Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

3/03/2005

Subversive art blogging

Art can be used to reinforce the prevailing cultural values and structures. Using art as a tool for maintaining dominant power structures has a long and sometimes shameful history; examples include cultural propaganda such as Socialist Realism, the films of Leni Riefenstahl, as well as Hollywood movies like Top Gun and Pearl Harbor.

But art can be subversive, too.

The first artists to really recognize this were the Avant-Gardes, who rejected the "cultural gatekeepers" of the artistic establishment. Their work resisted the aesthetic values that had been dominant since the Renaissance: the idea that artistic subject matter should always be something noble, and that the measure of an artwork's value was how accurately it depicted reality.

Eventually, artists realized that the subversive potential of their work didn't need to be confined to the artistic community, but that it could be a means of engaging with, and rebelling against, society at large.

This idea inspired many different movements: the Decadent Movement, Die Brücke ("We call all young people together … we want to wrest freedom for our actions and our lives from the older, comfortably established forces"), Futurism ("We will destroy museums and libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism and all utilitarian cowardice"), etc.

But the grand daddy of all subversive movements was of course Dada, a spectacular all-out assault on the status quo. Dada was a reaction to the horrors of WWI, horrors the rest of the world, appallingly, came to accept as a way of life in the 20th century, but which the Dadaists saw as evidence of the utter failure of conventional values.

Dadaists Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Jean Arp, Francis Picabia, and of course my creator Raoul Hausmann, among others, sought to undermine all established values, including what passed as rationality, and to replace them with the values of the anarchic and the primitive. Perhaps most emblematic of this approach is Duchamp's famous L.H.O.O.Q. , which consists solely of a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, only now sporting a nifty goatee.

Subsequent artists managed to capture some of Dada's subversive character. I'm not sure how well the image is going to reproduce, but below is George Grosz's painting Homage to Oskar Panizza:









Grosz once said of his work:

I drew and painted out of a spirit of contradiction, trying in my works to convince the world that it was ugly, sick and mendacious


Otto Dix's painting also exhibited this quality. This is his Cardplaying War-Cripples:










But it took the Surrealists to realize the full subversive potential of art. They were certainly politically rebellious: Andre Breton's idea of an artist was a "visionary in revolt against society."

But this political subversion was a symptom of a larger and more profound subversiveness. What the Surrealists ultimately aspired to was "nothing less than the total transformation of the way people think" by "breaking down the barriers between their inner and outer worlds, and changing the way they perceived reality."

Pretty neat, if you ask me.

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