Art as Revolution


More things in draft form. Slept on this, and did a 1.1 pass on the “But what about art that, while corporate-produced, challenges dominant hegemonies?” section.

– If all roads towards making art that isn’t inherently corporate are road-blocked by capital itself, then the terms and conditions for making this specific sort of art are essentially revolutionary.
– The struggle leading up to this goes back decades. As paid avenues for art-making went from having at least a few byways that allowed for work of substance to be created from the late 1950s to the early 1990s (for example, more militant forms of hip-hop – if not hip-hop period – as well as experimental works that challenged norms in politics, culture, consciousness or all of the above in a variety of mediums), to the present conditions that require a combination of self-promotion, entrepreneurship and non-threatening, palatable work, artists that were outside of the corporate-owned mainstream struggled with finding ways to finance their own work. The internet provided a means for a much wider range of people to at least have the potential to have sustainable careers, although not necessarily in ways that challenged the status quo or that even required a form of critical engagement. That potential is essentially gone, and is quickly being replaced by means that are completely corporate-controlled, and/or so driven by self-promotion and entrepreneurship to effectively act as an increasingly restrictive gatekeeping mechanism for anything that is more significant than the next pop song, conventional narrative or self-help book.
– “Why does self-promotion and entrepreneurship have to be a negative?” Even when the goal of such an endeavor is not to become part of corporate infrastructure in one fashion or another, it places people in a sort of self-censuring opinion vacuum that requires obedience for even the most paltry forms of freelance work. While there are some partial exceptions to this (such as some of the work that Buzzfeed publishes), they are so limited in number and constantly challenged by competing brands that are even more clickbait-driven than they are to make these exceptions limited in relevance, if not beside the point altogether.
– “But what about art that, while corporate-produced, challenges dominant hegemonies?” What about it? What appears to be a challenge to hegemonic power via paid byways, is in fact a de-toothed form of propaganda far too often, with the clear goal being freezing out anybody who resists. Presently, this takes the form of lauding a select few who, at best, come off like they’re storming the bastille (although always in some pre-packaged, controlled-message sort of way), while actually railroading audiences into safe, “Lean In”-like forms of everything-can-be-transformative-if-you-only-click-your-heels-and-try gibberish. The fact that this can include people who are part of marginalized groups at times is not necessarily a meaningful counter to this dynamic. If anything, it’s part of a self-contained immunity to criticism and analysis, made all the more effective by long-standing historical prejudices, including prejudices embodied — at times — by recipients of said laudations, as well as — at times — the people doing the criticizing. (In short: identity is important, but it’s a mistake to assume that it’s an inherent solution.) This complex form of side-lining and rejection wasn’t necessarily the case not that long ago – more challenging works that involved varying degrees of compensation/recognition were in play up until the early 1990s, as noted above – but it most certainly is now.
– It is becoming clear to me that those of us who have some sort of in-the-bones need to make art that wakes people up and challenges dominant norms in art, society overall or both, are not so much losing as being forced into conditions that require a significant amount of praxis just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone to actually keep producing work. I call this process “art as revolution” – not art in service to revolution, but as part of building grass-roots revolutionary movements in and of themselves.

Underground arts, respectability and resistance – notes and thoughts


More things in early stages, but getting on a roll with something here. Enjoy.

As I said a while back on Twitter:

“If there’s no $ in arts, nobody will make it”, more like “Only people with time and resources to make art, will.”

There’ll still be art around. Celebrity art. Famous person art. Well-off professional artist art. Independently wealthy art.

Otherwise, *crickets*, save for the occasional person who dares challenge the dominant hegemony, creatively, politically or both.

– Mainstream society acknowledges that you have to work hard to be an artist, but paradoxically thinks that art happens as if by magic, including the means by which people have successful careers. This is a smokescreen. Art is life, life is hard, making art is life, art is hard. This doesn’t have to be true, but it frequently is, especially if you’re an underground artist and/or person who is otherwise gate-kept away from respectability.

– The urban gentrification cycle typically gets underway when underground artists start being capitalized upon by mainstream taste-makers, including in some cases eventually becoming part of the capitalization cycle themselves, via opportunistic business enterprises, “get in first” real estate deals, and so on.

– This is typically followed by whoever doesn’t get harvested for potential future returns getting bulldozed over and sent off into the hinterlands, or to struggle against mounting challenges to remaining put, while the larger culture as a whole is driven out, then finally, most if not all of the city becoming unaffordable, save for the most well-paid workers on up.

– What may be shifting in terms of gentrification: a marked increase, if not simultaneous occurrence, of the above stages of gentrification, as well as fix-is-already-in promotional campaigns for “arts-friendly’ second-tier cities, who plan to use migrating artists as quick fodder in downtown development schemes.

– This city-and-corporate-led “pro-arts” agenda runs the risk of not only driving out present art-making residents out via a combination of gate-keeping and escalating living costs (including but not limited to rent), it also prevents people who co-habitated with or preceded underground artists – frequently communities of color and poor/working class people overall – from returning. Even leading up to periods of economic decline (which frequently include an influx of artists, due to the increase in more affordable housing), the potential of keeping people out when the gentrification cycle eventually reverses, and housing becomes affordable again – typically when middle-class and up whites leave the city, developers abandon future projects, and things start to decay – is real. In other words, the pro-arts agenda provides the convergence of moneyed, powerful interests that drive gentrification with an additional cultural and economic weapon against keeping undesirables out, if they so choose, by labeling them as “the bad sort of creatives” or otherwise less-than, while keeping the semblance of being pro-artist intact, to be utilized as needed. This utilization may include implementation during periods of decline, depending on the plans, interests and future needs of capital, in a local/global context.

– The solution to this is for communities to organize for the sorts of transformative conditions that allow people the practical and life-altering means to make all kinds of art, not for artists to be played by corporate arts entities that collude with downtown interests – while collectively resisting gentrification as soon as it starts to happen. The Right To The City is real. We are not your puppets!

Collaborative publishing – a new model: some initial thoughts


This is going to have to be out in the world in draft form, until I have the time (and patience) to flesh things out more. Or perhaps, this will exist permanently in this form, demarcating where I see my life going from 2014 onwards. In any case, here it is.


– I’m frustrated with what mainstream publishing looks like; every time I go to the bookstore (if I can find one), I don’t see much of anything that captivates me. It’s as if the same thing is being reworked over and over on the same plateau, both creatively and sociopolitically.
– I’m also deeply frustrated by the widespread sentiment in activist and even community organizing circles that making art is by definition reactionary. This is against most everything I believe in, all the way down to my cells. The work (defined here as art that actively challenges not just the status quo, but the nature of internalized oppression itself, and not just in terms of overt social constraints, but in the modes of thought itself) is both labor and transformative praxis. The-work-as praxis both as concept and practice got debated and sorted out in the period from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Most if not all “criticisms” of this reality are long since debunked, and are about as relevant as phrenology.
– For me, and many others (whose work-as-praxis is frequently shunted off to the margins of the margins within the larger society), the-work-as-praxis is the revolution, or at least, my and others’ contribution to it. Creating work that challenges, inspires AND deepens, that is fundamentally a form of praxis, and secondarily a “product”, when it is a product at all? That is what i’m interested in.
– I also hope/long for this sort of work becoming strong enough again that it can co-exist with modes of community organizing, rather than being viewed as in opposition to it (a tension that I view as a form of false consciousness, although a very specific one that is easily mistaken for tired ideas, such as “I just make art, I don’t care about politics”), or worse yet, as something that inevitably is funneled into teaching, hobbyist pursuits, or just destroyed outright. In other words, yes, I can teach, many (although not all) artists can. But teaching is predominately not my transformative work, making art is my transformative work, by-in-large. And if you want to destroy what I’m doing? We have nothing to talk about, although hopefully at some point in the future, we will.
– That all said, there needs to be new models for making art, as well as collaborative ownership of both content creation and distribution. This potential for creating new modes of creating art collaboratively, as well as a fruitful and potentially collaborative co-existence of the-work-as-praxis with community organizing, is by definition unachievable without building new models, so here goes.

The model:

– I am focusing on writing here, because it is the medium I’m most well-versed in; what follows could be applied to any art form, especially if it exists digitally.
– The creation of writer/reader communities should be focused on the “long tail”, including experimental/innovative lit authors, and authors otherwise shut out of the mainstream. The idea is to allow the kinds of works that transform thought and being alike to flourish, as opposed to the upholding of various sorts of status quo thoughts and existences that heavily dominate the mainstream.
– In keeping with this concept, the focus should be on developing close bonds within respective niches, both currently in existence and ones yet-to-be-formed, rather than large-scale fame. The idea here is sustainability, not celebrity.
– “People in the mainstream marketshare can fend for themselves”, both via digital distribution and traditional publishing; not so much “fuck you” as “we have our own work to do,” readers and writers alike. (The literary world is full of famous “fuck yous”, most of which are used as fodder for high society rags, and increasingly, that get used as quick fuel in a 24/7 news cycle, if they are acknowledged at all.)
– Openly friendly authorial mindset to reader feedback/criticism, including harsh criticism; readers as “long tail editors” a la wikipedia.
– If feedback occurs after a piece has been released commercially, efforts should be made to take said feedback into account for the future, including possible inclusion in future editions, as appropriate.
– Conversely, authors have a right to ignore feedback, just as they would with an editor; and as with editors, readers have the right to critique this ignoring. In other words, the author/reader relationship should be focused on nurturing transformative yet critical dialogues, not celebrity worship.
– Sidebar: what would inclusion of feedback look like for fictional works? I think this is where collaboration could truly shine, if done right. Imagine multiple versions being available, cross-referenced and annotated as relevant, leading to a deeper social/political understanding as a result; not just work-as-praxis, but editorial-as-praxis as well.