course.

 

 

I would counsel other artists to ponder this image, as simple as it seems. The question becomes ultimately individual. Shall the artist be ruled, as he rules over the elements of his medium, or shall he be free from political governance? The question is and remains crucial, for it explains the conflict between artists and their political "betters" over centuries. It explains the survival of art under dictatorial regimes. And it explains the truly subversive nature of this side of human behavior, in which the process and practice of art is an individual act in a world which has all too often expected the individual to be subservient to the "greater good."

 

That "greater good" or "common good" has been a practiced part of  the vocabulary of those who would rule, confiscate, control and cause others to conform. It is a warning to any artist that the artistic stance itself presents a challenge to those in authority. The greater the authority -- as imagined in the sliding scale above -- the less freedom an artist might evidence, until, as with European artists in the twentieth century, the only act of survival is flight. Flee political authority, if you cannot fight against that authority by means of one's art.

 

This is why the millennia-old quote standing at the beginning of Chapter Two is so important to consider: "The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage." Thus, for the artist in his life as in his work, individuality must triumph over and subvert collective governance, on whatever scale and level that governance is found to be operating.

 

3.5     Political Correctness

 

Another of the modern governors of art is political correctness. Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing speaks quite directly to this issue.

The phrase “political correctness” was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the political correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what to do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art — the arts generally — are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution. It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.

Let me stress what an artist reveals herein. Art is unpredictable, maverick and uncomfortable, and it often has been the excuse for, in Lessing's words, persecution. Modern political correctness opines about what is fine art and what is lesser art, but only as it serves those who apply such political lens to view art.

 

This comes from "habits of mind." Those who govern define by fiat what is acceptable. Political power seek to define art. Large advertising budgets seek to define art. The influence of "titans" as mentioned above certainly practice such forms of persuasion.

 

I set some delightful poems of a black American author, James Edwin Campbell, in which he clearly writes "nigger." Not in the same way as we have seen a racially bigoted Karl Marx use the term. Moreover, these texts were collected into an anthology published in 1992 by the eminent black author, James Johnson. Who shall say that these texts are somehow to be banned in modern performances? And yet I am sure such political correctness might be applied to a performer who might sing these songs, as we have seen political "funerals" for the word, and seen staged outrage and umbrage expressed for those who might dare to use the word without the permission from the politically powerful. My thought, when coming upon these wonderful poems and deciding to set them as art songs was freedom. Freedom from political correctness. Freedom for the poet who wrote these words, and freedom for the anthologist who collected and published these words. In setting these texts, my preference was to freely express these texts, Campbell's art, with my art, melody and song settings. Those who would take offence or practice political correctness over such would persecute not only a composer but an author.

 

In similar fashion and with Goethe's admonition in mind, I chose to set a poem of American poet, E. E. Cummings puts these vulgarities into Olaf's mouth: "I will not kiss your fucking flag" and "there is some shit I will not eat." There is artistic point to this, though some will find setting this text as song "unpredictable" and "maverick" and even "uncomfortable." That is Lessing's point.

 

Further, my choice of assembling some of the inanities of Margaret Sanger, direct quotes from her published works, will irritate some for whom their form of political correctness is so overwhelming as to blind them to the discomfort of art. I chose a small humorous text by Goethe in which vulgarities also may be found, setting them for artistic reasons and employing my freedom to do so. Some will take offence, and others will attempt to act on such offence. That is the application of social or political authority --governance -- over the individuality of artists, plural, when it happens.

 

3.6    Majoritarianism

 

In discussing governance as opposed to the free expression of artists, it may seem as if I have been overly hard on Marxism and its offshoots. Perhaps I have not been hard enough. But there is another governance as well which should be suspect to the individuality of the artist, and that is majority rule -- democracy.

 

That government can be formed through force of one kind does not mean that it cannot acquire force through another avenue. Majority opinions in modern parlance do not necessarily guarantee freedom for artistic enterprise. When political liberty is subverted by majority rule into some form of coercive force, as one sees with political correctness or with notions of therapeutic policing as regards physical, mental and emotional health issues, it is simply the gathering of power to the forces of government which becomes temptation to apply in all areas of life, and art is a pursuit of the individual within society.

 

When art of one form or another is to be approved or disapproved by other than individual choice, then that coercion should become suspect by the artist. This is as true of what passes today for right-wing politics as for left-wing politics, for it is only the question of which art is officially approved or disproved which characterizes the gathering force of governance over art.

 

There is soft approval in the form of grants, awards, prizes and commissions, and there is the hard approval of enforcing public mores for or against certain artifacts of art. This is specifically why I sidestep political jargon, except to identify the gathering of political force by certain leaderships -- from monarchs to Marxists -- to make my point.

 

Taste might arbitrate between art forms and artists' work, but taste colored with the coercive effects of political power moves one on the scale from individuality towards the totalitarian. Consider again the diagram, this being figure 7 as found above.

 

 

A majority might enforce conformity, as well as an elite. The essential act of creating art is one of individuality acting within societal values perhaps, but nevertheless individual.

 

A case in point could be the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit which I saw in Cincinnati. There was criticism from some groups, and counter criticism from others, with accusations of censorship thrown into the political and philosophical mix. Having heard both political sides in this discussion, I chose to go to the art exhibit. Good art? Bad art? That is for each of us to decide. Personally I found his photography adequate but not rising to the level of high art in any way; it was more of the level and insight of any competent graphic artist or photographer working in advertising today.

 

But, over in a section parsed away from the main exhibit were Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs, stark black and white pictures of subjects which must have interested him and "caught his eye." I was unimpressed with the subjects of his enthusiasm as I was with the whole notion that this was either artistically offensive or titillating. That is a matter for the individual, but not for society. The curator made all the proper clucking noises about art and censorship, but this exhibition was more political than artistic. So it seems to me in retrospect.

 

Yet Mapplethorpe's images stemmed from his particular individuality. Censoring them by political means seemed as inappropriate to me as praising them through opposing political argument as fine art. My conclusion? The market for his work, that which is overtly erotic or that which is not, will decide. Is it original art in any sense which I understand art to be original? No, and that is the problem for photography in general, when compared to filling the blank page with notes or the blank canvas with images. Capturing an image by photographic means is a step away from creative art, and a step towards mere technology. This was a tempest in a teapot, in the long run, in which political forces for and against the "art" were of primary importance, while the discussion over the art itself was almost wholly absent. The cause célèbre was one of one kind of conformity facing off squarely against another kind of conformity.

 

For such reasons I distrust majoritarian political force as much as elite political power. It is for an artist to be skeptical of that which is exterior to his thought process and work. There is social control exerted by those who would identify themselves as of the political left and social control exerted by those who would self-identify as from the political right. It is in the attempted enforcement of governance over art that I balk.

 

3.7    Political Approval and Censorship

 

For much of modern art, the time is not yet passed to evaluate its lasting value. Certainly we have examples enough to have learned that political approval alone does not constitute adequate understanding of art and its enduring value. It is for this reason that I might defend the artist whose work does not please me, because I have too many lessons to have come to any other conclusion.

 

Art and artists have been prodded by political force -- governance -- throughout history to conform, to deliver what is expected, to agree with social norms and to work in service to political ends. This is why much propaganda is conducted in artistic imagery, in which artists are directed as to what message is to be conveyed. Yet the agreement to create such propaganda is a form of "selling out" individuality to the social collective of the moment and place.

 

E. E. Cummings [in  "Foreword to an Exhibit: I" (1944)] suggests:

Art is a mystery.

A mystery is something immeasurable.

In so far as every child and woman and man may be immeasurable, art is the mystery of every man and woman and child. In so far as a human being is an artist, skies and mountains and oceans and thunderbolts and butterflies are immeasurable; and art is every mystery of nature. Nothing measurable can be alive; nothing which is not alive can be art; nothing which cannot be art is true: and everything untrue doesn’t matter a very good God damn...

There is nothing mysterious about political control over the artist, but everything mysterious about the well spring from which creativity comes. Political approval measures and puts itself forth as the antidote or solution to "mysteries." Science, philosophy and religion do as well. The politics of today's left and the politics of today's right espouse moral authority, answers to the problems of men and society, and assert control. The greater that control, the less the freedom of artistic expression, in which one artist's work is approved and another's despised for the sake of governance.

 

3.8    True and Fair Censorship

 

What then of art with which one's disagrees or does not like? The answer is for the consumer of that art. Walk away. Ignore it. The passage of time will prove the better arbiter of art than the coercive political force of any age. In the greater marketplace of ideas, all past ages' works of art compete. There are those today who have never heard a work of Bach or seen a Rembrandt. Should they come into contact with such a representative work, some will be seduced by the work, and others might walk away. Such is the artist's realization, for few foretold the great power of van Gogh over the world of the visual arts. The majority were blind to him in his day. Some are today.

 

What does this say of the art of van Gogh? Nothing. It speaks quite adequately for itself, to those who attend to it. And it cares not a jot for those who do not.

 

Cummings instructs further in "A Poet’s Advice to Students":

        Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel.  Why?  Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people; but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.   

        To be nobody-but-yourself  -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

        As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine.  Why?  Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else.  We all of us do exactly this nearly all the time – and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

The artist should strive to be nobody-but-yourself. Cummings rightly notes that the world around the artist "is doing its best" to make the artist "everybody else." Oddly, with so many competing political forces in the free world of the West and Asia today, there seems no longer one version of "everybody else." This is to the artist's advantage, for under government of various forms, art has been subject to varying degrees of subjugation .

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Coda

 

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

 Frederic Bastiat

4.1        Governance versus Art

 

The quote above by the French economist speaks volumes. The supposed discoveries of Marx and Freud, alongside much which preceded them, were fictions. [ 7 ]   The were created out of whole cloth of imagination, and populated with storytelling of mythic proportions which was so persuasive as to create classes of rulers for whom art was one among the many avenues of human endeavor which was to be governed, ruled and dictated to in our modern era. Free expression was the polar opposite of governance, which the less strident rulers admitted, as can be seen from the tolerance for artistic "challenges" by some of Europe's royalty. Talent and art were facets of human life about which to be amused. The later faux-monarchs were not so amused, and acted far more harshly when challenged by "decadence" and "perversion," code words for art which was not approved by governance. Yet artists persevered.

 

4.2        Art As Perseverance

 

Are artists happy? One reads of the alcohol-induced stupors and death of poet, Dylan Thomas. One thinks on Rembrant van Rijn being unpopular for not having well served his patrons. One conjures images of the unhappy Vincent van Gogh self-mutilation, or Ivor Gurney's descent into insanity. The stories are legion.

 

While in Amsterdam, I took in -- a silly phrase, for there was too much to take in -- the Rijksmuseum wherein hang many works of van Gogh. Looking at several, I stood quietly as a docent passed by telling her charges of the artist's unhappy life. After they had gone, I looked more intently at the canvasses and come to one conclusion, all my own. When he was daubing paint of that canvas or the one next to it, he was very probably happy, even if for only hours in an otherwise unhappy day.

 

Similarly, while in Laugharne, Wales, I stood outside the shack where Dylan Thomas did some of his work. Sparse, small, undecorated except for a table, chair and shelf for the occasional book, dictionary and thesaurus, I imagined he spent some fine moments, lost in the act of writing, wherein the seduction of the words themselves made for a kind of happiness in that moment that poets know.

 

Artists are human beings, not mythic creatures. As great as many of our composers, poets, painters, dramatists and more, they are subject to all that everyone is, including the small and great ills which living simply presents as a matter of course. But in the act of creating, which is an act of persevering to the end of a work's birth whether it takes a moment or years, I am fully convinced that the artist is happy, and I add courageous, per the terms of Thucydides' wonderful observation.

 

When the poet is drudgingly working with words or the composer with tones, there is moment in life which is transcendent, in which the self is lost for a time to the pursuit itself. In that moment the artist is happy, no matter what may occur in another part of his day.

 

Are artists free? Only when they hold fast to the courage to be free and act freely of which Thucydides reminds from thousands of years before the characters which populate most of this essay. We are speaking about the same things as did whole human civilizations before us.

 

So, are artists free? In that, there is no governance save the individual artist's inner vision, craft, perseverance and courage. The exterior realm of governance stands in opposition to this, and the greater the power of government, the greater the challenge from artists and the individuality to subvert such power.

 

Future artists need be aware of this, for the challenge coming from those who would govern comes for the artist especially when individual, incorrect and independent of authority. Art is perseverance in part against those societal forces which call for conformity.

 

C. S. Lewis reminds, "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point me satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

 

Spare us from the governors and dictators who would exert power over art, especially when they propose to take such control to themselves for the good of society. Artists need not and should not appeal to, as President George Washington once said, "the indulgence of one class of people."

 

Therefore I return the beginning figure, which proposes to look simply at the difference between slavery and anarchy. In this essay I ask other artists to answer for themselves where they place their art, craft, skills and urge to freely create.

 

 

As Mark Twain suggested in the quote above, it "profits one" to know that the bottom half of the strawberry basket is rotten. Artists should therefore be ever skeptical of governance and the urge to enforce conformity -- the rotten part of that political basket.

 

That is the antithesis of art, for art has been and should remain closer to anarchy than to slavery. Art must be closer to freedom than conformity, and closer to individuality than collectivism. In Whitman's words an artist should "resist" and in Brecht's words an artist to strive against the "boot in the face."

 

Art should be a basket of strawberries in which there is no rot, or at least a basket where the rotten strawberries might be spotted immediately. How unlike authority is art, the continuing force for resisting such authority. That is the challenge of art. Shall art appeal to authority? If so, for what? To what purpose?

 

For myself, while no anarchist, I prefer to be and remain free from enforced conformity and social control of any orthodoxy which by the nature of being an orthodoxy tends to enslave. That places me in the bottom rungs of the graph.

 

And so I pose the question to others, as I have posed it to myself: as an artist, where do you place yourself in the image-and-sliding-scale above?

 

 

NOTES

[ 1 ]     Paulo Freire's more famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, argues clearly that "education is to be the path to permanent liberation and admits of two stages. The first stage is that by which people become aware (conscientized) of their oppression and through praxis transform that state. The second stage builds upon the first and is a permanent process of liberating cultural action."

            That permanent process seems impermanent to me, as governance always proposes greater controls, while art often proposes to corrupt and break those bonds. From what source comes oppression? Certainly from the greatest amalgamation of political and social power in the hands of those who govern. While Freire's work, like Brecht's, was rooted early in Marxist thought, he like so many others ended his life espousing quite the opposite, or as he suggested, a people "less ugly, less mean, less authoritarian, more democratic, more human." Among his fine challenges to educators and by extension to the arts is this: "I’d like to say to us as educators: poor are those among us who lose their capacity to dream, to create their courage to denounce and announce..."

           Let me stress this: "courage to denounce and announce." This alone should encourage artists to not attend to nor seek approval of government and governance.

 

[ 2 ]     And yet the statists seek ever new rationalization for their acquisition and application of power. Darwin's theory has become the unwitting foundation for arguments for government, the antithesis of individuality. For example one finds a supposedly fine intellect like Julian Huxley appropriating Darwin' theory into continued justification for "possibilities" to increase man's governance over man. "Man is the product of nearly three billion years of evolution, in whose person the evolutionary process has at last become conscious of itself and its possibilities." Huxley, Julian (1964) "The New Divinity" in Essays of a Humanist, Chatto & Windus, London., p. 218.

            And yet such a pseudo-Darwinian manages to eke out this: "Science itself may be obsolete for this great revolution; the 'scientific idea-system' may very well soon be succeeded by a humanist system." Julian Huxley (1942) Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, 1964 edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York. For a supposedly humanist philosopher to expunge from Darwin some of Darwin's own words to the point of imaging science -- which some have called the "skeptical art" -- as "obsolete for this great revolution" demonstrates that such a revolution is not rooted in Darwin's theory, but is rooted in something more ancient, dressed up in modern rhetoric, social engineering as the rationale for achieving and maintaining power over others. This is the polar opposite of the artist's work.

 

[ 3 ]      "Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. Judging from the past, we may safely infer that not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness to a distant futurity. And of the species now living very few will transmit progeny of any kind to a far distant futurity; for the manner in which all organic beings are grouped, shows that the greater number of species of each genus, and all the species of many genera, have left no descendants, but have become utterly extinct. We can so far take a prophetic glance into futurity as to foretell that it will be the common and widely-spread species, belonging to the larger and dominant groups, which will ultimately prevail and procreate new and dominant species. As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Silurian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look with some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable length. And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.

            It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." [The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, Chapter 14: Recapitulation and Conclusion.]

 

[ 4 ]     Among the many fictions which Marx wrote much is his fiction about German Jews, whom he detested. He wrote, "The most rigid form of the opposition between the Jew and the Christian is the 'religious' opposition. How is an opposition resolved? By making it impossible. How is religious opposition made impossible? By abolishing religion. As soon as Jew and Christian recognize that their respective religions are no more than different stages in the development of the human mind, different snake skins cast off by history, and that man is the snake who sloughed them, the relation of Jew and Christian is no longer religious but is only a critical, scientific, and human relation. Science, then, constitutes their unity. But, contradictions in science are resolved by science itself."  [Karl Marx, "On the Jewish Question," Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher, February, 1844.]

            Lest the less harmful quotes from his text be sought out in response, it does well to rush to the end. Marx clearly wrote, "...the perfect Christian state is the 'atheistic' state, the 'democratic' state, the state which relegates religion to a place among the other elements of civil society." But then Marx adds, "Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism -- huckstering and its preconditions -- the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man's individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished. The 'social' emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism." This is bigotry, plain and simple, showing that Marx' goal was that the "Jew will have become impossible." [ibid.] What then of Jewish artists? One saw this played out in Nazi Germany, wherein many fled, others were imprisoned and executed, and art was politically branded as "degenerate." This was and remains the end game for Marx's beginning gambit, as we read above.

 

[ 5 ]      Lost in a history not cautiously retold are many details, one being this: "Upon taking power in Washington, Wilson and the many other Southerners he brought into his cabinet were disturbed at the way the federal government went about its own business. One legacy of post-Civil War Republican ascendancy was that Washington's large black populace had access to federal jobs, and worked with whites in largely integrated circumstances. Wilson's cabinet put an end to that, bringing Jim Crow to Washington. Wilson allowed various officials to segregate the toilets, cafeterias, and work areas of their departments."  [Charles P. Freund, "Dixiecrats Triumphant - The menacing Mr. Wilson" in Reason, December 18, 2002]

 

[ 6 ]     Polti, Georges. (1916). The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. Boston: The Writer, Inc. This is an English translation, for the Georges Polti was a French writer from the mid-19th century (born in 1868), and the original work is titled L'art d'inventer les personnages. The list is popularly suggested as an aid for writers, dramatists, storytellers and many others. Similar taxonomies have since been made, more attuned to modern sensibilities, but Georges Polti has created one of the most popular and enduring lists and analysis.
 

[ 7 ]        It is ironic that these words seem apt today: "It is an old and historically established maxim that obsolete social forces, nominally still in possession of all the attributes of power and continuing to vegetate long after the basis of their existence has rotted away, inasmuch as the heirs are quarrelling among themselves over the inheritance even before the obituary notice has been printed and the testament read -- that these forces once more summon all their strength before their agony of death, pass from the defensive to the offensive, challenge instead of giving way, and seek to draw the most extreme conclusions from premises which have not only been put in question but already condemned."

        These words were aimed at the English oligarchy, and yet apply equally well to other forms of political power seen from the perspective of the artist. Why ironic? Because they are Marx's editorial, published in Neue Oder-Zeitung, June 28 1855, but written after a London demonstration which he writes of as "Anti-Church Movement Demonstration in Hyde Park." Fast forward a century and a half, one finds continuing demonstrations against political power, including that which his poor and very fictional theory spawned.