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Issue #1776      May 10, 2017

Art as transformation

On April 20, the Communist Party of Australia (WA Branch) held a Politics in the Pub on the theme of Arts under Socialism. The event was chaired by Lorena Trigo.

The arts are an underrated topic in the discussion of societal transition and change in a capitalist society where the arts are often seen as a commodity to be used to express support and a mirror to reflect society without engaging in a reflection or criticism of the prevailing society.

The first speaker was Dr Christopher Crouch, a socialist and arts academic, who said that under a capitalist society all relationships had been reduced to economic relationships - what we can get for ourselves and what we can get from others. We had become alienated under this economic system where there is a material basis for our existence, he said. Culture, continued Crouch, is made to sit atop of our existence instead of being drawn into our material conditions.

However, our lives were too important to leave to the market and art instead should be used to offer a reflection and criticism of the social and economic forces which affect our lives. If we have no means to make sense or criticise the order of the world which often weighs us down we often feel powerless and it affects our being in the world and our relationships with other people.

We strive, observed Crouch, to have the freedom to act for our own good and for the good of others – the quest for individual autonomy and (ethical) agency helps to empower us and challenge the system.

As such, under socialism we would go beyond the manner in which capital measures or evaluates us like other commodities and instead art and culture can become transformative.

However, for art to be transformative of people, education needs to be available for people to learn artistic skills and be appreciative of the possibilities the arts have in enriching our communal lives. Crouch also suggested there needed to be a diversity of arts and culture, as a mono culture is dangerous just like mono agriculture and can lead to malnourishment of the soul. There was a saturation of bad art at the moment, he concluded, a “saturation of superheroes” evident in the culture industry of the West-Hollywood responding to the sense of powerless felt by many people in the world as events today threaten to overwhelm people: but that this formulaic art mostly addresses the symptoms rather than the cause.

The second speaker Olga Cironis – a community artist – continued with the discussion on the dangers of mono-culture in particular in the West where the need for spectacle and distraction is needed to keep people compliant.

Education was needed to develop artistic knowledge and skills. However, as education was becoming more a privilege than a right, those who developed artistic skills tended to be those with wealth and privilege, which usually meant being white and male.

The final speaker was Pilar Kasat, a former Director of Community Arts Network in Western Australia who gave an insight into the funding of the arts generally in Australia and especially the Australian Arts Council. Kasat said that owing to the way the arts are funded and run in Australia, the majority of the arts grants (85 percent) were received by performing arts companies while community arts received very little. Kasat gave a number of examples of how the community arts projects he had been involved with had produced transformative results for those individuals and communities who had engaged with these projects. This included a group of Noongar women in Narrogin in the south west of WA – members of the Stolen Generations – who made a series of symbolic dolls which were curated in an exhibition that has toured the world and were later displayed in the National Gallery in Canberra.

A lively Q&A followed the informative presentation by the three speakers and gave them an opportunity to expand on their earlier contributions. Dr Crouch spoke on the Communist Party of Australia’s draft policy on the arts which was warmly received.

Next article – Savage Fairfax sackings reflect big media changes

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