Keith Hart on Sun, 19 Dec 2010 15:11:43 +0100 (CET)

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

I think there is a difference between James's perspective on popular
culture in *American Civilization* (now once again out of print)
and the Frankfurt School's. Perhaps it was a distraction to make a
point in opposition to Adorno. In any case, I could never make a
satisfactory argument here to dissauade someone who is attached to his
line. My post conflated a number of ideas which Goran's helpful and
informative comments help me to clarify. My main reason for posting
this synthetic comment on nettime was to bring James into dialogue
with those like Brian Holmes who have an active contemporary interest
in exploring the relationship between democratic politics and art. I
know that Brian too once held to a Frankfurtish line on this question,
but he may now be moving away from it.

Goran is right to insist on a distinction between high and low art,
however problematic it may be. James had two arguments about art and
democracy. One is that great artists are sometimes sustained by and
express in contradictory ways the democratic movement of society:
Aeschylus, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Melville and Whitman. He felt a
case could be made for Pollock in the US of the 1940s, without having
to answer the question of whether he was as important a painter as
Kandinsky or Picasso. If abstract impressionism was manipulated by the
powers at the start of the Cold War, then Shakespeare too belonged to
an aristocratic faction of the Tudor state, but his art led him to
pose the most fundamental questions concerning monarchy and democracy.
James found something of the democratic impulse in Pollock's art. He
found it too in cricket as developed by the British Empire. Others may

But the main case of *American Civilization* was that the relationship
between art and democracy had shifted to the level of mass forms in
20th century America: movies, jazz (including dance), comic strips
etc. I will not try to summarize the book here, beyond making a claim
for its fresh originality. People want more freedom in their lives
and the capitalist bureaucracy wishs to deny it them. This is the
class stuggle which james felt was most advanced in the US during
the 40s. It took the form of what people spent their money on for

I am sure that American society today is very different from what it
was then. I believe that the global popular response to the disasters
of what Churchill called the Second Thirty Years War (1914-1945)
sustained great achievements in politics, science and art. The basic
discoveries that underly the digital revolution in communications
were made then. As a young adult in the 60s, I felt I was an iorphan
who owed nothing to my parents' generation (see Luisa Passerini
*Autobiography of a Generation*). Now I realis how much we owed them
and we wasted that inheritance. This is not just notalgia for an
irrecoverable past. Our crisis needs to draw creatively on that moment
of world history. It should not be seen teleologically through a lens
forged in the Cold War or what happened after that.

On Sat, Dec 18, 2010 at 11:13 AM, Goran Maric

>  I find America to be a country of tremendous paradoxes, on one
> side we have harsh capitalism with its goal of enslaving, while on
> the other side we have explosion of people movments in all areas,
> reflecting itself in art, as well. But when I say people art, I
> do not reffer to, (forgive me on the bad term) high art. There
> is this constant biomorphis of high and "low" While living in a
> socialist country I grew up on cartoons and comics, from the US, but
> also european school was quite a strong one, and we had a strong
> school of comics art, as well. Yet I found that I had to go through
> bitterly fights here in the US in protecting these so called, "low"
> arts against "high" arts during my art education.
> But on the other hand, I was watching an interview with guys from
> "Doors," when they were asked to compare the European listeners,
> youngsters to American young listeners. The response was that
> young American, and we talk here about 1968-70 do not want to be
> discussing, to be bugged, about politics too much. This I see as the
> product of the American political regime I was trying to be critical
> of while arguing about J. Pollock and AB Art. Europe in this regard
> was somewhat in between two fires, hard core american capitalism,
> with a socialism/communism knocking in its door all the time. The
> leftist movment have been always strong and more powerful than in
> the US. And again it was reflected through other aspect of everyday
> experience.

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