The Futurist Corporation

In Defense of Barbarism

Jackson Pollock

“To create art after Auschwitz is barbaric.”
-Theodor Adorno

The stain of tragedy upon all of culture has manifested itself in the despair of the modern–a despair that has become ennui as modernism faded to postmodernism (How ironic that a focus on that which is modern could lose its immediacy). What is implied in a society where tragedy is omnipresent? First of all one should question whether tragedy by its very nature can persist as omnipresent, or if it ceases to be tragedy upon becoming so disconnected from narrative that its weight is no longer adjured by the hope of denouement, i.e., “it’s not a tragedy when it happens every day.” If modernity has been characterized as a situation under which all constants are betrayed, then under postmodernity, our constants betray us. In a self-imposed void of universals, the postmodern man is forced to reject each system that promises to answer definitively the questions history has reserved for God; therefore he rejects that very thing which his entire civilization has lead him to desire.

Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory would later say that the artist, in one sense at least, is always in a state of resistance against the society in which he finds himself. As the dynamic of the avant-garde versus kitsch began to emerge in the late nineteenth century, the artist found himself either floating in a stagnant tide or caught up in the storm of marxist social upheaval. In another sense, the artist provides nothing if not a world new to his viewers. This sense of novelty must be found inherent in all art and therefore in the mind of the artist. The bohemian subculture that emerges is not so much a sociological artisan guild as it as a precursor to aestheticization itself.

I would argue that subjecting the aesthetic impulse to any sort of ethical backdrop forces the artist into a position of overwhelming restraint. The ethical limitation here need not be an evangelical call towards the ideology behind the aesthetic, but here merely implies a limitation of subject matter that strives for unity within the theoretical implications, within the social context, within the portfolio. For the artist, even if said undercurrent is self-imposed, the entire field of possibilities is blemished by this single thrust. By rendering any area taboo, the artist sacrifices utter freedom and thereby leadens his creativity.

Indeed, art is nothing if not free. For the artist to subject artistic production to process or to system can be tempting, particularly when the specter of social interpretation disguises itself as the end result. But Krisna’s warning to Arjuna to perform all action “detached from the lust of result,” was not directed to an artist but a soldier. If it is applied not to war, under which mastery can only be found when the emotions (attachments) are removed from the rest of the psychosensory phenomena, but to artistic production, one might not expect similar appreciations. On the contrary! Art that is not free, can never reach its full potential. One might even say that art that is not free is not art at all, but propaganda.

Adorno, in direct contradiction of Barthes, writes: “The relation of art to society is not to be sought primarily in the field of reception. The relationship is anterior to reception in production.” Jackson Pollock’s free act of creating found itself just as much in need of ¬†interpretation as the artistic product itself. It was for this reason that Hans Namuth’s photographs of Pollock’s rhythmic paint-slinging became just as iconic as the paintings themselves. Here, image becomes a reflexive expressive of the artist’s frustration not only with the socially constructed notions of aesthetics, but even with the very aesthetics he himself creates. Namuth’s photographs would eventually became more interpreted than Pollock’s paintings In another sense the paintings only could be successfully interpreted through photography. It is an art that requires further art in its interpretation. But by allowing these images to circulate side by side, the artist becomes both producer, and produced–the body of work becomes the conditions under which a new, separate body of work can be produced. Indeed, Pollock’s entire aesthetic, by positing itself as the apotheosis of rejection, requires nothing less than photography. Only through photography’s specifically unadulterated representation of form could those paintings which reject not only representations of form, but form itself, be placed in dialectical conversation. Without the photographs of Namuth, Pollock would be a nihilist. With both, he becomes simultaneously an atheist to the God of formal aesthetics, and a protestant to the possibility of a counter-counter-aesthetics.

This is exactly how one maintains an angry resistance against a society already drowning in the Buddhist understanding that “all is suffering.” The artist by his very rebellion against society is an outsider from a society swarming with outsiders. What sort of meaning can free creativity hold in a world where total capricious freedom lies only in the hands of an elite class of bourgeoise? Artistic freedom allows for much more than the Sartrean notion of freedom within a prison cell. The freedom of the artist to express on canvas what is less-than-manifest (or even desuetudinous) within cultural existence becomes his rebellion against the culture for whom rebellion is the par excellence of culture itself.


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