Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The sources of art (capital 'A')

Where does great literature and art come from?  [ETA: A more accurate version of the question might be: How is it produced or generated?] Herewith a couple of perspectives, not original of course (though the labeling may be).

The first could be called Individual Genius Meets An Imperfect World.  The artist converts personal misery into art (consider, e.g., how much mileage Dickens got out of his relatively short time in the 'blacking' factory).  The misery can be collective rather than strictly personal (e.g., no Napoleonic wars, no War and Peace).

The second perspective could be called Individual Genius Meets Its Predecessors.  The artist struggles to carve out her or his own terrain in conversation with, or response to, what others have done.  This is about the anxiety of influence, in Harold Bloom's well-known phrase.

The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive.  A given work can respond both to an external event and to the influences of the artist's predecessors (or perhaps contemporaries).  

Does great art require the prod of misery, frustration, injury, imperfection, unhappiness, injustice?  Would there be great art in a utopian society?  My impression is that some sketchers of utopias (say, the nineteenth-century utopian socialists, or Skinner in Walden Two) have not been much concerned with this issue.  Where is the Marxist tradition on this?  Is the whole notion of great art a decadent bourgeois concoction?  Are the question's assumptions irrelevant or meaningless in a communist society where, as Trotsky apparently thought, the average level of human creativity would rise to heights never before seen?  In the absence of empirical evidence on the last point, I guess we're all free to speculate.


JS said...

Well, in a Communist society, all productive activity--as well as its products--would be art. I think that's actually one way of reading the view, seriously.

Here's another way of approaching the point. Assume a Communist society. You don't have an art market (obviously!). You don't have art for sacral purposes (obviously!). So how do you designate something as "art"? That is, how do you segment a certain type of productive activity as "artistic production" versus all other types of productive activity. It's not obvious to me that you can. Which isn't to say that there's no art. It might just be that it's *all* art (and crafts!)

JS said...

In other words, Trotsy was basically right, I think.

Also, there's the material/technological bases make artistic innovation possible school. The possibility of using oil-based paint, mechanical reproduction, digital production, that sort of thing, which I think would be a view distinct from the two you consider.

LFC said...

thanks for the comments.
I think you're right on the technological innovations point. I shd have mentioned that.

The other point, about art in a communist society, is interesting. It may be, as you say, that one couldn't draw a line between 'art' and other productive activity in a communist society. However, I had something a bit different in mind w my cryptic reference to Trotsky. It's a line about how ordinary people wd reach heights of artistic genius, which I think, as I say, may be a slightly diff. point. However, as it's late now I will try to elaborate tomorrow or next day.

p.s. Been busy w attempting to follow the bad news of last few days and also w some mundane matters (after long procrastination, am trying to complete a move from an old to a new computer, though the latter is not really that new any more as I've had it for a while); certain complications here that are of no particular interest but have been time-consuming. But I'll follow up on Trotsky when I have a few minutes to look up the quote.

LFC said...

The passage is from his 'Literature and Revolution', ch.8, last paragraph at the link below. Haven't read the context, i.e., the preceding graphs. (I'm aware of the passage b/c Nozick refers to it at one point in 'Anarchy State and Utopia' - not a book that I generally agree w., needless to say.)