"art's...inherent political progressivity."?

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at SPAMprimenet.com
Thu Nov 2 14:50:42 MST 2000

Greetings Comrades,
    I didn't get involved with Charles Brown's first e-mail, but I wanted to
point out some facets of what makes many artists progressive (intuitively).
When someone wants to realistically communicate about oppression and class
then that person will be drawn toward progressivity.  Since the majority of
artists will be drawn from the working class, then the majority of what
arises from their interests is their history in where they came from.

    Marxism has a strong relationship to realism (materialism) in a
philosophical sense.  Often times art is produced by uneducated people who
want to try to say their understanding without necessarily understanding the
full implications of their art.   But the example of what successfully says
(in a realistic manner) what someone experiences is a powerful source of
direction in what the worker wants to say.  Hence someone who articulates
the inchoateness of many workers is a very powerful voice for many people.
This is also a response to the impoverishment that most workers experience,
where the tools to express oneself are not available.  So that a rare
resource has multiple influences because it allows a voice to what can't be
expressed otherwise.

    One of the most important parts of materialism is that part which tells
us how to clearly show what we want to say.  For example, working class
people will have photographs of their families on their walls and desks and
other personal surfaces.  They want to show their social relationships.  The
pictorial realism of photographs arises from a materialist system of
production.  In this sense where cameras and computers bypass hand skills
the realism of the images allows workers to celebrate their own lives
without the intermediation of the exploiters who control the commercial
outlets, and this in turn strengthens the workers ability if circumstances
arise to put together the community in the face of repression.  Hence a
sense of workers intuition of how to say what they want to say.  See the
blues as an example in music of such arisings.

    There are of course forms of art like music which are not realistic.
And there are artist like Picasso (a member of the French CP) who weren't
realists, though Picasso often said perhaps disingenuously he was a realist.
For example in the U.S. Hip Hop and related expressions of Black culture
rely upon a lot of formal manipulations of sound and poetic speech which are
not easy to follow in understanding the content.  Content understanding is
fundamental to realism, but solidarity often also arises from how people
feel.  The powerful sense that a body gives one of human contact through
motion is how human beings fundamentally understand human relationships.  If
you don't believe that ask yourself why a sexual partner is so important if
understanding what they say is the most important part of being lovers.   Or
the stupendous acts of solidarity in funerals in South Africa against
apartheid where tens of thousands of people danced and ran together to
protest against the racist regime.  Or the firing of rifles over the graves
of martyrs in Ireland, Palestine, etc,.  Or the bearing upon mourners
shoulders those dead Palestinians as Israeili's shoot to death youths for
throwing rocks.

    Finally because artists have a special skill for articulating the
communicative needs of the people, when their voice speaks to people of the
class systems outrages their voices can be as powerful as is a military
dictatorship opposed to that voice.  See Fela in Nigeria.  Fela had no
program per se to follow, though the Black Panther Party in the U.S. had
great influence upon him at one time.  Intuition has to follow from knowing
that there is no recipe to follow in struggle, but the constant struggle to
articulate the current reality and throw off the chains.
Doyle Saylor

More information about the Marxism mailing list