Keith Hart on Sat, 18 Dec 2010 09:24:53 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Pollock, Art History and Cold War [was: Wikileaks is old hat]

Like Michael, I know what I like when it comes to art, but not always
why. But this exchange provides me with an unexpected opportunity to
post a reflection on the history of art and role of the ruling powers
in shaping public taste.

CLR James, who was deported from New York in the early 1950s, wrote
about Pollock and I was able to discuss Pollock's art with him. James
argued that Pollock's abstract expressionism captured essential
humanity. He found faces and feet in them, expressing the two key
human attributes, personality and movement. That is as may be.

But my heart sank when I read Leigh's opening gambit:

Much like standing in front of a Jackson Pollock painting and saying,
"what's so fantastic about that, my 5 year old could have done it!".
To a large extent, Pollock's fame was manufactured, for a post war
America, keen to dominate ideological landscapes, including abstract
art - a movement begun in Russia some 50 years prior, ironically

In *American Civilization* (1993), james set out to counter the kind
of analysis favoured by Adorno in which popular culture was conceived
of as way for the capitalist powers to manipulate and dupe the masses.
He argued on the contrary that popular culture was a stand off in a
class war between capitalist bureaucracy and the people's desire for
democracy. His favourite example was the case of Marlene Dietrich's
pants. She had worn pants (trousers) in films before, but no woman
had ever been seen wearing them in public until marlene did so in
New York in 1944. The mail order houses were immediately inundated
with orders. the women had replaced the men in the factories while
they were fighting abroad and this trigger unleashed a pent up desire
to borrow their typical attire. The capitalists didn't have a clue
beforehand, any more than they have a clue which movies are going to
be big hits, and they followed the new demand. James took an argument
that began with Tocqueville, Whitman and Melville to the movie stars,
comic strips and other popular artefacts of the say. i It seems to me,
in these decadent times, that the 1940s produced the historical peak
of artistic, scientific and political achievement in recent times. I
wonder what humanity will have to go through again to reach another
one like that. The Americans unleashed a citizen army and navy on
the world that made the new global order. Stalin beat Hitler (the
battle of Kursk alone destroyed more material than the whole of World
War 1). India gained its independence and the Chinese revolution was
finally successful. The United Nations was formed and the British
made a socialist welfare state. Atomic energy and the destruction it
entailed was made possible.

In my view these events generated amazing art fuelled by human
aspirations for democracy. In the US, Bogart and Crawford movies,
Duke Ellington, Jackson Pollock, Method acting and all the rest gave
vent to the extraordinary energy unleashed my America's move out into
the world. In the Soviet Union, Shostakovich and Profokiev took the
symphonic form to unparalleled heights. The former's 8th symphony was
begun when the Germans were apporaching Stalingrad and perfromed after
they had been turned back. It is true that the revolution produced an
explosion of the arts in the 1920s.

I mention all this because it interests me, but mainly to argue that
we will have reason to revist the cultural achievements of the 1940s
again, not least for their political significance.

On Sat, Dec 18, 2010 at 12:10 AM, Michael H Goldhaber

> I judge art by its effects on me as a viewer, not on the basis of
> what a critic (or theorist) says, though of course I am indirectly
> and unavoidably affected by the latter. Despite being privileged
> to see much first rate art repeatedly over many years, I simply
> never "got" Pollock, until one day, passing for the hundredth time
> the single very large work of his that hung in the old permanent
> collection in NY MOMA, I suddenly was utterly enthralled by it. In a
> couple of decades since, that feeling hasn't weakened.


Prof. Keith Hart
135 rue du Faubourg Poissonniere
75009 Paris, France
Cell: +33684797365

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