PM Pick

Art as oppression

I went to see some performance art in Brooklyn (where else?) last night at a bar beneath the Manhattan Bridge. The performances I saw were really good -- creative, ingenious, insightful, etc. -- but the rubric under which they were performed left me feeling annoyed. The aegis of the show was this concept that art is the noble truth of life and commerce/business/work inhibits us from that which is truly important, this selfless, communal pursuit of art. The organizers sought to wave the magic wand of art and make the economy go away, if only for a few hours -- a small thing, but still a great luxury.

The most important thing in life is not to make art; it is to eat. Art becomes important only under several conditions: you are not at a subsistence level of survival, you have been brought up in a manner to sensitize you to aesthetic concerns, you have been coddled and nurtured and encourage to pursue inndividual grandeur, you have received the educational training that allows you to read a cultural moment and understand how to position yourself within it to convey the idea of creativity (which is not some absolute given thing but is determined by context; when you seek to flaunt your creativity, it ceases to be a manner of doing something, a praxis. It becomes instrumental. You commodify it and make it into something you signal with prepackaged gestures). In short a great deal of cultural and social capital must be amassed before one has the luxury to make or consume art; it takes a keen sense of entitlement. So it's especially grating when those so entitled commence to criticize the workaday chumps who are out there "conforming," living their "lives of quiet desperation," who in fact likely gave these people the social capital they needed to be creative in the first place.

Art becomes a negative cultural force when it conceals and naturalizes social inequalities by masking them in an absolute, inherent transcendent aesthetics -- the pretense that art is immediately and readily available to all, and that its appeal is always essentially universal. Such a viewpoint inevitably slides into elitism, implying that those philistines who fail to appreciate art are thus blinding themselves to it, by working or getting hung up on material things. It confuses the turht that one of art's main functions is to delineate class boundaries, to oppress by that rearticulation, to make those Mister Joneses who know something's happening here but don't know what it is feel just how much they don't understand, feel the intensity of their exclusion. This is a painful fact of a hierarchical society, and artists who seek to wish it into the cornfield are only aggrevating the situation, unwittingly shunting the blame onto the excluded. Art is a tool of oppression at least as often as it is a tool of liberation. Pretending art should be a mandatory priority for everyone certainly makes it the former.

Obviously people shouldn't stop making art; but these artists shouldn't pretend that art made from the bosoms of bourgeois comfort and ersatz bohemianism is going to help the underprivileged either.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image