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статьиExpressionism: The aesthetics of marginal art in 20th century Russia

The artist supposes the world of art to be a system in which living art idioms interact with each other. But his attempt to engage in dialogue with the cultural space in which he intends to deposit his texts is rebuffed.

Маврина (Лебедева) Т.А. Из серии "Пляж" 1929

This is a space in which the intention to speak the language of art meets with the painfully sensitive rules of correctness that are instilled into culture. Whatever the cultural bureaucracy or establishment may speak about, be it the artist’s legitimacy or extraordinariness, the value of tradition or the value of innovation, his liberty or service to humanity, they are really speaking about the fact that this cultural space is limited to what is already understood and accepted in the culture’s lexicon. For cultural workers, the establishment has composed a dictionary of normative vocabulary and using this dictionary prevents one from speaking the truth even to oneself. When this happens to the artist, he feels this lexicon’s demands to be very aggressive. He also notices the following: this dictionary does not suffice to keep track of how the dynamics of language, including the shifts and replacements that occur within it, cause the formation of new, self-defining idioms, which in their turn give birth to yet more idioms that testify to the birth of an alternate reality.

The artist is constantly discovering new meanings that are not taken into account by the compilers of this large dictionary. He realizes that their goal is to clearly demarcate the location of each semantic unit within the culture’s communicative domain, and understands that their actions are merely mechanical processes intended to maintain the semantic status quo and keep it from changing in directions that do not fit in with the interests of the establishment. This is why the establishment inevitably edits the language of art and falsifies its dictionaries.

The decision to speak the language of art is not suggested to the artist by the illusion that this skill will guarantee him a privileged status. From this illusion stems the marginalization of entire strata of Russian artwork and other exceptionally important elements of 20th century Russian culture.

In a cultural space where, in order to be noticed as an artist, it is necessary (and sufficient) to influence the public, or sell one’s art, art can only exist as a marginal idiom. In such a cultural space, the meaning of art’s message is constrained by the presuppositions of ideology or political correctness, and its cultural significance is determined by the factor of who said it or did it first. The language of art is not sufficiently communicative for such a space. It is too undisciplined, leaves too many things unsaid, and is not in the least bit constructive. It is aloof and alone, for only in aloofness and solitude can it realize its aspiration towards intellectual and moral freedom.

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