Revolution & Rebellion

Here’s my speech for Napier & Goulds “What Artists Think About Rebellion” night at the Mac 02/08/2014…

When we hear the word ‘revolution’ today, it usually refers to some technological development. The Ipod has just got smaller. Broadband has just got faster. Cable has just got more channels. All this is to say, that the media powers are developing more efficient ways of monopolising the cultural life of the masses.

When we hear the word ‘rebellion’ today, it is usually manifest in some expensively dressed individual who wears a look on his face that says f-ck you! All this is to say, that the capitalist ethic of self-interest is being drilled into masses of young people by that powerful minority of profiteers.

The language of revolution and rebellion has been co-opted into the consumer capitalist machine. And popular artists have been oddly uncritical of the situation. In fact, we’re complicit. We’ve been making their propaganda for decades.

How gloomy! What shall we do?

The first and most important question is probably this: is there actually cause for a revolution or a rebellion of some kind? I think there is, but we shouldn’t arrive at that conclusion lightly, since revolutions are usually horrible, costly and drastic things.

For now, I would like only to suggest two principles that I think are necessary to rescue popular art from its current impotence and powerlessness.

1. The actual and local manifestation of our work must take primacy over it’s mediation by mass mediums.

Gil Scott Heron said it a long time ago, and I think it’s still true: its almost impossible to for anything truly revolutionary to happen via mass mediums. Revolutions happen when real people really come together around shared beliefs. Mass mediums, on the other hand, are tools of segregation: they keep each in his or her own private space. Artists have a capacity to bring real people together around an idea, but only when we take the trouble to organise and create actual gatherings for work to be shared. Life is richer in time, space and matter. We have the power to bring people together, or we can just create more content for the structures that keep people apart.

(See Arts Manifesto: 16-20)

Popular art is more or less synonymous these days with mass mediums through which they’re sold. That relationship must be broken, if we are to even begin talking of revolution.

2. The artists fundamental purpose must shift from self to other.

It is generally assumed that we artists do what we do because we want a career… we want to build a cult around ourselves and our work. All this is very much in the capitalist spirit of self-interest, which is, of course, very un-revolutionary. But more than that, it is a mindset towards the arts that strips them of all revolutionary potential.

Art can function as an invitation to the people gathered around it. It can invite a group of people to share a feeling, an experience or an idea. It can present people with a question and invite them to answer it. It can present people with a problem and invite them to solve it. It can present people with an issue and invite them to discuss it. It can present people with a conviction and invite them to rise to it. Art can invite people to critical consciousness, solidarity, and even to action. But it can hardly do any of these things as long as people think that the art is not really for them, but for the artist, who really just wishes to further his own little empire. In this case the people are invited to nothing, but to watch an individual climb the cruel mountain of his own ego.

(See Arts Manifesto: 3-4, 11-15, 21..)

Art must once again become a pursuit for the blessing of the community. We must begin to think of our work as gift… as grace… as nourishment for the people that we actually live amongst. The artist must deny self, pick up cross, and work for the blessing of the other. And so I have said elsewhere repentance is the revolution, because repentance is rebellion against self, and self is the god of capitalism

* * *

I leave you, then, with these two principles that I think may help us recover the revolutionary potential of art:

1.To abandon our obsession with top down mediums, in favour of the actual, local manifestation of our work.

2.To abandon our obsession with career, in favour of work that cultivates the life of the people we live amongst.



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