Sunday, April 25, 2010

What is the Marxist definition of Revolutionary art

The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process. -The German Ideology
In The German Ideology Marx and Engels write, in essence, that for a piece of art (be it literature, comic book, or painting) to be affecting and necessary, the message needs to be easily distinguishable from the artistic material from which it is given to the public. They seem to echo similar concerns that Plato provides in his dialogues. Art, because it is potentially full of “mystification and speculation” detracts from the message it tries to convey. This problem can be seen in anything that is considered mimetic. While this description of art by Marx and Engels does not necessarily provide an especially easy way to interpret art, we can extrapolate their concerns and use them to engage in art from a Marxist perspective. If we do not look at Marx's anxieties about art as a literal disavowal of all art forms, we find that he is perhaps begging his audience for a better, more transparent mode of art that can be used as political tools for revolution.
In a separate work, Marx (Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy) writes that, because we are unable to think outside the confines of our political economy, we must try to define those limits and then stretch and break them as best as possible.
No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.
Although he does not necessarily define it as such, revolutionary art is art that first attempts to define the political economy, then create attempt to instil the possibility of an alternate to the current society in consciousness of both classes (paying particular attention to the bourgeois class).
Moving away from Marx, Benjamin provides a context in which we can look at not only at the Marxist definitions of revolutionary art, but also the affects of the political economy on the production and reception of art. In his essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin suggests that, because of late capitalism our definitions of art have changed. Furthermore, the value of a piece of art is no longer considered to be its affecting charm or image, rather it is now based on our abstracted monetary system where the art is considered valuable only if the powers that be say that it is. For further reference to this, look at the article “Capital Effects” by John Crary where he provides valuable commentary on Benjamin's essay and applies Marxist interpretations of art to actual sales of art in modern times.
This all applies to to what I hope to achieve in this project. Mainly, I wish to show that both Barker and Blake are revolutionaries re Marxist definitions because they both critique the status quo and the political economy by challenging Ruling Class Ideologies and Ideological State Apparatuses in order to achieve definitions of humanity that transcend the capitalist superstructure.

You can find the essays used:
Marx, Karl, Engels Friedrich. “From the German Ideology.” The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism. Ed. Leitch. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 2001
Marx, Karl, Engels Friedrich. “From the Preface to A Contribution of the Critique of Political Economy.” The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism. Ed. Leitch. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 2001
Marx, Karl, Engels Friedrich. “From Commodities.” The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism. Ed. Leitch. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 2001
Crary, Jonathan. “Capital EffectsHigh/Low: Art and Mass Culture. October, Vol. 56, (Spring, 1991), Massachusetts: The MIT Press. pp. 121-131 Stable URL:

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