Following my January blog entry asking, “Where is the Political Art?” I have been thinking more about this issue. I am interested in writing more blog entries about political art. People have told me quietly that my search for political art is misguided because good political art is so rare.
I have tried various ways of writing about political art. Writing about Melbourne’s public sculpture as a demonstration of the collective consciousness has provided a longer view of Melbourne’s culture and politics. Examining the history of these sculptures and their commissions tells more about politics than political issue based art – I will return to explain why. Writing about street art provides a different focus on political issues, as well as, an arena where political activism mixes with art. I have written an article about political graffiti and I reported on a forum about politics and street art at Sweet Streets. I have been disappointed by most of the other political art that I’ve seen this year. 2010 was a year of mild art controversies, compared to the heat of previous years; there was the storm in teacup with Sam Leach’s Wynn Prize controversy and even Van Rudd’s run for federal parliament was mild.
Subscribing to A Cultural Policy Blog provided me with a bigger picture of the mainstream politics of arts policy. I have also been exchanging emails with Sydney based artist, Stephen Copland about political art. “The word Political is often misunderstood as is the Romanticism but that is a long story.” Stephen Copland wrote to me. The extent of this long dark shadow of Romanticism is described in Philip Pilkington’s excellent blog entry about Gabriele D’Annunzio. (Reading about D’Annunzio’s exploits will disturb the ossification of your political thinking if you are right wing, left wing or anarchist.)
Copland suggested that I consider Arthur Danto’s essay 1984 “The End of Art” (I was already familiar with the essay from my thesis research). “The End of Art” Arthur C. Danto The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (Columbia University Press, 1986) and I had just finished reading this essay when I visited “Contemporary Encounters” at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia.
“Contemporary Encounters” is art from the NGV’s collection acquired through the Victorian Foundation for Living Artists. As I was looking at the exhibition I kept on thinking about Arthur Danto’s point that art history only makes sense going in one direction and wondering if this collection would make sense if it was from 26 years ago (in 1984 when Danto wrote “The End of Art”). Certainly the technology, the flat screen video monitors and the tiny video cameras, used in Ian Burn’s assemblage would have been larger and more expensive in 1984 but it would not disturb art history as video art as Nam June Paik had already combined assemblages.
In “The End of Art” Danto examines versions of the history of art and in his own Hegelian account of art history has art becoming pure spirit – philosophy – and therefore the end of art. A history of art implies a future for art (or a post historical stasis as the end of art is not a secession). For art to have a future implies a political theory for the direction of art.
Perhaps I need to refine the vague and fuzzy question that I posed to myself – something about political art. What is the grand narrative of art history? Basically, what kind of the story could be told about all of art and how would contemporary art and street art fit into that story? So my conclusion to how to write more about political art is to think and write more about art history.