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.