Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ideology and Art, part I

Occasionally, discussions of art will pop up on the blogosphere; unfortunately, they tend to discuss the issue with all of the conceptual depth, historical knowledge, and patience of a 12 year-old. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that said bloggers will reach a 12 year-old’s conclusion: art should be pretty. Oh, and it should look like something, like, say, pretty flowers in a pretty vase. That seems to be the beginning and the end of the critique. But what critical power this theory has! For example, all of the resources of this theory can be brought to bear on classics of modern art like Duchamp’s Fountain: it isn’t pretty. On the other hand, it sure looks like what it is. So I suppose it’s a bit of a wash.

This inauspicious start has motivated me to work through some of the classic philosophical essays on art, and particularly those essays that reflect on the role of ideology in art. Today I started (re)reading Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art (I “read” it once, but didn’t understand a lick of it). So far, it looks like Heidegger’s essay won’t reflect on ideology, but it sure displays a ton of it. Listen to this passage, in which Heidegger wildly projects his fetishization of the volk, the peasant farmer, onto a painting of a shoe (ie, he romanticizes the peasant farmer as a simple, happy worker that gets fulfillment out of back-breaking labor):

On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field….When [the peasant woman] takes off her shoes late in the evening, in deep but healthy fatigue…she knows all this without noticing or reflecting.

Ah, those noble but stupid farmers! If only they knew, as we do, that they’re deeply authentic people! Yeah, all this out of a picture of shoes.