The Intense Political Power of Art, Research Time, 21/07/2015

The content of Italian Futurism’s political philosophy is abhorrent and terrifying. Many people today would consider it obscene. I don’t know how well the average contemporary Western person could understand a style of patriotism that’s so dedicated to freedom while also being so nakedly and proudly militarist and imperialist. Today, we at least lie so well to ourselves that we aren’t our own brand of conquerors.

My greatest hope for the Trump campaign is that it's
actually a brilliant, long-game piece of performance art
that would put Stephen Colbert and Joaquin Phoenix to
Yet the spirit of Marinetti’s philosophy is the same spirit central to the most inspiring progressive movements throughout the last hundred or so years. I snuck back yesterday afternoon to After the Future, the slim book by Bifo that first drew me to Futurism for philosophical inspiration, and read again his description of their vision.

Futurism is the purest expression of the Modernist era, the faith that the development of human culture, knowledge, and technology brings liberation and freedom, that development was inherently progress. Utopia was coming, and we would build it ourselves.

The particulars change, but the movement remains the same. Bifo wrote that the end of Modernity* came in 1977, when the last breath of a political movement that imagined the future as a brighter place was finally crushed. He saw it simultaneously as the violent government crackdown on the autonomist movement and the cry of England’s punks. A fetish store advertisement in disguise as a rock band screams “No Future!!!!”

* With a capital M, so as not to confuse Modernity the cultural era for modernity the contemporary cultural era of the moment.

This reveals a curious convergence that I see in Bifo and many other cultural theorists, with Marinetti and his noxiously seductive ideology and aesthetic of techno-violence. They all, and increasingly myself, understand art as an inherently political phenomenon.

Now, it’s generally accepted that you can make art with an explicitly political message. In its most sedate form, it can be the simple graphic design of a campaign for state office, or the shining expressiveness of an image like Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama portrait. Or it can be a more pointed, critical form. Consider Picasso’s Guernica, which depicts the visceral and empathic terror of arial bombardment. Think about the protest song, whether it emerges from Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Reagan Youth, Rage Against the Machine, Run the Jewels, or Buffy Sainte Marie.

For a moment, he was the voice of an entire
continent's culture. But I still prefer the PiL albums.
Or consider what I hope the Donald Trump 2016 Presidential campaign will turn out to be in the United States. A months-long work of performance art that systematically attacks and destroys forever the credibility and collective sanity of the Republican Party, forcing entirely different social forces to come to dominate the American state. 

Art can have a more profound power than this, because of its expressive power. An artist creates a work, whether in collaboration with others (as in film and theatre) or on her own (as in painting, sculpture, or fiction writing) as an expression of will through technical means. The content of this expression comes from the ideas and occupations of the artist, what thoughts and problems she wants her artwork to explore.

An artist who pays attention to the political and social conflicts of her time will express those conflicts in the content of her work. This is true even for oblique forms of art like music or more explicit, conscious forms of art like drama. 

The mood, form, or motivating concepts of an artwork will express a political mood of the entire country, a cultural shift. The nihilism of “No Future” was the culture of Europe itself crashing into dystopia. The aggression of the art that emerged from Italian Futurism was the will to technological power demanding its domination over the Earth. 

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