The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Communism and the Arts 

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I'm finding this pretty hard to stomach to be honest, and the Guardian's headline 'The Case for Communism' doesn't help much. Trying to justify decades of tyranny and murder on the basis that at least it helped the arts is pretty sickening, and yes, I know that Orson Welles quote about the Borgias and Switzerland too, but let's not forget that Citizen Kane was hardly created under an oppressive regime.

I think there's a much more logical, and honest reason for why art created out of appalling political conditions is more successful. It's simply that art, in general, is about telling stories, creating myths. And one of the most hackneyed, yet enduring, myths is of the struggling artist fighting the life around him in forging his art. It makes a great story, and gives us, the audience, an easy way in to the work without having to struggle too much with comprehending it on its own terms, grappling with its specific form and content. It's simply a Product of Struggle (with one's government, the system, race, deafness, whatever). It's never, ever, granted the dignity to be a creation in and of itself. And this is why, I believe, that Central European art is considered (by Western commentators, natch, the official bestowers of success) less successful now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. The stories around the works, the logic runs, are not as interesting any more. Look at the Guardian itself - on the same day that Jones' piece appeared in the supplements, the day of 10 countries' new accession to the EU, the paper could barely bring itself to grant a page of coverage in the news section (on page 4 - after a previous page of coverage on the French wine industry); they just didn't feel that this was enough of a story for the front page.

There's plenty of good art, in all fields, produced in all of Central and Eastern Europe; it's just that it tends to be about things other than the difficulty of life under oppression; regrettably, many in the West can't imagine Central Europe any other way.

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