Saturday, 6 August 2011

Chris Port Blog #311. Is all art inherently political?

The following comments are a roughly verbatim transcript. I’ve edited together two separate but intertwining Facebook threads. The debate ultimately became an argument over whether all art is (or ought to be) inherently political. The debate does become a bit tense at one point, but I’m glad to report that good humour prevailed. I got a bit carried away with my ‘theoretical underpinning’…

Me: I recently suggested that the arts are a natural forum in which to broaden atheism's appeal. Rather than arrogant academics laboriously explaining why laymen's beliefs are wrong, atheism needs to develop a more positive belief system of its own. Religion has centuries of experience at converting people. I believe that the arts can fill religion's shoes.

JW: we really want a church of aethiesm full of full of psalms dedicated to worshipping the joy of science, and stain glass windows with pictures of the four horsemen?

Me: No. We want art galleries and cinemas, concert halls and crèches, dance halls and lecture halls, parks and theatres. These are the natural churches of atheism. Unlike the aisles of yet another Tesco's which is the church of corporate profits.

Congregations used to sing hymns to the glory of God. Then they sang anthems to the glory of nationhood. Now they Gaga on about how "We are all born superstars" and "I'm just a holy fool, oh baby it's so cruel". Orwell's Prole Song is probably next...

"It was only a 'opeless fancy,
It passed like an Ipril dye,
But a look an' a word an' the dreams they stirred,
They 'ave stolen my 'eart awye!"

I think songwriting is long overdue for another revolution.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, he was inviting a debate about Catholic doctrine, particularly the power of the Pope and the selling of indulgences (forgiveness for money). One of the tenets of Protestantism is the "priesthood of all believers". In a sense, Atheists are the New Protestants, inviting debate about religious doctrines in general, the power of fundamentalists and the legalized indulgence of fear and credulity.

The Bible is an anthology of stories. Literature would be a dull art if it only had one book. I see no reason why a new "priesthood of all sceptics" shouldn't be writing thousands of new bibles. None of these should be taken as 'gospel'. They should be taken as ideas for debate - ideas about human beings, by human beings, for human beings.

Celebrity scientists are 'priests' only in the sense that they have specialist knowledge and insight. When Brian Cox enthuses about the wonder of the universe, millions are spellbound by his special-effects enhanced sermons. They are not anaesthetized though. Unlike the priests of old, scientists do not ask us to take their word for it. They ask us to go away and find out for ourselves, to come back and challenge old ideas with new ones.

Just as Martin Luther challenged the authority of the clergy using scripture, ALL authority should now be challenged using science and reason. If laws and practices are founded on unscientific beliefs, this is intolerable and they must go. The sneering objections of bourgeois curtain-twitchers should be seen for what they are - ideological protectionism. If people are irrational, then they have nothing of value to contribute to the debate.If they continue to malignly influence political decisions through narrow-minded prejudice posing as traditionalism, we may even need to consider disenfranchising them on the grounds that they are mentally incompetent, an electorally registered danger to themselves and others.

That's probably enough of a New Lutheran rant for now. Actually, I quite fancy the idea of a stained glass window depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In Tesco's. It would give the silent shoppers something to meditate about as they wheel their consumer souls around the aisles ;)

Respondent: In that case, the arts need to be less self-important wankers pronouncing their aesthetic superiority while fawning over random splotches of paint better rendered by a 5 year old (for one example)

All of Academia should not be ashamed of the hard work that made them elites in their realms of knowledge... but all are equally guilty of being unapproachable to lay-people.

* * * * * * *

Me: Specific examples would be useful, although not conclusive.

Who constitutes 'the arts'? Why do you attach such importance (and bile) to art works that don't impress you?

Do you have any positive experiences of art? If so, what are they?

Do you think that ALL art should be convenient and immediately comprehensible? Or do you think that great art should challenge us to think and feel deeply?

I would argue that great art demands the audience do some of the hard work. Great art is approachable when you meet it half way. The real question is, do you want to?

How much do you know about your own aesthetics? Do you simply "know what I like and like what I know"? What are your criteria for judging a work of art as 'good' or 'bad', 'interesting' or 'boring', 'profound' or 'pretentious', 'talented' or a 'con trick'?

In general, would you say that you are an objectivist, a subjectivist, or a relativist?

If you would like to do a little background reading, there's a reasonably concise summary of these aesthetic approaches (and their more sophisticated variations) in my dissertation, Humour in the Holocaust [CHAPTER 1: Introduction. (What are laughter, comedy and humour?) - Aesthetic judgments - about half way down].

Scientific understanding requires some detailed knowledge of scientific terminology and methodology. Otherwise, we are vulnerable to false explanations peddled by religious snake-oil sellers.

Artistic judgments also require some detailed knowledge of artistic terminology and methodology. Otherwise we are merely judging by immediate gratification. This leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by crass commercialism and the sugary formulas of lowest common denominators.

You don't have to be an academic expert to appreciate good art, any more than you need degrees in maths and physics to grasp the essence of relativity. Academic pontification does sometimes disappear up its own posterior, but this is not a good reason for not reading books.

One final question to ponder. Have you ever changed your mind about a work of art? For example, have you ever thought a film boring, pretentious and obtuse, then seen it through wondrous new eyes? I have. The first few times I watched Kubrick's 2001 I fell asleep, thinking it was agonizingly slow auteur onanism.

Then I grew up a bit. The fourth time I watched it, it was like watching a moving painting of human evolution. I was literally awe-struck. How the hell did I miss all that? How the hell did I dismiss a work of genius as boring and sleep through some of the greatest ideas of humanity?

The fault was mine, not the film's. It was a humbling experience. Have you ever been humbled by a profound change of opinion? Or have you always been right?

Me: Discussion threads:

Christopher Hitchens

National Atheist Party

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Official) 

Sam Harris

Chris Port

Me: With reference to another discussion thread on a possible 'Golden Rule' for atheists...

I've been brooding over what my 'Golden Guideline' might be (as you may have guessed, I'm suspicious of rules - especially golden ones).

In essence, science is reductionism and art is expansionism. Science reduces everything to data. Art expands everything into meanings.

The problem with science is that, on its own, it loses touch with meanings.

The problem with art is that, on its own, it loses touch with reality.

Most people are neither scientists nor artists. They want certainty and security in which to raise families, but they also need escapism and fantasy to preserve their individuality and save their sanity.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” ~ Shirley Jackson, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’

Therefore, any popular 'guidelines' need to incorporate both scientific AND aesthetic principles. (Art also has the useful side effect of gently nudging religion out of the picture. It essentially fulfils the same emotional function as 'God' in the form of a conscious delusion - the willing suspension of DISbelief to enjoy a fantasy, rather than the erroneous belief that an imaginary character actually exists outside of people's minds).

So, as an aphorism: "The Golden Rule is the Golden Mean." Aristotle got a lot wrong (scientifically) but he was spot on about human happiness (and tragedy).

Those of a logical disposition should be wary of reducing the wonders of creation to facts. Facts have no meaning, and human beings are not human beings unless they can find meanings. They should seek to cultivate their aesthetic 'souls'.

Those who have an artistic nature should be wary of living in the clouds all the time. Fantasy keeps the mind sane, but it doesn't feed the body or pay the bills (unless you're lucky enough to get other people paying to watch your fantasies - see Hollywood's 'Dream Machine'). A good artist sees the 'real world' as useful material for fantasies. For this reason, they keep a close watch on reality (while not believing a word of it - artists are the ultimate sceptics sometimes).

"Neither a reductionist nor an expansionist be, but both". We live in the 'Goldilocks Zone' in more senses than one...

JW: I'm 100% with you on the idea of art filling the void left by religion. I've been a proponent of this idea for a long time. In my opinion religion should be seen as art anyhow. I believe it is most rewarding (and least dangerous) when seen in this light. People don't wage wars over the meaning of art, because we all know that there is no single meaning - interpretation counts for everything. Anything which is open to interpretation, yet claims to be truth is asking for trouble. (Unless of course you see it on the deeper level that subjectivity, pluralism etc are truth...which I don't think many fundamentalists do).

Filling the 'left brain' void however, is entirely different to the arts being used to broaden aethiesms appeal, which feels more like religious style propaganda... Actually it feels quite cheapening of art to be used in this way.

Me: I totally agree with your first point.

With regard to your second point, I sympathize with your apparent disdain but would ask you to dirty your hands here. There is a muddy historical context.

For most of human history, the arts have been closely intertwined with religion. It could be argued that their primary function was to serve as religious propaganda by performing a ceremonial and commemorative role. It's only in the last few centuries that the arts have broken free (much like the sciences) and declared their independence.

Although the arts are often regarded by traditionalists as being inherently 'subversive', this is a comparatively recent economic development. Until the advent of mass reproduction and distribution, the arts mostly survived under the protection of wealthy patrons. The quid pro quo was that they legitimized the status quo.

[Extract from On Directing

“The Evolution of the Director (from hegemony to homogeny)

One possible reason for the comparatively recent emergence of the director is that the director's role, or its ancestral equivalent, previously existed in the homogenous social function of theatre. From the religious Dionysian ritual of Ancient Greek drama to the cynical commentaries on social mores in Restoration comedy, theatre may have prodded the conscience of its audience with an accusatory finger, but it did not seek to challenge the existing social order of pre-nineteenth century European societies. In essence, the social function of theatre was to perpetuate the hegemony of the status quo by portraying the common belief systems of its patrons and audiences. However, the fragmentation of European societies into class systems, with an awareness of conflicting interests after the French and Industrial revolutions, destroyed any such single purpose. As the theatre's traditional patrons waned in influence, so a gap appeared between the social function of theatre and the social values of its audiences. This meant that the moral consensus of playwrights disappeared into a variety of (sometimes conflicting) artistic viewpoints, and so in performance there arose a need for the interpretation of playtexts.”

Your main connection to the arts is through music. Music is arguably the purest of the art forms because it is the most abstract. Although it has prostituted itself just as much as the others in the service of propaganda (e.g. hymns, national anthems, incidental music, TV ads, commercial pop) music can seem less proseltyzing precisely because it doesn’t have to ‘say’ anything. I would argue that this is a self-delusion however. Even silence can speak volumes.

Brecht argued (convincingly, I think) that ALL art is political. ‘For art to be “unpolitical” means only to ally itself with the “ruling” group’ (A Short Organum for the Theatre). Following on from this, I would argue that art is either FOR religion or AGAINST it, but neutrality is not an option.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that the arts should now become the atheist equivalent of social realism, all happy Soviet tractor drivers ploughing through the complete works of Richard Dawkins, etc. Actually, I’m arguing something very different. Rather than seeing the arts as a tool of atheism, I see atheism as a tool of the arts. The atheists have won the intellectual arguments, only to find that the majority of agnostics don’t really care while the majority of religious believers don’t really understand. Atheism needs the arts to communicate its humanist philosophy on a more intuitive and emotional level. I am simply arguing that this humanist philosopy is now the natural home of the arts anyway.

Put another way, while religion may have provided a sanctuary for the arts in the past, the rise of religious fundamentalism is threatening to put them back on the leash as a lap dog - a status symbol for retrograde ‘traditionalist’ values. I don’t see the atheists as social realists here. I see the religious fundamentalists as neo-nazis, burning heretical texts. If I was a liberal humanist writer in 1940s Europe, I would not hesitate to put my artistic services at the disposal of the Allied war effort for ‘propaganda’ purposes. Western civilization is under attack, My values are under attack. In this case, the atheist medium IS the message.

JW: Just noticed a mistake in my last post...I meant "right brain" ;) Just thought I'd mention that for any pedants reading...

But back on point...assuming that all art is political where do agnostic artists fit into your proposal that neutrality on the view of religion is impossible within art? If somebody is unsure of their alligence how can their art be any more certain?

Just to clarify, I pressume what you're referring to is the context in which the art is created/distributed, rather than the content of the work itself.

An instrumental piece of music which paints nature through notes isn't political in itself, but the choice of harmony may be traditionalist or anti-tradionalist. This is arguably a statement of allegience, but only in the most abstract sense - it would be a fallacy to assume that anybody who enjoys classical harmonic form can't maintain progressive political views. I don't think choice of harmony automatically reflects a political allegience, although I'm not saying that it can't if the artist intends to.

This leads me to the conclusion that if both the work itself and the creative process aren't political, then Brecht must be refering to the choice of distribution. If I create work and sell it then I am allying my work with capitalism. If I choose to distribute it via Creative Commons then I - and thus my work - advocates freedom of information, etc. In this sense yes, all art is political, but in this very general view of what constitutes a political statement, it is no more political than buying, selling or giving away anything (all of which IS political, but also embodies a fairly narrow scope of possible political statements that can be made).

For this reason would interpret Brecht's statement as meaning that there is no avoiding making a political statement of some sort in whatever we do. I wouldn't take it further and say that every work of art inadvertantly makes statements about speciic things, such as being for or against religion.

If you take the view that art inadvertantly projects specific view points on one subject, would you agree that it must take a view point on all? Religion is very specific. Could you argue that every work of art must also embody a veiw on women's rights as well? And if not, why not?

I could write a lot more on this but I have to get back to work. I'll wait to see what you say about this and come back to it later :)

JW: There's also a more in your last post that I didn't cover's a massive topic though, hard to do in one sitting!

JW: I reposted this discussion on my wall as well, maybe some other people will get involved :) I know one of my uni lecturers is also a proponent of the idea that all art is political, so I'm curious to see if he says something.

Me: To the theist, everything is God. To the artist, everything is art. To the scientist, everything is science. To the Marxist, everything is political. To the capitalist, everything is money. To the politician, everything is power. To the philosopher, everything is philosophy. To the Wittgensteinian, everything is a language game. To me, they’re all games…

Terry Eagleton called Wittgenstein the philosopher of poets and composers, playwrights and novelists…

Don’t be misled by the term ‘games’ here. Games can be deadly serious. War is often played as a ‘game’…

It’s possible to dabble in all of the games while playing our own game, but events often overtake us. In A Man For All Seasons, Sir Thomas More tries to stay out of politics. He tries to balance conscience with survival by keeping schtum about his thoughts on the king’s divorce. But his silence speaks volumes… Sometimes, other people’s games drag us in when we’d rather stay out.

It doesn’t really matter whether an artist is agnostic or has nothing to say about religion. What matters is the bigger ‘game’ going on. I’ve just surfaced after ten years suffocating at the bottom of a profoundly anti-intellectual and anti-artistic education system. I’m genuinely horrified at how those in authority have abused their power to impose their own political ideologies on the arts.

Schools are now heavily promoting the entertainments industry in the arts curriculum. This is inherently right-wing because it tends to favour an uncritical approach to ‘traditional’ values. Tapping into the current vogue for light entertainment and humiliation contests, schools are disastrously misappropriating an X-Factor/Apprentice approach to give them a spurious ‘relevance’. Most students are now taught a love of fame and money over love of the art form. Many develop inflated egos and delusions of grandeur.

The entertainments industry has one of the highest unemployment rates of any profession. It is also notoriously brutal and corrupt with a glut of wasted talent. To exploit naïve young dreams for school publicity, then cynically throw them into shark-infested waters is morally disgusting and nothing to do with education.

Even more sinister is the creep of religious fundamentalism under the guise of faith schools and traditional values. As the ‘good harmless fun’ of entertainment is whipped up to hysterical levels, analytical subjects such as Film Studies are being quietly pushed out. I can’t tell you the devious games that management play to ‘prove’ that there isn’t a demand for these subjects. Having spoken off the record to students, there IS a demand. But this is diverted through sneaky ploys when students are given ‘advice’ on their subject choices.

The underlying reason for these sneaky power games is political. Right-wing, narrow-minded traditionalists have infiltrated senior management, boards of governors, and local councils. They secretly view the intellectual side of the arts as politically biased and dangerously subversive. This may have been true in the 1970s and 1980s as the Marxists fought their last battles in the system, but it’s a damnable lie now. The arts are the epitome of even-handed analysis and criticism. It’s the right-wing who are the new dangerous subversives, hijacking the education system for political indoctrination.

Religious fundamentalists have narrow artistic values. If their views gain credence, then their values will gain ascendancy. Ultimately, this will restrict artistic freedom of movement (through political indoctrination in schools, direct or indirect censorship in the workplace, and the constricting of the marketplace by corporate monopolies, etc.). Musically, you may have nothing to say about religion. But if you rise to prominence, religion will probably have something to say about your music…

DH: Can I offer a more simple answer? A man called Von Clauswitz, once said "war is a continuation of politics by other means, and politics is a continuation of economics by other means"... for me art is free of economics, because art should be done for the love of art, not the acquisition of money... so no, it can't be linked to politics in anyway shape or form...

Me: There should also be world peace and universal love. Unfortunately, as Hume wryly observed, you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'.

Art is not separate from the world. The world is political. Therefore, art exists within politics - whether the artist agrees or not.

Brecht's point is that apolitical artists unavoidably endorse the status quo. Their intentions are irrelevant. To avoid criticism is to implicitly endorse. In times of broad middle-ground consensus (which are now well and truly over) this isn't a problem. However, when the political and economic system enters a period of crisis, it becomes more contentious.

I'm not pushing artists into making their art carry any political message. I'm simply pointing out an awkward truth. Artists can shrug their shoulders and say that it's not their problem. But I would argue that, sooner or later, it will be.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
(John Donne, Meditation XVII, 1624)

JW: ‎"To the theist, everything is God. To the artist, everything is art. To the scientist, everything is science. To the Marxist, everything is political. To the capitalist, everything is money. To the politician, everything is power. To the philosopher, everything is philosophy."

Really, really nice Chris. I like this quote a lot.

DH: The world is not political, Humans are. Though I agree with most of what you said, I can't swallow the statement that all art exists within politics, because art has been around a hell of a lot longer


Me: I was using the term 'world' to refer to human affairs rather than insentient matter. 'Politics' is the process by which human beings make collective decisions about public affairs (e.g. laws, property, taxation, utilities, etc.) All of these public affairs have a pervasive effect on our personal lives and shape our viewpoints (including our artistic and moral values).

All human affairs are political (including our personal lives) because we live in society. With the exception of the odd hermit or castaway, nobody exists independently of other human beings. There is no 'opt out' from politics. For this reason, as the feminists observed in the 1970s, the personal is the political.

Politics precedes art in the same way that existence precedes essence. Our ape ancestors were engaged in hierarchical intrigues long before they started daubing cave walls and banging tree trunks.

The origins of ceremonies and rituals are shrouded in historical murk, but most seem to be connected with various rites of power (whether natural - as in the worship of environmental phenomena such as the sun or the moon or the seasons, commemorative - as in the funeral of an important person, or inaugural - as in the coronation of a new leader).

Religion and art seem to have evolved out of these power rituals. For most of human history, art and religion have performed complimentary roles - the veneration of power. Only in the last few centuries have the arts broken away from their commemorative role and evolved their own power games.

To reiterate, politics will always shape artistic forms and artistic viewpoints because art and artists are part of human affairs. All human affairs are political.

DC: I know what your getting at but something inside me disagrees. I don't understand how someone can manifest the assumption that all Art is inherently Political. Thats just a really Logical ruined way at looking at it. Seeing as Politics is corrupt and full of condescending beef eaters. I disagree and reiterate that Art is a instinct lover affair that is blessed from with in. All art is spiritual!

Me: I appreciate that's what you WANT art to be. I sympathize. In a better world, that's what it would be. But I'm pointing out the ugly reality. We don't live in that better world. We live in an ugly world. And it's getting uglier.

Whether you like it or not, there's a cultural war going on out there. It's a nasty war, full of propaganda and 'black ops'. If you think I'm over-dramatizing, look at the recent brouhaha about News International.

To twist Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the conspiracy of silence is for artists to say nothing."

Or, to quote Martin Niemöller verbatim:

"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me."

It is what it is.

DH: well, it's all down to opinion man

DC: And the fact that you believe that all art is inherently Political I feel for must make Art very sour maybe you should let go of your rigid human affairs/beliefs and let go and see and feel what Art is. Because it's a whole lot more than some Politically entangled tripe.

DC: PFFFFT MAYBE you should grow some balls and go out there and do a political piece of Art. See how you feel about it...

DC: Yes I understand we live in a very ugly world full of propaganda but ART can make it look beautiful!!!

Me: @DH and @DC, I think that your opinions may benefit from a little more humility and a lot more research ;)

@DH. Not all opinions are equivalent. While none are incontrovertible, some are better than others. It depends on the quality of information being cited and expertise being applied. Thus far, I think I've argued my case with reference to better information and greater expertise. Your responses seem to be based on a simple form of subjectivism (“I know what I like and I like what I know”) which lacks insight, overview and persuasive power.

@ DC I think you're being overly subjective too. Just because awareness of political context may cast a shadow over your enjoyment of art, this doesn't mean that your aesthetic tastes have to hold true for everyone else. Far from souring my experiences, political awareness enhances them.

As for ‘grow some balls and go out there and do a political piece of Art. See how you feel about it...’ – what makes you think that I’m not doing exactly that? See ‘Marty Gull - a surreal, satirical, tragicomic piece of musical political theatre at

As for appreciating art for what it 'is', I would be grateful for any privileged insights you think you can provide here. I once had to write a treatise on the subject. Again, the consensus of expert opinion seems to come down against simple subjectivism. Political context is all...

[Extract from A Philosophy of Drama Education -

“ … The problem with proposing a single definition of art is that we may unintentionally exclude forms which are, nonetheless, recognisable as art and include forms which are recognisably not art.

For example, Tolstoy (cited in Jones, 1994) proposes that art should serve a moral purpose. However, such a proposal fails as a definition of art since it is possible for something to serve a moral purpose without being art (for example, an act of kindness). Conversely, it is possible for art to be amoral (or even immoral) by the moral standards of the time.

Even attempts to define art as an overlap between two joint and necessary conditions (such as imitation and expression) fail because they are unable to account for purely abstract artworks (for example, music).

George Dickie (cited in Cooper, 1992) settles for a value-neutral definition of art as ‘an artefact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public’ (Cooper, 1992,p.112).

I am heavily influenced (although still dissatisfied) with Wittgenstein’s (cited in Barrett, 1978) ‘family resemblance’ concept which recognizes art by strands of similarities rather than common properties. In essence (although it is usually a mistake to reduce Wittgenstein to any essence) art may be recognised by the common use of the term rather than a concept of any common nature.

This approach implies that we should abandon any attempt to define what art is and study (via Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’) the sociological processes by which some thing becomes art (and by whose criteria?).

However, before we turn to a sociological analysis of art in society, I wish to draw attention to an article which has profoundly influenced my philosophical understanding of why theories of art fail. Richard Kamber (1998) observes that theories of art fail not because art is by necessity an ‘open concept’ (users of art are free to change their minds about its use and its meaning) but because we are unable to demonstrate any continuing unity of the concept of art over time.

Kamber believes that in order to show such a continuing unity we would have to explain art in terms of what he calls ‘deep structures’ of the human condition. While there may be many contenders for such a deep structure (human emotions being one), Kamber believes that such theories ‘end up being untestable under any reasonable interpretation of testability’ (Kamber, 1998, p.45)...”

If you would like to know more about aesthetic judgments, I would refer you to ‘Aesthetic judgments’ [specifically objectivism, subjectivism, relativism, and more sophisticated variations thereof] in my dissertation Humour in the Holocaust CHAPTER 1: Introduction. (What are laughter, comedy and humour?). [about half way down]. 

As you may gather, I don’t really need too much advice on how to ‘lighten up’ or ‘have a laugh’. I’m already quite an expert on the subject ;)

DC: All very well said and I haven't read the links as of yet but will. Bye the seems of it your so condensed in your own self-knowledge and knowing for logical facts that your missing the essence of what Art is. The more you plough through this churned up information the more your inbedding yourself away from the source of feeling it. The more logical you become with your understanding and beliefs for life or art the further away you are from the point. I might be Wrong!!! I don't need telling what might be fun or extremely painful they are what they are and both have there purposes and functions for life. If your still looking/researching into what Art is after writing how many thesis on the subject then I recommend you give up now......Because I don't feel your going to find it.

And sorry to be a downer on the links.......I'm just looking at what you said and thinking what a load of Nonsense. If your so sure of yourself and all the knowledge you've acquired over the years feel free to express it but don't force it ...upon others because thats not politically correct? My way of Work is to trust my instincts do what I feel is right (let it be).....I do not seek answers from books or look up explanations on the internet. I do not need to be reassured on what I feel or think...I am not weak for Knowledge ...Knowledge is intolerable....I am strong in my knowing!!!

Me: It's one thing to be told that I don't know what I'm talking about because I haven't researched it. It's quite another thing to be told that I don't know what I'm talking about because I know MORE than the other person! What is the source of your privileged insight?!

Read the links. More importantly, do the thinking. It's a bit more than 'churned up information'. It's expert selection and expert analysis. They don't give out first class honours degrees for copying and pasting Wikipedia!

I once saw Richard Dawkins being interviewed by a creationist. The creationist kept challenging Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Every time Dawkins patiently explained why the creationist's views were completely wrong, and gave impeccable examples of how Evolution worked in practice, the creationist's eyes glazed over. They didn't want to hear. They just wanted to be right.

If Richard Dawkins, with all of his 'churned up information' and 'expert opinion' couldn't get past his painstaking research and just 'see the light', he was to be pitied for missing out on the joy of enlightenment. You can imagine Dawkins' exasperated response. I feel a little bit like that now ;)

Probably the best bit was when the creationist offered some subjective evidence in the form of an anecdote. They described a mystical experience which apparently defied empirical explanation. At the end of the anecdote, the creationist looked challengingly at Dawkins as if they had just proved their argument.

"You're probably going to say that you think I'm deluded, aren't you?" said the creationist.

"Yes, I think you probably are" replied Dawkins.

DC: think we've hit the end of the road on this one. They don't give out first class honors degree's for copying and pasting! I haven't used wikipedia for this conversation and I bailed out of my Contemporary Fine Art Degree because I don't believe in Degree's .I May be deluded in some area's and I may have not amassed the amount of knowledge as the next person. But I do not warrant your overemphasised reasoning for why you Think you are Right! Just because You stated that you have a 1st proves to me why you are wrong. I do not need my knowledge or a degree to help me believe in myself or Art.....I don't need peoples facts,quotes, sayings, writings to back myself up because that is being a fraud.All I need is my INSIGHT&BELIEF&ART!!! I'd rather tell it myself thus staying true .The words research and studied are Very sad tells me that your still looking for something.....I ditched my degree because I knew inside myself what I am and that I didn't need answers or questions to fill the are a glass half empty...I am a glass half full. And To coin this conversation as if you are on Richard Dawkins side and I am the Creationist is nothing but pure prejudices on your behalf and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

I don't think will be having any reasoning here.......As you are so far up your intellectual arse and fraudulent sheeple prophecy that I wish you farewell and wave you good bye!!

Me: Goodbye D. Ad hominem arguments are a sign of intellectual weakness. Your only contribution to this debate has been your own incontrovertible ignorance and self-righteousness.

DC: hahaha..... I'm an Artist I have to be self-righteous! I'm not looking for truth or trying to brain wash people with facts. Everyone is ignorant in some way or form. It just bores me people who think they 'know' more because they've read the facts and are stuck in there logical boring state of minds! Where's the magic, where's the flare - that spark of imagination if you look it up. I guess I see a blank piece of paper as an opportunity! Intellectual weakness I don't think so....I just think your so fare behind me and past it that your flapping about and indulging yourself in old news.....and to whose benefits...your own!! Mountain of minds the accumulation of knowledge with in it's very own confines!! Your an on looker!! ciao

Me: Alright. You've got guts. That's a start ;)

JC: Thanks to facebook, I've been sucked in to this argument. Thank you facebook and thank you J. I think the main problem you are both having is arguing about two completely different things. Chris is trying to analyse art in terms of definition and D is simply arguing that art 'is' what it is. Chris' point is both intellectually sound and with reason, however D needs neither to validate his insight in to what art is. This is always the problem between philosophers and artists and will never be resolved as most of the time both parties think they are arguing about the same thing but they simply are not. Asking the question 'what is time?' is not the same as knowing what time is.

As someone interested in philosophy I am really interested in the points that Chris raised. I do however think that comparing D to a creationalist was a bit unfair (although I know it was a little tongue in cheek). This is because having a debate about whether or not a God exists needs rational thinking and evidential proof. Art however does not need proof. It does exist and we all know that.

D on the other hand I also find very interesting. You can see in his frustration and anger where his inspiration lies. This is perhaps what gives him that artistic spark and I wouldn't want to try to remove that from him. However I do think it's worth saying that I think you need to perhaps try and respect that fact that Chris has given an extremely interesting and challanging insight in to the definition of art and I think he deserves credit for that, not dismissal.

So essentially you should both f*ck off down the pub because that is something that philosophers and artists have in common ;)

JW: It's kind of too late for this discussion for me...but I'll just say that I think this battle going on between an intellectual vs non-intellectual take is pointless. You can be intellectual and a great artist, or you can be completely uneducated and be a great artist. The creator and the creation are in my opinion two very different things.

That said D, by allying yourself so closely to the viewpoint that your anti-intellectualism is so important to your art you're buying into Chris' statement that all art is political. You're fiercly political about your art, in the sense that you are completely anti-establishment. Just something to think about there...

Also it's worth pointing out that the debate got completely derailed at one point and didn't quite get back on track. The original topic was 'is art inherantly political?' - something which requires intellectual and objective analysis. D's attack on Chris was based on the idea that you shouldn't take an intellectual approach to art, but Chris wasn't - he was taking an intellectual approach to the ANALYSIS of art, which is an entirely different thing.

The analysis of art needn't actually be artistic...

JC: The analysis of art needn't actually be artistic..."

... or should it?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

JW: get on skype bitch!

Me: Just to reiterate. It is impossible to say what art 'is'. You're welcome to try. But I predict that you will fail. After 10 years of research and debate, this prediction still has a 100% success rate.

No matter what definition you propose, it will always include things which are not art. It will also exclude things which are art. The only criteria we have for recognition is usage. This immediately places art in the political arena. What type of art is being used? Whose values are being promoted? Whose work is being sidelined? Et cetera. For this reason, art is ALWAYS political. Arguments about passion and individual vision are completely irrelevant here. It 'is' what it is.

Most informal art now takes place through the media. The recent Murdoch news scandal is a timely reminder that ALL media is highly politicized.

[Extract from On Youth and Media Studies

"... The media is a constructed product that mediates between the consumer and the world. Its producers always have an agenda and their own editorial/political outlook, not only in the choice and method of what is presented but also in what is not presented. Reality is represented through somebody else’s outlook, not presented directly. All media should therefore be questioned rather than naively accepted at face value. To buy into any mediated messages and values without considering their underlying structure and agenda would be as unwise as buying a house without arranging your own survey..."

Even if you wish to take refuge from current affairs in the 'timeless' world of high art, you are deluding yourself...

"... Culture as ‘high art’ might be crudely summarized as a traditionalist perspective, being an inherited set of values which are still held to be of value. This then begs questions of whom decides what is of value and what do they mean by value? Value for what? Money? Power? Dominant ideology? Elitist aesthetics?..."

Politics. It's inescapable. Even poor old Father Callahan found that out...

[Extracts from Salem’s Lot, Stephen King, 1976]

But there was more than dullness in the confessional; it was not that by itself that had sickened him or propelled him toward that always widening club, Associated Catholic Priests of the Bottle and Knights of the Cutty Sark. It was the steady, dead, onrushing engine of the church, bearing down all petty sins on its endless shuttle to heaven. It was the ritualistic acknowledgment of evil by a church now more concerned with social evils; atonement told in beads for elderly ladies whose parents had spoken European tongues. It was the actual presence of evil in the confessional, as real as the smell of old velvet. But it was a mindless, moronic evil from which there was no mercy or reprieve. The fist crashing into the baby's face, the tire cut open with a jackknife, the barroom brawl, the insertion of razor blades into Halloween apples, the constant, vapid qualifiers which the human mind, in all its labyrinthine twists and turns, is able to spew forth. Gentlemen, better prisons will cure this. Better cops. Better social services agencies. Better birth control. Better sterilization techniques. Better abortions. Gentlemen, if we rip this foetus from the womb in a bloody tangle of unformed arms and legs, it will never grow up to beat an old lady to death with a hammer. Ladies, if we strap this man into a specially wired chair and fry him like a pork chop in a microwave oven, he will never have an opportunity to torture any more boys to death. Countrymen, if this eugenics bill is passed, I can guarantee you that never again –


The truth of his condition had been becoming clearer and clearer to him for some time now, perhaps for as long as three years. It had gained clarity and resolution like an out-of-focus motion picture being adjusted until every line is sharp and defined. He had been pining for a Challenge. The new priests had theirs: racial discrimination, women's liberation, even gay liberation; poverty, insanity, illegality. They made him uncomfortable. The only socially conscious priests he felt at ease with were the ones who had been militantly opposed to the war in Vietnam. Now that their cause had become obsolete, they sat around and discussed marches and rallies the way old married couples discuss their honeymoons or their first train rides. But Callahan was neither a new priest nor an old one; he found himself cast in the role of a traditionalist who can no longer even trust his basic postulates. He wanted to lead a division in the army of - who? God, right, goodness, they were names for the same thing - into battle against EVIL. He wanted issues and battle lines and never mind standing in the cold outside supermarkets handing out leaflets about the lettuce boycott or the grape strike. He wanted to see EVIL with its cerements of deception cast aside, with every feature of its visage clear. He wanted to slug it out toe to toe with EVIL, like Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier, the Celtics against the Knicks, Jacob against the Angel. He wanted this struggle to be pure, unhindered by the politics that rode the back of every social issue like a deformed Siamese twin. He had wanted all this since he had wanted to be a priest, and that call had come to him at the age of fourteen, when he had been inflamed by the story of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who had been stoned to death and who had seen Christ at the moment of his death. Heaven was a dim attraction compared to that of fighting - and perhaps perishing - in the service of the Lord.

But there were no battles. There were only skirmishes of vague resolution. And EVIL did not wear one face but many, and all of them were vacuous and more often than not the chin was slicked with drool. In fact, he was being forced to the conclusion that there was no evil in the world at all but only evil - or perhaps (evil). At moments like this he suspected that Hitler had been nothing but a harried bureaucrat and Satan himself a mental defective with a rudimentary sense of humour - the kind that finds feeding firecrackers wrapped in bread to seagulls unutterably funny.

The great social, moral, and spiritual battles of the ages boiled down to Sandy McDougall slamming her snot-nosed kid in the corner and the kid would grow up and slam his own kid in the corner, world without end, hallelujah, chunky peanut butter. Hail Mary, full of grace, help me win this stock-car race.

It was more than dull. It was terrifying in its consequences for any meaningful definition of life, and perhaps of heaven. What there? An eternity of church bingo, amusement park rides, and celestial drag strips?

He looked over at the clock on the wall. It was six minutes past midnight and still no sign of Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. Not even Mickey Rooney. But the E-Vap had had time to set. Now he would vacuum it up and Mrs Curless would not look at him with that expression of pity, and life would go on. Amen.

DC: PFFFT Bunch of intellectuals nattering on!!! ;-) @J The analysis of art needn't actually be artistic or should it?... Well at the core of that questions I think an Artistic mind would approach a piece of art in a totally different light... and would have greater insight into the subject.At the end of the day it's an Interpretation and who has the greatest value or openness to what Art is. And from an arrogant self inflicted twisted Artist point of view I feel we are more tuned in on what Art can be and the process of making it. Unlike a normal logical mind might take it for what they see! Its how you interpretate it...... who would have the better analysis Einstein or Dali? @J & Chris an intellectuals approach to the analysis of art will always be second base. The artist and his work will always come first. Chris may of been taking a intellectual approach to the analysis of art, which is fare doe's But an artist's soul should be consumed by Art therefore he will never be outside feeding on left over intellectual nonsense. Whether Chris gave a good definition of art or not...I still dismiss it. As I feel it's not in touch with what art is. It may be for a intellectual/logical point of view so they can try and grasp something they don't REALLY understand. Unlike a true artist they don't doubt or even conceive the concept of what art is......and why should they if their the creator of it.

Me: D, this is meaningless gibberish! Something along the lines of "I'm right because I know I'm right, and all the thoughts and ideas and books and debates and documentaries and evidence of a thousand experts shrivels into nothingness before the supernova of my criterialess genius..." I had fun writing that ;)

DC: And J I can understand the argument that all art is inherently political but i feel it misses the point of what Art actually is........and just because neither of you actually understand Art. Your using logical reasoning to try and grasp... what art is. we are all looking for answers to give us reason but saying art is inherently political isn't a reason for why it is here nor is it an answer. I don't know but i feel the assumption that art is inherently political is an awfully sad way of Looking at it.

JC: Ok, so I'm just gonna chuck my opinion in there. No, all art isn't inherently political. Why? I accidently drop my camera on the floor and it happens to take a picture. For some reason, I don't know why, the picture is takes is incredible. ...I show it to my friends and they all admire this picture and take inspiration from it.

Accidental art. Created out of chance, not politics.

(Unfortunately not a true story)

@D, 'who whould have the better analysis Einstein or Dali?'

Ok, I see your point but I simply don't understand it. So an artist has more insight? Well why do you assume Einstein isn't an artist? Perhaps if after this conversation I publish my dropped camera picture is will become incredibly famous and I will be well known in the artistic world for years to come. If that happens then I will be a better artist than you and therefore my argument is more valid... right?

Me: The 'dropped camera' argument fails to avoid the political ground. It doesn't matter whether an artwork is created by intention or accident, my point still stands. The photo is only art if it is recognized as art. The recognition of art is an inherently political process. Q.E.D.

Regarding intellectuals and art, the genius physicist Richard Feynman waxes lyrical here. The musings of a mind on the same genius level as Einstein are well worth a minute and a half of your time here.

Ode on a Flower

I would simply transpose Feynman's observations from scientists to intellectuals in general. The beauty of art is as available to my senses as it is to the anti-intellectual's. They don't have superior senses. However, I do have superior knowledge. I can thus make connections that they can't. Ergo, the intellectual is capable of a deeper appreciation of art than the anti-intellectual. Q.E.D.

DC: @J nice Idea. The Great minds of the past and present whether it be in science or the arts are all noted for there contribution and understanding of the subject. Einstein had an exceptional mind and Dali did too but they both ended up in different fields of work. But yet both were highly imaginative and pushed there subjects into new realms.....But I would have to say Einstein had the more profound mind...So I would say Einstein. @Christ the recognition of art isn't a inherently political process but I know what your getting at but I can't entirely agree with it ' unfortunately'. Yet I understand why and how it is deemed to be inherently political.....but thats not the way to look at art nor should it be a way think about art.

Me: The recognition of art IS an inherently political process for the many reasons and examples I have already given. This point has not been refuted. To simply assert the opposite is not a logical argument. Saying that's not what art 'should' be is not a valid argument either. As said before, you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is'.

With what authority can you instruct others on how to look at and think about art? Do you claim a privileged insight? In what ways do you think that your aesthetics are superior to mine? How do you know? Have you read enough to understand my aesthetics?

Why should a narrower perspective be superior to a broader one? What are your criteria? Are your aesthetics without flaw? Are they beyond criticism?

Clearly it is impossible to discuss art without discussing aesthetics. If you discuss aesthetics, you discuss values, and values are political ideas (influences over the the way other people think and feel).

Are you objecting to art being inherently political because you don't 'like' the idea? If so, why don't you like it? Even so, what has your 'like' got to do with it anyway? Either it is or it isn't. I've demonstrated that it is. You've only demonstrated that you don't like it.

DC: Ok can you demonstrate to me why works of Anthony Goldsworthy are inherently Political? I'm sure you'll be able to find a reasonable answer. I definitely Don't like it but I understand why many intellectuals have come up with that assumption. Art is a social Language and it's connected to everything we do. It has influenced us and we've influenced it. whether it be an art works aesthetics or the site it's been placed. It will always conjure up questions many of them can relate to Politics in some shape or form. But questioning a piece of work in such light definitely withdraws from the work unless it's intensions where to do so. Politics is a dirty! it's about authority and power, which can govern social relations, social spectrums etc But Art isn't that (it can be) and I feel personally that it can be the opposite of that. Art doesn't need to be tied down to this or that doesn't need peoples governance or authority to say what it actually is.....once you start over analysing something i think you end up missing the point of it. I don't look at a Gauguin portrait and think politics I look at it and I see a Man, an Artist. @Chris " With what authority can you instruct others on how to look at and think about art? And just because you've read, studied and eventually passed a certain amount of information through your dairyair it allows you to 'think' not have more knowledge/power......I don't know I have Football to play now....and will be brain dead later!!! Your argument has everything going for it because it's logical and it's been built up over time......But I still feel it's been touched by something that needn't be expressed. Art has the power of over throwing politics thats for sure...anyway Laters!!might come back with something later!!

JC: @ Chris, Perhaps recognition of art is inherently political. But then at the same time all art is comedy as everyone is influenced by comedy at least once in their... life...

I don't know, but I guess for me this debate is becoming more and more meaningless. I can agree with you in terms of logic that art must be inherently political... but essentially I don't agree because for me a statement like 'all art is inherently political' means that all art is created with a political meaning.

Please don't get me wrong though Chris. I do find your input very interesting. However I don't want to fall into the trap of arguing semantics to the point that language becomes meaningless.

Me: My response: You're almost there! In essence, I'm just expanding on Roland Barthes' "Death of the Author". However, like you, I have no wish to wander into the forests of semiotics. The debate would never be seen again!

Instead of getting bogged down in deconstructionism, I'll just twist a Barthesian quote:

"To give art an artist and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it is to impose a limit on that art."

In other words, I think you're putting the artist before the art and getting overly attached to the artist's intentions. These may well be apolitical. But so what?

Suppose I walked into the Israeli Knesset wearing a T-shirt portrait of Adolf Hitler? Or walked into the Iranian parliament wearing the Star of David? Suppose I claimed that my only intention was ironic playfulness and freedom of expression? I think you can guess the 'artistic reception'...

My point is that the artist's intentions are only one factor. The context in the above scenarios is obviously highly politicized. However, my point is that ALL artistic contexts are political (whether the artist has a political message or not).

Art cannot exist in a vacuum. Whatever the artist's intentions, art is inherently political. This is not the same as saying that the ARTIST is inherently political.

(Actually, I would also argue that the artist IS always inherently political - they may just not be consciously aware of it. But that's for another debate...)

Me: As an addendum, it's noticeable that 'great art' (whatever that may be!) is continually relevant because different eras adapt it to their political contexts. Shakespeare is ALWAYS relevant, not because of his original intentions but because directors and actors are always inventing new interpretations. Shakespeare's art will probably always be 'universal' for this reason. Music may be the 'purest' of the art forms, but theatre is the most hermeneutic.

JW: "So, ultimately, art is more political than everyday activities precisely because it is not an everyday activity. Heightened awareness and aesthetic value judgments tap into everything that makes human beings 'political animals'."

For many, art is a passtime, something recreational. Many people probably get the same sense of community or hightened awareness as you get from theatre by playing football, or sitting in a busy park. What is an every day activity to some may not be to others, so to conclude that art is more political than an every day activity because it isn't an every day activity is to stray from the realms of objectivity. More to the point, to say that art is political because it envokes value judgements is like saying that the choice between prefer your eggs scrambelled or fried is a political decision. I just don't buy it. :) Just because value judgements are fundamenetal to politics, doesn't mean that all aesthetic value judgements ARE political. It's like, eggs are neccessary to make cakes, therefore anything with eggs in is a cake. I'm loving the eggs analogy at the moment! (ten points if you can guess what I just ate for dinner).

You said earlier that art becomes art when percieved as such. If you, the obeserver, are creating any art you see, and you have an interest in politics, it's highly unsuprising that all art is political to you. But I think you're projecting your own interests into art as a whole. In fact, for you to say "Something becomes art when we choose to recognize it as such" is surely to go against the idea of art being inherantly anything?

Me: My response: If a person engages with art on a superficial level (merely as recreation and enjoyment) then this means that they are not operating at the level of heightened aesthetic awareness. Consequently, their political awareness is not heightened either. However, this is not the same as saying that the artwork no longer has political significance. At the sub-conscious level, it is still operating on the person’s value judgments, most insidiously at the level of ‘common sense’.

For example, Hollywood action films of the 1980s fixated on muscle-pumped mavericks kicking foreign arse. This coincided with the Reagan administration’s more assertive foreign policy stance after America’s recuperation from the trauma of Vietnam. After the introspective angst of films like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, it became payback time. Rambo went back to ‘Nam to rescue hostages without one hand tied behind his back by ‘whining liberals’. The Pentagon even set up a special department to deal with the film studios. You want an aircraft carrier? No problem. So long as we can vet the script … The armed forces (and military intervention) worked on creating a populist hi-tech image through films like Top Gun.

My point here is that even if people aren’t consciously aware of aesthetics and value judgments, they are still in operation. If anything, they are more effective when they work at the sub-conscious level. Art is still more political than everyday activities because it either challenges or reinforces our value judgments - even if we remain indifferent to the artwork itself.

Artistic taste is different from food taste because food taste is primarily a physical sensation whereas art is primarily an emotional and intellectual sensation. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. But you can win an election by egging the audience on to admire particular qualities. Popular entertainment is probably the most political of all the art forms. That’s why it’s used so frequently in wartime for propaganda.

We’ve now shifted the debate from ‘high art’ to ‘popular culture’. This is quite a complex area…

“… Culture as ‘high art’ might be crudely summarized as a traditionalist perspective, being an inherited set of values which are still held to be of value. This then begs questions of whom decides what is of value and what do they mean by value? Value for what? Money? Power? Dominant ideology? Elitist aesthetics?”


“… However, it does not necessarily follow that informal or common culture is therefore entirely voluntary. We must concede that an individual’s freedom of choice will be restricted by circumstantial factors. These range from the alleged abilities of some mass media to manipulate choices (e.g. through advertising) to the limits imposed by available disposable income (or lack of it) and, particularly in the case of young people, the directions and boundaries of style adopted by their peer group(s)…”

So, I would argue that both ‘high art’ and ‘popular culture’ are inherently political.

Audience response to art is another complex area. The ‘hypodermic’ model of passive response has long been discredited by research. It’s more of an interactive process. The presentation of the artwork is a projection of the producer’s political values (whether conscious or subliminal). My response to the artwork is a projection of my political values. I may have a heightened awareness of this process, but I would argue that the same process is going on with everybody else. It’s inescapable.

If you are objective then you are recognizing the rules of composition. However, the moment you respond to the artwork then you are going one step further. You are making a value judgment.

If you are subjective then you are experiencing personal pleasure or displeasure. However, it is a matter of common experience that artistic pleasure is enhanced when shared. If another person shares our appreciation, there is an additional pleasure to be experienced from discussing the features of the artwork and our responses to them. If the other person doesn’t share our appreciation, we make value judgments about their taste and ours. We often feel compelled to justify our tastes and to persuade others.

Then it gets a bit complicated…

Aesthetic judgments

I still maintain that art is a heightened awareness of our humanity. Even at its most trivial and sub-conscious recreational level, we are making telling choices about our identity as a ‘political animal’.

If I like or dislike eggs, this tells you nothing more than that I like or dislike eggs. My food taste has little political significance (apart, possibly, from my wealth). However, my aesthetic taste is far more revealing. If I prefer ‘traditionalist’ art then this preference comes complete with underlying messages and values. Ditto ‘progressive’ art. I like examples from both genres, which is even more telling. I even like artworks that contradict my political viewpoints. This is where audience response becomes complex. People can react to artworks in different ways.

From my post on Richard Feynman’s ‘Ode On A Flower’:

“Similarly, when I respond to art, I don't have to restrict myself to one level of response.

In Film and Media Studies we often analyze works of art through three different lenses:

Dominant/Preferred Reading (the artist’s agenda);

Oppositional Reading (the audience creating their own meanings);

Negotiated Reading (a mixture of the two).

All three perspectives yield valuable insights. They bring the artwork to life in interesting ways. After a while, you get used to 'reading' art in all three ways at the same time. This only enhances my appreciation. As Feynman says, it only adds. I don't see how it subtracts.”

Shakespeare said (through Hamlet) that the purpose of art “both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, a ‘twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

Brecht countered with a more interactive response: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

You can take your pick. But either way, it’s a political mirror.

JW: "If I like or dislike eggs, this tells you nothing more than that I like or dislike eggs. My food taste has little political significance (apart, possibly, from my wealth). However, my aesthetic taste is far more revealing."

I really think you're dismissing subjectivity into what consitutes art here. I think a chef would disagree with how you look down on their art so much as to not even call it aesthetic. Taste is a sense, just like hearing or seeing, and actually (along with smell) is the most direct and powerful of the senses. I'm sure at some point in your life you would have been moved by the whiff of a familiar scent?

"If I prefer ‘traditionalist’ art then this preference comes complete with underlying messages and values. Ditto ‘progressive’ art. I like examples from both genres, which is even more telling. I even like artworks that contradict my political viewpoints. This is where audience response becomes complex. People can react to artworks in different ways."

This just says it all, I think. As a fan of Wittgenstein I find it hard to believe that you can call anything a message which conveys two opposing meanings at once! "I enjoy traditional art, therefore I have progressive political views or I don't". It's not much of a statement. :)

I also think for the sake of discussion that using examples such as Hollywood film isn't really fair. If the argument that all art is political should work at then, then it must work with asbtract art in the most unsociable of situations (for instance, if I'm playing a piano improvising in my house with nobody else there). Appealing to the social nature of a crowd as a way of proving that all art is political I think is actually kind of avoiding the real question. It must be something within the art itself that is political, or there is nothing inherantly political about art at all.

Me: I agree that food can be a powerful stimulus to the senses. What’s interesting about food is that it appeals to different senses from most art forms. Art mostly stimulates the eye and the ear and the mind. Food primarily stimulates our senses of taste and smell and texture. Additionally, food is vital for physical survival while art is more concerned with mental well-being.

I don’t dispute that cuisine can be elevated into an aesthetic art form. However, the more that we shift food toward art, the more we imbue it with a political significance. The very act of refining a necessity into a luxury is a highly political statement. Food is transformed into a status symbol.

Also, by choosing to focus on food as pleasure, we are choosing not to focus on food as subsistence. This is another significant political act. If I juxtaposed two photographs – one of wealthy, corpulent diners in a lavish restaurant enthusing over their haute cuisine – and the other of a starving orphan squatting hopelessly in the dirt in the Third World – the political significance of food would become obvious.

“As a fan of Wittgenstein I find it hard to believe that you can call anything a message which conveys two opposing meanings at once! …” As mentioned earlier, audience response is a complex phenomenon. For example, Kant linked mutually exclusive viewpoints by giving the aesthetic paradox of objectivism and subjectivism the structure of an ‘antinomy’.

“… Kant linked these two seemingly mutually exclusive viewpoints by giving this paradox the structure of an 'antinomy' (a contradiction existing between two apparently indubitable propositions). The key to understanding how these opposing viewpoints can co-exist is in Kant's emphasis on the 'free play' of the imagination which characterizes aesthetic judgments. In essence, this means that the spectator's imagination is free to introduce concepts which are not inherent in the text and then rationally defend such a judgment by reference to the feelings aroused by these concepts.

Thus, as the twentieth-century philosopher Roger Scruton notes:

'The free play of imagination enables me to bring concepts to bear on an experience that is, in itself, 'free from concepts'. Hence, even though there are no rules of taste, I can still give grounds for my aesthetic judgment. I can give reasons for my pleasure, while focusing on the singularity which is its cause.'


Your last point really brings us full circle. Art may or may not contain a political message. This is not the point. Art’s essential political nature is not so much an internal ingredient as an external menu. By choosing not to make a political statement, an artist is unavoidably adopting a political stance that favours the status quo. By choosing not to view a work of art in its political context, an audience is adopting a political stance that favours the status quo. Even if your appreciation of art is a solitary, abstract pleasure, this is still a politically significant act.

Because art has no precise definition, it is always context-specific. Each context brings its own connotations and complications. But no matter what example and context you introduce, we will always return to the same point. Whatever the messages and values of a particular artwork – even an abstract one that is designed to appeal only to the senses – art is a political activity which either challenges or reinforces the status quo. That is why it has been – and always will be – prone to patronage and censorship and manipulation by political forces. No artist or audience can escape from this political context. They can either acknowledge it, or ignore it. Both courses of action have unavoidable political significance.

Me: [An artistic example of the political significance of food and art (and 'natural law')...]

A Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mice
© Chris Port, 2010

The mouse reared up
before the cat
and raised a steady paw,
and said
“Before we come to that
we first must come to Law.”

“Before my Maker
I am pleased
to have God-given right
to liberty,
a little cheese,
and certainly my life.”

The cat was rapt,
her nose was wet,
her eyes suppressed a cough;
then quite expectedly
she bent
and bit his head clean off.

And as she sat
upon the mat
digesting food for thought,
she mused
“The only truth is that
rich words are for the poor.”

Smile, and say "Cheese..."?

Food for thought...

The mouse reared up

Me: ‎"Atheist apolitical art? There's a contradiction in there somewhere. Why spit out a palatable lie only to deny an unpalatable truth?" ~ Marty Gull

Me: “Art for art’s sake? That’s like saying “food for food’s sake”. Or “sex for sex’s sake”. Food and sex are about as political as you can get. Without food, we die. And without sex, our genes die.

Food may grow on trees. But the trees grow on somebody else’s property. And they want money for it.

As for sex? Well that’s the most natural thing in the world. Until sexual intrigue tip-toes into the bedroom. Like a razor-clawed Santa Claus in lingerie.

Oh where would art be without intrigue? Art is just the bastard love child of food and sex. ” ~ Marty Gull

Me: Just watched a mesmerising documentary about art on BBC4. We Are Making a New World, first of 3 episodes on British Masters. Tonight covered immediately before and after the First World War, from Sickert’s East End murder portraits to Nash’s battlefield hell and Spencer’s chapel fresco resurrection. Stunning, terrifying, enthralling, thought-provoking and deeply moving. Highly recommended. It's on BBC iPlayer.​ammes/b012hrcn

Me: The art of politics...

Onward, Politicians
© Chris Port, 18th July 2011
(To the tune of Onward, Christian Soldiers
- original music by Arthur S. Sullivan, original lyrics by Sabine Baring-Gould)

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag
See the mogul Murdoch, legal as the shark
Bleeding in the water, murder in the dark

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

At first sign of trouble, advertising flees
Go then Rupert Murdoch, go down on your knees
Law’s foundation trembles at the spread of rot
Cleanse the nation’s temples on this curséd spot

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

Like stampeding arseholes saving their own arse
Sacred cows are running into abattoirs
Parties are divided, factious are the tribes
Pieces of the action, buying peace with bribes

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

Newspapers may perish, nations rise and fall
But the corporations always make the call
Parliaments will always vote for their money
Men just float tiny boats on their lawless sea

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

Listen then you Gleesters to your happy songs
Little sips of Lethe, drowning out all wrongs
Money pulls the drawstrings of your puppet grins
Whores of Orwell singing, hanging out washing

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

* * * * *

See also:

Rupert the Shark

Hey Gove (A Peaceful Song For The Summer)

Dead and Circuses

Me: See also:

100 Thousand Poets for Change​00thousandpoetsforchange/
From a comment thread on The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Official) Facebook page at!/permalink.php?story_fbid=200365803353447&id=8798180154
[Extract from 'Thomas Kinkade: Is the “Painter of Light” also a “Painter of the Right”?' at http://www.washingtonpost.​com/blogs/​inkade-is-the-painter-of-l​ight-also-a-painter-of-the​-right/2011/03/21/ABjwTSDB​_blog.html]

In “Painter of the Right: Thomas Kinkade’s Political Art,” Micki McElya declares that Kinkade’s “art, message, and persona have resonated with conservatives who understand themselves to be locked in an epic cultural battle for the soul and future of the nation.”

“At the same time, his political art has been widely popular because it is rarely marketed as such overtly,” McElya writes.

McElya, an assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut, goes on to write that his “images operate as potent and penetrating conservative propaganda” and that his “vision of nostalgic nationalism bathed in God’s light is widely representative of the suburban, racial, sexual, and economic politics of the Right . . . promoting whiteness, normative heterosexuality, Christianity, middle-class aspirations, and free-market radicalism as the core of ‘American values.’ ”

Kinkade’s conservative and religious beliefs are no secret. He visited George W. Bush several times in the White House and has spoken publicly about his Christian faith. But in recent works, like “Symbols of Freedom” (set in Washington) and “Hometown Pride” (a flag waves from a house), McElya argues that Kinkade has moved beyond merely inspirational and nostalgic imagery to adopt “the rhetorics of the Right” that seek “to equate ‘freedom’ with the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, and freewheeling global capitalism.”

For instance, “Where [Norman] Rockwell focused on individual Americans and private scenes, such as the iconic family Thanksgiving image depicting ‘Freedom From Want,’ Kinkade offers federal offices and centralized authority like the Department of Agriculture.”
The more I look at Kinkade’s work, the more I seem to see Third Reich chocolate boxes. As an emetic, here are some grin-worthy spoofs…

Do you see what I see?
BBC News Science and Environment

Fascinating. Further evidence to support the proposition that all art is inherently political?

'...This awareness, possibly more than anything else, provides an irrefutable argument for celebrating diversity, rather than fear in conformity...'


  1. 'But music and politics have always mixed'
    The Guardian, 21 September 2011

    ' ... there's a bigger question about music and politics at stake. You can't separate the two, and the attempt to try is itself political. To pretend that the performance, reception, and composition of music are activities that exist in a separate realm from the social and political realities of the world is a dangerous, utopian fantasy. If it were true, music (classical music especially) would only ever have the possibility of being an aesthetic entertainment, as opposed to the foment of ideas, emotions, and poetry that it really is.'


    Sam Harris (world famous neuroscientist philosopher) is offering his critics a chance to put up or shut up. He's offered a cash prize of $20,000 (about £12,800) to anyone who can convincingly refute his central argument for a scientific morality.

    Assuming no-one can refute him, there's a consolation prize of $2,000 (about £1,280) for the most interesting response.

    See FAQs in link for further details. Closing date for entries is 9 February 2014, so you've got time to buy his book and boost his royalties.


    Hmmm… Traditionally, science has been regarded as descriptive and morality as prescriptive. But science is also predictive. So, in Sam’s moral landscape, do good* predictions = good** prescriptions?

    * Falsifiable
    ** Beneficial

    Possibly. But if they’re truly equivalent, does it work vice versa? This leads out onto some very thin ice…

    The real question is always “Cui bono” (to whose benefit?). So I suspect that Sam’s thesis could only be refuted by reference to de facto cynicism rather than de jure principle (i.e. selectivity and performativity)


    I don’t actually want to refute Sam’s thesis (fortunately for me). I just want to qualify it (modesty is my only flaw). But, in order to qualify it, I’ll have to fail to refute it in a way that grabs his interest. So, all I’m really looking for is a fascinating aesthetic conundrum at the heart of his argument…

    See also:

    Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

    First Draft PhD Proposal

    Woolwich Threads

    A Crash Course in Aesthetics

    Metamodernist Case Notes on a Think Tank Thread: Why Us and Why Now?

    Notes on Metamodernism: The Pit and the Pendulum...

    The Name of the Ghost

    Teachers Talking Rot (1 of 2)

    Teachers Talking Rot (2 of 2)

    See also: "Perhaps description is the key?"

    Marty Solves One of the Problems of the Universe

  3. WG: If morality evolved for the purpose of fostering community, can we deduce anything about what is moral/immoral without committing the naturalistic fallacy? If so, what?

    Naturalistic fallacy

    CP: Assuming evolution (and discounting intelligent design) we would be committing a teleological fallacy if we claimed that morality evolved for any purpose.

    See Teleological Argument

    It would be less erroneous if we simply claimed that community evolved as a successful survival strategy. From this we can deduce that morality evolved from a natural hierarchical pecking order into etiquette.

    See Etiquette

    The problem of the 'Naturalistic Fallacy' arises because of a manmade distinction between natural and manmade.

    This distinction seems to be an inverted form of the anthropomorphic/pathetic fallacy.

    See Pathetic Fallacy

    Man (i.e. homo sapiens) evolved IN the natural world. However, our intelligence evolved as another successful survival strategy. Eventually, this sapient differential resulted in misrecognition. We began to see ourselves as SEPARATE from the natural world.

    However, this separation is a fallacy. In (physical) reality, sentience is an emergent phenomenon. The artificial is still part of the natural world.

    From our initial premises, we can deduce that morality (i.e. evolved etiquette) can only exist in higher level consciousness. Therefore, we can deduce that morality is a complex emergent property.

    After that, we can only deduce that we are playing Wittgensteinian language games.

    See Language-game (philosophy)

    In 'The Moral Landscape', Sam Harris proposes we should discard cultural relativism and quantify these language games in terms of 'the well-being of conscious creatures'. It's a logical deduction and a valid premise.

    See 'The Moral Landscape'

    Whether his arguments are sound is still up for grabs though.


    CP: If morality is ‘the well-being of conscious creatures’, then consciousness must precede well-being.

    This is a one-way logic gate. We can talk of consciousness without well-being, but it makes no sense to talk of well-being without consciousness.

    Ergo, existence must precede essence (sans Sartrean Free Will).

    Ergo, survival must precede morality.

    But survival of what? Individuals, communities, genes, or memes?

    These qualities are entangled and interdependent. But which is most important?

    Ironically, we cannot be equitable from first principle here. Unfortunately, we do not live in a deathless paradise. Therefore, in the physical universe, we can only talk of survival and morality in terms of priorities (e.g. dilemmas or conflicts of interest).

    The scientific method can quantify well-being. But can it qualify existential priorities? If not, then a scientific morality without aesthetic qualification has no system of prioritization.

    Ergo, does ‘scientific morality’ encounter similar inconsistencies to those identified in Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems?

    Raatikainen, Panu, "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)