21 September 2007

Naomi Klein: Blank Is Beautiful Demands Artistic Response



Image: Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph des Willens

I am on page ninteen of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Klein is wrapping up the introduction of her thesis, which is basically that Milton Friedman's idealism has been unleashed over thirty years, in times of crisis, resulting in Global Corporate Feudalism. I like how she's putting a caveat and the meat in the same paragraph here:

Any attempt to hold ideologies accountable for the crimes committed by their followers must be approached with a great deal of caution. It is too easy to assert that those with whom we disagree are not just wrong but tyrannical, fascist, genocidal. But it is also true that certain ideologies are a danger to the public and need to be identified as such. These are the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot coexist with other belief systems; their followers deplore diversity and demand an absolute free hand to implement their perfect system. The world as it is must be erased to make way for their purist invention. Rooted in biblical fantasies of great floods and fires, it is a logic that leads ineluctably toward violence. The ideologies that long for that impossible clean slate, which can be reached only through some kind of cataclysm, are the dangerous ones.

Yes! And as an artist I have to say that purity and a lack of ambiguity are deep existential motivators, and are legitimately beautiful, legitimately soothing!



Image: Donald Judd

I have written on many occasions that political art is generally a waste of time--because it takes a side, it becomes mere propaganda that preaches to the choir. I would rather argue that all art informs our political lives, because all art takes an existential stance.

Klein argues, and I agree, that we are currently under an existential threat. We are being frightened and bullied into giving up not just our civil liberties, but our government protections and services. And in the face of this specific existential threat, "apolitical" art can do more than political dissent. To imagine a world in which ambiguity is not just tolerable but delicious;



Image: Adam Frelin

to find beauty in imperfection;



Image: Jean Lowe

to dream of a bright future that does not depend on an apocalyptic clean slate and a present in which humanity has the fortitude to bear inevitable cataclysm without collapsing from fear--this is the most important political work an artist can do right now.

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