Vision and Society: Towards a Sociology and Anthropology from Art 9781315858197, 9780415722575, 0415722578

The sociology of art is now an established sub-discipline of sociology. But little work has been done to explore the imp

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Vision and Society: Towards a Sociology and Anthropology from Art
 9781315858197, 9780415722575, 0415722578

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
Part I Revisioning art and society
1 For a sociology and anthropology from art
2 Social aesthetics/sociological aesthetics
3 Art and social transformation: challenges to the discourse and practice of human development
4 The aesthetics of social change
5 The aesthetics of the urban: visual anthropology, space, place and public culture
6 Aesthetics beyond art: conviviality and social imagination
7 Art movements as social movements
8 The migration of the image: art and the politics and sociology of space
Part II Cases in point
9 Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation: the Bauhaus in Asia
10 Art in the colonial encounter: cultural imperialism, symbolic resistance and the creation of modern Korean art
11 Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture: historical amnesia, popular culture and contemporary art in Japan

Citation preview

Vision and Society

The sociology of art is now an established sub-discipline of sociology. But little work has been done to explore the implications not of society on art, but of art on the nature and principles of sociology itself. Vision and Society explores the ways in which art (here mainly understood as visual art) structures in fundamental ways the constitution of society, the relations between societies and the ways in which society and culture should be theorized. Building initially on an unfulfilled project by the French sociologist of art Nathalie Heinich to derive a sociology from art, it pushes this idea in unconventional directions. Rethinking the relationships between the study of art and the study of sociology and anthropology, this book explores how this rethinking might impact sociological theory in general, and certain aspects of it in particular – especially the study of social movements, social change, the urban, the constitution of space and the ways in which human social relationships are mediated and expressed. This book attempts to re-orientate sociological theory in general as well as to create fresh approaches for the sociology of art. It does so by way of nonWestern case studies, broadening the range of art sociology and attempting to create a genuinely comparative sociology. It will be useful for students and scholars of the sociology of art, the sociology of culture, visual studies, visual anthropology and cultural studies around the world. John Clammer is Professor of Sociology at the United Nations University. His research interests encompass the sociology of art, urban sociology, the sociology of religion and sociological theory of the East and West. His most recent book is Culture, Development and Social Theory (Zed Books 2012).

Routledge Advances in Sociology

1. Virtual Globalization Virtual spaces / tourist spaces David Holmes 2. The Criminal Spectre in Law, Literature and Aesthetics Peter Hutchings 3. Immigrants and National Identity in Europe Anna Triandafyllidou 4. Constructing Risk and Safety in Technological Practice Jane Summerton and Boel Berner 5. Europeanisation, National Identities and Migration Changes in boundary constructions between Western and Eastern Europe Willfried Spohn and Anna Triandafyllidou 6. Language, Identity and Conflict A comparative study of language in ethnic conflict in Europe and Eurasia Diarmait Mac Giolla Chríost 7. Immigrant Life in the U.S. Multi-disciplinary perspectives Donna R. Gabaccia and Colin Wayne Leach 8. Rave Culture and Religion Graham St. John 9. Creation and Returns of Social Capital A new research program Henk Flap and Beate Völker

10. Self-Care Embodiment, personal autonomy and the shaping of health consciousness Christopher Ziguras 11. Mechanisms of Cooperation Werner Raub and Jeroen Weesie 12. After the Bell Educational success, public policy and family background Dalton Conley and Karen Albright 13. Youth Crime and Youth Culture in the Inner City Bill Sanders 14. Emotions and Social Movements Helena Flam and Debra King 15. Globalization, Uncertainty and Youth in Society Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Erik Klijzing, Melinda Mills and Karin Kurz 16. Love, Heterosexuality and Society Paul Johnson 17. Agricultural Governance Globalization and the new politics of regulation Vaughan Higgins and Geoffrey Lawrence 18. Challenging Hegemonic Masculinity Richard Howson 19. Social Isolation in Modern Society Roelof Hortulanus, Anja Machielse and Ludwien Meeuwesen 20. Weber and the Persistence of Religion Social theory, capitalism and the sublime Joseph W. H. Lough 21. Globalization, Uncertainty and Late Careers in Society Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Sandra Buchholz and Dirk Hofäcker 22. Bourdieu’s Politics Problems and possibilities Jeremy F. Lane

23. Media Bias in Reporting Social Research? The case of reviewing ethnic inequalities in education Martyn Hammersley 24. A General Theory of Emotions and Social Life Warren D. TenHouten 25. Sociology, Religion and Grace Arpad Szakolczai 26. Youth Cultures Scenes, subcultures and tribes Paul Hodkinson and Wolfgang Deicke 27. The Obituary as Collective Memory Bridget Fowler 28. Tocqueville’s Virus Utopia and dystopia in western social and political thought Mark Featherstone 29. Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages David Kraemer 30. The Institutionalization of Social Welfare A study of medicalizing management Mikael Holmqvist 31. The Role of Religion in Modern Societies Detlef Pollack and Daniel V. A. Olson 32. Sex Research and Sex Therapy A sociological analysis of Masters and Johnson Ross Morrow 33. A Crisis of Waste? Understanding the rubbish society Martin O’Brien 34. Globalization and Transformations of Local Socioeconomic Practices Ulrike Schuerkens

35. The Culture of Welfare Markets The international recasting of pension and care systems Ingo Bode 36. Cohabitation, Family and Society Tiziana Nazio 37. Latin America and Contemporary Modernity A sociological interpretation José Maurízio Domingues 38. Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music Milieu cultures Peter Webb 39. The Cultural Significance of the Child Star Jane O’Connor 40. European Integration as an Elite Process The failure of a dream? Max Haller 41. Queer Political Performance and Protest Benjamin Shepard 42. Cosmopolitan Spaces Europe, globalization, theory Chris Rumford 43. Contexts of Social Capital Social networks in communities, markets and organizations Ray-May Hsung, Nan Lin and Ronald Breiger 44. Feminism, Domesticity and Popular Culture Stacy Gillis and Joanne Hollows 45. Changing Relationships Malcolm Brynin and John Ermisch 46. Formal and Informal Work The hidden work regime in Europe Birgit Pfau-Effinger, Lluis Flaquer and Per H. Jensen

47. Interpreting Human Rights Social science perspectives Rhiannon Morgan and Bryan S. Turner 48. Club Cultures Boundaries, identities and otherness Silvia Rief 49. Eastern European Immigrant Families Mihaela Robila 50. People and Societies Rom Harré and designing the social sciences Luk van Langenhove 51. Legislating Creativity The intersections of art and politics Dustin Kidd 52. Youth in Contemporary Europe Jeremy Leaman and Martha Wörsching 53. Globalization and Transformations of Social Inequality Ulrike Schuerkens 54. Twentieth Century Music and the Question of Modernity Eduardo de la Fuente 55. The American Surfer Radical culture and capitalism Kristin Lawler 56. Religion and Social Problems Titus Hjelm 57. Play, Creativity, and Social Movements If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution Benjamin Shepard 58. Undocumented Workers’ Transitions Legal status, migration, and work in Europe Sonia McKay, Eugenia Markova and Anna Paraskevopoulou

59. The Marketing of War in the Age of Neo-Militarism Kostas Gouliamos and Christos Kassimeris 60. Neoliberalism and the Global Restructuring of Knowledge and Education Steven C. Ward 61. Social Theory in Contemporary Asia Ann Brooks 62. Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies Christian Fuchs 63. A Companion to Life Course Studies The social and historical context of the British birth cohort studies Michael Wadsworth and John Bynner 64. Understanding Russianness Risto Alapuro, Arto Mustajoki and Pekka Pesonen 65. Understanding Religious Ritual Theoretical approaches and innovations John Hoffmann 66. Online Gaming in Context The social and cultural significance of online games Garry Crawford, Victoria K. Gosling and Ben Light 67. Contested Citizenship in East Asia Developmental politics, national unity, and globalization Kyung-Sup Chang and Bryan S. Turner 68. Agency without Actors? New approaches to collective action Jan-Hendrik Passoth, Birgit Peuker and Michael Schillmeier 69. The Neighborhood in the Internet Design research projects in community informatics John M. Carroll 70. Managing Overflow in Affluent Societies Barbara Czarniawska and Orvar Löfgren

71. Refugee Women Beyond gender versus culture Leah Bassel 72. Socioeconomic Outcomes of the Global Financial Crisis Theoretical discussion and empirical case studies Ulrike Schuerkens 73. Migration in the 21st Century Political economy and ethnography Pauline Gardiner Barber and Winnie Lem 74. Ulrich Beck An introduction to the theory of second modernity and the risk society Mads P. Sørensen and Allan Christiansen 75. The International Recording Industries Lee Marshall 76. Ethnographic Research in the Construction Industry Sarah Pink, Dylan Tutt and Andrew Dainty 77. Routledge Companion to Contemporary Japanese Social Theory From individualization to globalization in Japan today Anthony Elliott, Masataka Katagiri and Atsushi Sawai 78. Immigrant Adaptation in Multi-Ethnic Societies Canada, Taiwan, and the United States Eric Fong, Lan-Hung Nora Chiang and Nancy Denton 79. Cultural Capital, Identity, and Social Mobility The life course of working-class university graduates Mick Matthys 80. Speaking for Animals Animal autobiographical writing Margo DeMello 81. Healthy Aging in Sociocultural Context Andrew E. Scharlach and Kazumi Hoshino 82. Touring Poverty Bianca Freire-Medeiros

83. Life Course Perspectives on Military Service Janet M. Wilmoth and Andrew S. London 84. Innovation in Socio-Cultural Context Frane Adam and Hans Westlund 85. Youth, Arts and Education Reassembling subjectivity through affect Anna Hickey-Moody 86. The Capitalist Personality Face-to-face sociality and economic change in the post-communist world Christopher S. Swader 87. The Culture of Enterprise in Neoliberalism Specters of entrepreneurship Tomas Marttila 88. Islamophobia in the West Measuring and explaining individual attitudes Marc Helbling 89. The Challenges of Being a Rural Gay Man Coping with stigma Deborah Bray Preston and Anthony R. D’Augelli 90. Global Justice Activism and Policy Reform in Europe Understanding when change happens Peter Utting, Mario Pianta and Anne Ellersiek 91. Sociology of the Visual Sphere Regev Nathansohn and Dennis Zuev 92. Solidarity in Individualized Societies Recognition, justice and good judgement Søren Juul 93. Heritage in the Digital Era Cinematic tourism and the activist cause Rodanthi Tzanelli 94. Generation, Discourse, and Social Change Karen R. Foster

95. Sustainable Practices Social theory and climate change Elizabeth Shove and Nicola Spurling 96. The Transformative Capacity of New Technologies A theory of sociotechnical change Ulrich Dolata 97. Consuming Families Buying, making, producing family life in the 21st century Jo Lindsay and JaneMaree Maher 98. Migrant Marginality A transnational perspective Philip Kretsedemas, Glenn Jacobs and Jorge Capetillo-Ponce 99. Changing Gay Male Identities Andrew Cooper 100. Perspectives on Genetic Discrimination Thomas Lemke 101. Social Sustainability A multilevel approach to social inclusion Veronica Dujon, Jesse Dillard and Eileen M. Brennan 102. Capitalism A companion to Marx’s economy critique Johan Fornäs 103. Understanding European Movements New social movements, global justice struggles, anti-austerity protest Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Laurence Cox 104. Applying Ibn Khaldu-n The recovery of a lost tradition in sociology Syed Farid Alatas 105. Children in Crisis Ethnographic studies in international contexts Manata Hashemi and Martín Sánchez-Jankowski

106. The Digital Divide The internet and social inequality in international perspective Massimo Ragnedda and Glenn W. Muschert 107. Emotion and Social Structures The affective foundations of social order Christian von Scheve 108. Social Capital and Its Institutional Contingency A study of the United States, China and Taiwan Nan Lin, Yang-chih Fu and Chih-jou Jay Chen 109. The Longings and Limits of Global Citizenship Education The moral pedagogy of schooling in a cosmopolitan age Jeffrey S. Dill 110. Irish Insanity 1800–2000 Damien Brennan 111. Cities of Culture A global perspective Deborah Stevenson 112. Racism, Governance, and Public Policy Beyond human rights Katy Sian, Ian Law and S. Sayyid 113. Understanding Aging and Diversity Theories and concepts Patricia Kolb 114. Hybrid Media Culture Sensing place in a world of flows Simon Lindgren 115. Centers and Peripheries in Knowledge Production Leandro Rodriguez Medina 116. Revisiting Institutionalism in Sociology Putting the “institution” back in institutional analysis Seth Abrutyn

117. National Policy-Making Domestication of global trends Pertti Alasuutari and Ali Qadir 118. The Meanings of Europe Changes and exchanges of a contested concept Claudia Wiesner and Meike Schmidt-Gleim 119. Between Islam and the American Dream An immigrant Muslim community in post-9/11 America Yuting Wang 120. Call Centers and the Global Division of Labor A political economy of post-industrial employment and union organizing Andrew J.R. Stevens 121. Academic Capitalism Universities in the global struggle for excellence Richard Münch 122. Deconstructing Flexicurity and Developing Alternative Approaches Towards new concepts and approaches for employment and social policy Maarten Keune and Amparo Serrano 123. From Corporate to Social Media Critical perspectives on corporate social responsibility in media and communication industries Marisol Sandoval 124. Vision and Society Towards a sociology and anthropology from art John Clammer

Vision and Society

Towards a sociology and anthropology from art

John Clammer

First published 2014 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2014 John Clammer The right of John Clammer to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Clammer, J. R. Vision and society : towards a sociology and anthropology from art / John Clammer. – First Edition. pages cm. – (Routledge advances in sociology ; 124) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Social change. 2. Art and society. 3. Social sciences. I. Title. HM831.C527 2014 300–dc23 2013038176 ISBN: 978-0-415-72257-5 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-85819-7 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Cenveo Publisher Services

To LB, for all your love and support and with many happy memories of your companionship at so many art galleries, dance performances and movies. Eternal thanks.

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Revisioning art and society



For a sociology and anthropology from art



Social aesthetics/sociological aesthetics



Art and social transformation: challenges to the discourse and practice of human development



The aesthetics of social change



The aesthetics of the urban: visual anthropology, space, place and public culture



Aesthetics beyond art: conviviality and social imagination



Art movements as social movements



The migration of the image: art and the politics and sociology of space



Cases in point 9

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation: the Bauhaus in Asia

139 141



10 Art in the colonial encounter: cultural imperialism, symbolic resistance and the creation of modern Korean art


11 Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture: historical amnesia, popular culture and contemporary art in Japan


Bibliography Index

194 213


Many people have contributed wittingly or unwittingly to the creation of this book. The kernel of many of the chapters lies in conference papers originally delivered at meetings in Europe, Japan, Korea and Honolulu and I am happy to thank the organizers and the many, now nameless, participants, whose comments and questions have helped me refine my thinking. In particular I want to give heartfelt thanks to Miyoko Ogishima, whose friendship, cooking and technical support has seen this book to its conclusion. Two of the chapters have seen the light of day in earlier versions: Chapter 4 in my own Culture, Development and Social Theory (Zed Books) and Chapter 9, originally delivered as a lecture at the ninetieth anniversary celebration conference of the Bauhaus, has appeared in a slightly different form in the German edition of the proceedings edited by Laura Couni and Frank Eckardt and published in Wurzburg by Konigshausen and Neuman 2011.

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Part I

Revisioning art and society

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Chapter 1

For a sociology and anthropology from art

The arts play a role in society that is still in many ways mysterious. Collectively a major form of both cultural production and cultural consumption, debate still rages as to what they actually do: are they simply an elaborate and often very sophisticated form of entertainment? Or a mode of catharsis as proposed by theories of ancient Greek tragedy? Are they a means of transcendence in secular society? Or are they essentially simply a form of adult play? Do they have an evolutionary role or, as some have suggested, a significant place in explaining cognitive development? Resulting enquiries, at least from a sociological point of view, range across a spectrum of possibilities: sociological theories of art (often rather functionalist in nature), sociologies of art exploring the role and career paths of artists, the structure of the “art world” (art markets, the character of galleries and museums and their publics, art fairs and exhibitions and in the case of the performing arts, spaces and forms of performance), social histories of art investigating the specific role of the arts in given historical epochs, (for example the Renaissance, the great eras of medieval cathedral building or contemporary Australian aboriginal art) and the biographies of individual artists or art movements (Impressionism for example). But while sociologies of art (while admittedly a relatively minor genre in sociological literature as a whole) abound, few attempts have been made to turn the issue around and to enquire as to the possibility not of a new sociology of art, but of a sociology from art. In other words, given the ubiquity, persistence and apparent universality of artistic production, does that fact tell us something about the nature of society, rather than the nature of society (in so far as we actually understand it) telling us something about the nature of art? What might this mean? In general in sociology, “society” (itself an abstract and reified concept) is seen as the fundamental productive basis of epiphenomenal characteristics, including culture. Society then produces culture, personality types, religion and representations. The number of elementary social psychology books with titles such as Self and Society shows that a particular and largely unexamined causal model is at work in the social sciences. This model, when applied to art (or indeed to religion) has


Revisioning art and society

been quite rightly criticized for producing crude and over deterministic “explanations” of artistic movements, individual artists, stylistic developments or indeed, of art itself (Heywood 1997). But is this causal model itself correct? Critical thinking about the nature of society itself has shown it to be more process than structure, a system of constant “self-transcendence” (Fuchs 2004), and one in which the actor is truly an agent, not simply the product and victim of larger social, economic and political processes – important as these indeed are (Touraine 1988). We may instead start from the hypothesis that culture is primary – a complex of emotions, desire for meaning, forms of imagination, eroticism, responses to nature and to other humans and the desire to articulate or embody these usually inchoate feelings in material or performative form. Society itself can therefore be seen as the epiphenomenon, as the “container” or structured modelling of these psychological, spiritual and agency based primary forces. Art then shapes society. It is significant that in almost all the many literary utopias that exist, the economy, political structures and social and kinship systems are seen as subordinate to the more fundamental needs, drives and aspirations of their populations (Berneri 1971). In the ideal society our needs determine the structure of social institutions, rather than society defining our needs. But the attempt to put the arts back into a central position as regards social causality is not merely a utopian project: it has deep theoretical significance. It not only suggests a fresh way of looking at society and hence at social theory, but also places the imagination back at the centre of social and cultural production. In the latter field we are not so surprised to find imagination given full play – that is where it is expected to reveal itself. But in the wider social field this is less common: we can be imaginative in the arts and in technology, but rarely in society and in conceiving of our desired social arrangements. Yet it is this failure of social imagination that lies at the root of many of our contemporary problems: a failure to see that what is does not necessarily define what can be. But the question then arises as to what resources we can call on to promote and educate this imagination. It will be argued here that it is precisely the arts that play this role, through a number of dimensions. Art historians tend to talk about the arts as a “mirror of society” (e.g. Bell 2007), assuming that it is society that generates those same arts. But if we turn the causality around and assume rather that it is the arts that generate a great deal of the imaginative and conceptual material out of which societies are constituted, we have immediately a very different approach both to art history and to sociology, the latter including the sociology of the arts. This matters for a number of reasons. Sociology itself has been remarkably creative in exploring the nature of actual, empirical, social structures and forms of social organization, but has been equally remarkably uncreative in asking deeper questions about where those structures and institutions come from, from what imaginative resources they arise and from what forms of human creativity they have been engendered.

For a sociology and anthropology from art


Assuming that they are not just “natural”, a social form of physical laws simply imposed on human beings from the material structure of the universe, for example like gravity, then they must have had their origins. It is not at all clear why these origins must be interpreted, in so far as they ever are, in terms of either psychology (the “need” for community or comfort) or of evolutionary ethology and biology (as basically reflecting our animal nature and its associated tendency to create herds, bands and protective groups). Such ideas as these are even found in early forms of Marxism, such as Engels’ theory of the origin of the family and of the state. But why, then, is art a seeming cultural universal? It seems to fulfil little evolutionary need in any apparently fundamental sense. Indeed, the arts appear from that perspective to be largely a luxury, a sort of add-on to the serious business of survival, reproduction and power. This view, however, has now been seriously challenged on the basis that the arts are not simply a peripheral leisure pursuit, but are actually the generative mechanisms of many other forms of social and cultural behaviour, including fashion, ritual, a great deal of religion, sport, social protest, social movements, images of the ideal society, means of creating and maintaining social cohesion and other forms of social and interpersonal conviviality. Aesthetics, we might say, not only pervades society, it in many cases generates it. In arguing that the arts are not essentially social (understood in a functionalist sense), but are rather evolutionary adaptations and often tied in with sexual selection, Denis Dutton provides an elaborate theory of the necessary role of the arts in the development of human cultures and societies as generative not derivative (Dutton 2010). David Rothenberg, arguing that, while sexual selection may explain why animals (including ourselves) desire, it does not explain what they desire, answers this question by suggesting that animals (again including ourselves) have an innate or natural aesthetic sense. This insight, while based on Darwin’s own similar observation, suggests a much more elaborate relationship between beauty, art and evolution, beauty being not a by-product of that evolution, but one of its driving forces (Rothenberg 2012). Interestingly, from a socialist perspective, Ernst Fischer has argued much the same thing: that in a genuinely socialist society, art will play a generative not reflective role: “it is the magic of art that by this process of recreation it shows that reality can be transformed, mastered, turned into play” (Fischer 2010: 248). What is at stake here, then, is not simply a new sociology of art (although that may well be a by-product of our exploration). It is rather the attempt, through seeing art as generative of social forms, to unify levels or fields of social investigation hitherto kept separate. The outcome of this is the reformulation of sociology in its relation to culture, subjectivities and processes of social and cultural change, and hence the generation of new resources for the social imagination; that is to say new imaginaries of where civilization, “development” and social trends might take us. To place art back at the centre of cultural discourses and to relocate cultural discourse at the centre


Revisioning art and society

of sociology is to liberate the sources of social imagination and to take the first step towards creating what, in another context, I have called “Deep Sociology” – a sociology concerned with the well-springs of human behaviour and existence, not only with its surface appearances (Clammer 2009a).

The sociology of art/sociology from art One of the few sociologists to have attempted such a project has been the French sociologist Nathalie Heinich. Her work, initially phrased as a project to move from a sociology of art to a sociology from art, in fact seems to have abandoned this grander scheme in favour of a sociology of values, which is certainly not the same thing (Heinich 1998a). But the outlines of her project, and of the trajectory that it has taken, are certainly worth exploring, not least to discover where the idea of deriving a sociology from art broke down and transformed into something else (for an accessible English review of Heinich’s sociological development see Danko 2008). Is this because of the impossibility or implausibility of doing so, or for some other reason? Heinich’s starting point in her 1998 book (Heinich 1998b) is in many ways a familiar one: that art has the potential to shake us out of our routine perceptions, categories and mental habits. Her interesting move, however, is to go on to suggest that this process of de-familiarization be applied to sociology, which has its own set of largely taken for granted vocabulary of analysis. Much of this, as I have argued elsewhere, derives in fact precisely from the sociological tradition in which Heinich herself stands (Clammer 2000a). If this reality of the nature of art is grasped, it potentially provides us with a new means of practising sociology itself (Heinich 1998a: 8), and this in turn has lead her beyond art itself into a more general “sociology of values”. Originally a student and intellectual disciple of Pierre Bourdieu, Heinich began eventually to distance herself from her mentor’s emphasis on art in relation primarily to structures of domination and to rather emphasize an interpretative and empirical approach. Her major 1998 book, of which an English translation of the title (it so far exists only in French) would be What Art Does to Sociology is essentially a work of sociological methodology “which can be considered a defence of her own brand of descriptive and pragmatic sociology … and her rejection of the type of critical sociology championed by Bourdieu” (Danko 2008: 244). The book in a curious sense is then not really about art as such, but rather draws on Heinich’s extensive empirical and interpretative publications, including a major essay on Van Gogh and the post-humous reputation of that painter (Heinich 1991). It also references a book published in the same year as her methodological treatise, which deals with contemporary art in particular relation to the “art world” and its paradoxically mandated expectations of “transgression” as a mechanism of critical acceptance (Heinich 1998b). The book What Art Does to Sociology (Heinich 1998a) was originally intended to be a methodological

For a sociology and anthropology from art


appendix to the work on contemporary art, but was evidently separated from that text as it rather paradoxically does not actually deal with art as such, but is an extended defence of the methodology used in that other book – one invoking an inductive and empirical approach. As Danko phrases it in her analysis of Heinich’s work: [S]he here openly distances herself from Bourdieu’s critical sociology, her own position being close to what Luc Boltanski has called the ‘sociology of criticism’, involving an inductive, empirical, descriptive, pragmatic and interpretative sociology. In Heinich’s opinion, the sociologist should not aim to reveal and criticize the so-called ‘true value’ and ‘true significance’ of his or her research objects, but should instead merely describe how the value judgements and systems under scrutiny ‘are defined, legitimated, or invalidated, constructed, deconstructed or reconstructed by the actors themselves’ [Heinich 1998a: 77]. (Danko 2008: 245) Heinich thus places herself squarely in the tradition of Max Weber’s “value free” sociological methodology. Her subsequent work has included two books on the sociology of literature, a popular text on the sociology of art, a collaborative book on the legal status of authors, artists and artworks, another on the relation between philosophy and anthropology, a book consisting of an extensive interview of herself by the editor Julien Tenedos and a book on Bourdieu (see Danko 2008 for a complete listing). Heinich’s opening gambit – to suggest that a sociology can be derived from art – thus in practice veers off into three rather different issues: a “sociology of values”, or perhaps more accurately an updating of the Weberian tradition; a methodological move contrasting and attempting to “overcome” the critical sociology of her mentor Bourdieu in favour of a sociology essentially deriving from the interpretative and phenomenological tradition; and the use of the term “art” in many of her later publications when in fact the thrust is actually towards issues of education, feminine identity and autobiography (e.g. Heinich 2006/7). So what, finally, can be said about the role of art in constituting a new sociology? In fact, not much: what art apparently does to sociology is to promote an interpretative rather than an explanatory approach to methodology, to recommend a descriptive and value neutral approach to social phenomena (of which art is only one category) and to promote a non-normative approach to the definition of sociology. This is not to be considered either a critical discipline or one that promotes certain modes of social change or transformation. It is also not to be considered a discipline that promotes the application of specifically sociological methods (including such time-honoured ones as the survey and statistical analysis) to art (which has hitherto been largely explored by way of the more humanities based methods of the art historian and philosopher


Revisioning art and society

of art). Good sociological methodology should take an actor-centred approach, and significantly and controversially for a sociologist of art, art works themselves should be left out of the sociology of art, for to include them is to be tempted to judge them, thus violating the principle of value neutrality. So why art at all? Because it uniquely reveals “general phenomena” that are somehow characteristic of a society as a whole (Heinich 2006/ 7: 120). But in what exact sense? And is this not to fall once again into a one-way causal model? Might not society rather reveal dimensions that are suggested to it by art?

Art/sociology The sociology of art as conventionally understood assumes art as a given and then largely concerns itself with exploring the social organization of the art world – the community of artists, collectors, galleries, curators, museums. It also raises more theoretical questions about the audiences for art, reception theory, the role of art in creating social solidarity, its relation to classical sociological issues of class, ethnicity and gender and issues of artistic “genius” (or at least reputation), censorship and broader questions of modernity, post-modernity and globalization (for example Alexander 2003; Tanner 2003). The critical view of the role of art, as exemplified by Bourdieu (1986), John Berger (1972) and in an earlier generation by socialist critics such as Ernst Fischer (Fischer 2010), of course implies the constituting or generative role of art in relation to society. This fact is underlined by Socialist Realism and, negatively, by the paranoia about art always displayed by authoritarian governments as, for example, Stalin’s persecution of artists and in particular poets, or by the Nazi denigration of much of the art that we now consider masterpieces of modernism, such as Entartete Kunst or “Degenerate Art”. This also included work by Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Max Beckmann and other leaders of German Expressionism, Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Oscar Schlemmer and other members of the Bauhaus faculty including Kandinsky and the works of major Dada artists (Altschuler 1994: 136–49). This generative position is also true from the very different perspective of critics such as Suzi Gablik who see the role of art as the “re-enchantment” of a bureaucratized and mechanized world (Gablik 2002) and as a source of magic, myth and alternative visions of the world. And there is certainly no dispute that art is constituative of modernism, whether of its European or non-European varieties (Bothe and Fohl 1999; Mitter 2007). It is reasonable to say, then, that art is generative of perceptions, representations, images of the body, nature, landscape and objects, is a major source of eroticism, shapes space through architecture and landscape gardening, provides the means for the concretization of religious concepts and beliefs, manifests itself in the uses of colour and hence of fashion and decoration, and is a major way in which

For a sociology and anthropology from art


cultures communicate with each other and through which ideas, beliefs, possibilities and ideals travel. It is interesting (although hardly surprising) that in the contemporary world it is the media that has become the main source of scholarly and popular attention as producer of images and representations which are seen as having huge social effects (many negative). However, it is not always realized that behind the media (television, film, comics, popular art, popular music, video games, radio and print media including newspapers, magazines and popular literature) are the same factors that make the arts socially significant; indeed, it does not take much investigation to discover the extent to which the media itself draws on artistic sources for its own symbolism and imagery. The image does work: it is not something floating above society, but the very means through which society perceives, represents and thus constitutes itself. The argument proposed here contradicts precisely the claim by Grana that “Art is not needed for the creation or for the survival of a social order” (Grana 1994: ix). It argues on the contrary that the basis of social imaginaries lies in the symbol producing capacities of human beings, a capacity that pervades and, indeed, creates both cultural and social “forms” or expressions. That emulating (rather than “constructing”) symbols is a defining characteristic of the human species is hardly news, but its ramifications are enormous, since this activity eventuates in language, art itself in its various manifestations, the structure and expression of thought, culture in all its diverse forms and, as we suggest here, in society itself. Material “facts” may set objective limits, but those facts themselves are always interpreted, and in the context of sociology, sociological “rules” are simply codifications that have emerged historically and in response to ecological conditions, and, this is an essential point, in response to dynamics internal to the particular interpretative or symbolic system itself. Even as music “evolves” according to internal innovations, discoveries and experiments on the part of its more talented practitioners, as well as in response to rather obscure social demands, so do all symbolic systems and their impact on the societies of which they are a part. However, this is not according to one “logic of symbols”, but many, depending on historical, ecological, technological and other factors (including the locally dominant religion, itself a system of symbols that in turn interacts with other local and more universal symbol systems to create whole waves of effects). Society itself should be thought of more as a system describable, if at all, by way of chaos theory than through “structures,” or as a quantum field in which not only does the act of observation influence that which is observed, but in which the same “particle” can have different characteristics at different times or in different positions in the total social field. Buried at the margins of the mainstream sociological tradition is a large body of interesting thought that rarely, if ever, surfaces in the dominant discourse of either sociology or art studies. Such a marginalized literature includes the implications of the work of Carl Jung on cultural symbol


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theory and its potential political and sociological implications (Odajnyk 1976), the work of the mystical philosopher and educationalist Rudolf Steiner (Steiner 1985), the writings of the contemporary meta-theorists Ken Wilber (2004) and Roy Bhaskar (2002) and most certainly the seminal study of symbolism carried out by the German philosopher of culture, Ernst Cassirer (Cassirer 1966). How do we get back from such meta-theory to the concrete stuff of the relationship between art and society? Eduardo de la Fuente suggests, amongst other things, three fresh possibilities of what he calls the “New Sociology of Art” (de la Fuente 2007): notably applying insights from the sociology of art to non-art “stuff” such as everyday consumer goods, reintroducing the artwork itself (in contradistinction to Heinich’s position) as a social fact and again toying with the idea of there being an “art-sociology” as opposed to a sociology of art. De la Fuente (2007) argues that these, taken together, constitute an advance over the traditional focus on only external or contextual factors. It is the notion of an “art-sociology” that concerns us here. The possibility of this de la Fuente builds from the work of the music sociologist Tia DeNora, which he summarizes as follows: ‘Her most recent contribution to this area, After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology, poses a significant challenge to the notion of a sociology of art. It advocates what might be called an “art-sociology” ’. DeNora (2003: 151) claims that ‘[t]o speak of the sociology of music is to perpetuate a notion of music and society as separate entities’. She outlines early on in the book that one result of sociologists advancing a sociology of music was that ‘the medium of music was implicitly downgraded; its status shifted, from active ingredient or animating force to inanimate product (an object to be explained)’ (DeNora 2003: 3). Music, like any other manifestation of the arts, comes thus to be treated as an “object” and not, as she clearly argues that it is, an animating and active force in society. It has structuring qualities as she recognized in an earlier book on the role of music in a large number of everyday life contexts (DeNora 2000). Art is not, then, simply a social construct: society is also a cultural construct. Music and society are ‘coproduced’, and calling on the work of Bruno Latour on science DeNora argues that Latour’s notion of co-production offers lessons for both the new musicology and for music sociology. For the former, the lesson is that, on its own, the analysis of the discursive properties of texts is not enough. It leaves in shadow the actual workings of “society” … For music sociology, the lesson is that music is not simply “shaped” by “social forces” – such a view is not only sociologistic, it also misses music’s active properties and thus diminishes the potential of music sociology by ignoring the question of music’s discursive and material powers. (DeNora 2003: 39)

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But sadly, de la Fuente then rather spoils the picture by interposing his own constructionist perspective that what is best about the new sociology of art: namely, a desire to speak about the aesthetic qualities of art but to do so in a manner that is congruent with social constructionism and which avoids unnecessary ‘essentializing’ of what we mean by art. (de la Fuente 2007: 418) While we can certainly agree with the latter, the smuggling in of social constructionism is not only unwarranted by DeNora’s own subtle approach to music sociology, but illegitimately introduces the author’s own, undefended, preferred methodology, one that actually is contradicted by the argument that we have been developing here. It is not that nothing is socially constructed (a great deal is), but that constructionism works precisely against the symbolic autonomy of art forms and their generative capacity: it takes us instead straight back to the old sociological paradigm from which we are trying to escape. Aesthetics then pervades social and cultural life. Here we can find substantial insight in the important work of the anthropologist of art Alfred Gell. In his major work Art and Agency (Gell 1998), he offers a view of art that attempts, I think successfully, to overcome the binary distinctions of subject/object, object/context, that so bedevil sociology, by focusing attention on the fact that art-objects “enthrall”, “arrest” and cause us to act, see and behave in ways that we would not have do so in the absence of the objects. Art-objects are thus not simply produced by social agents, they are social agents. In a commentary on a paper by the Cambridge media scholar Georgina Born, Eduardo de la Fuente again (while still wishing compulsively to assimilate everything to his social constructionist viewpoint) has some important points to make about Gell’s contribution: ‘So what is Gell proposing as the proper domain for a social science of art? He suggests it ought to involve the “study of social relations in the vicinity of objects” that mediate social agency in an “art-like manner” ’ (Gell 1998: 7). However, since Gell is committed to avoiding an essentialist conception of the art-object, what could he mean by “art-like?” He posits the following: ‘I propose that “art-like situations” can be discriminated as those in which the material “index” (the visible, physical “thing”) permits a particular cognitive operation which I identify as the abduction of agency’(Gell 1998: 13). In short, art is a type of causality. In the case of art-objects, we have a type of causality that involves the displacement of intention from subject to object: “[Art works] fascinate, compel, and entrap as well as delight the spectator.” (Gell 1998: 23; de la Fuente 2010: 222). We see in Gell’s work, cut short by his untimely death, a perspective on art congruent with that of David Freedberg’s view that images themselves contain


Revisioning art and society

power: they are themselves agents and causal factors – not an uncaused cause as it were, but one in a complex dialectical relationship with other social, cultural and historical factors (Freedberg 1989). Gell’s work also runs alongside that of Elliot Eisner, which shows that the arts are not peripheral to cognitive development, but on the contrary, are significant in understanding how forms of thought are created, evoked, developed and refined through those very arts (Eisner 2002). That there is a profound interplay between the arts and the body (through regimes of fashion, diet, exercise, body decoration, religious symbolism, film and portraiture) I hope goes without saying. All of these views, taken together, propel us a long way beyond the old “art and society” paradigm of earlier forms of art sociology: they compel us to recognize that artistic codes are a significant part of cultural capital (and are as such related to status, class, identity politics, gender, caste and other forms of social distinction) and that they are in the fullest sense of the word, performative. In discussing the work of the art historian Michael Baxandall and its relation to sociological interpretations of art, art sociologist Jeremy Tanner draws out this point by noting that the art work is not merely the end product of a series of causal determinations but itself has an active character, ‘co-producing’ aesthetic pleasure and the formation of specific sensibilities in cooperation with the interpretative practices of viewers and listeners. (Tanner 2010: 242) Aesthetic agency is thus of great significance in forming subjectivities, identities, sensibilities and imaginaries, both at the individual and collective levels. After all, where do we usually take our visitors from abroad when they come to visit? To a museum: somehow seen as embodying the culture and identity of the society that it is held to represent. While the “defamiliarization” role of (especially contemporary) art, and its potentially critical functions, are much commented upon (e.g. Schinkel 2010), its constituting functions should also not be forgotten. If we then move from a sociology of art to an “art-sociology”, we see a whole new theoretical vista stretching before us, one which touches on almost all of the central concerns of the social sciences. Such a move forces us to begin to reflect on sociological notions of causality. The social sciences frequently lag rather far behind current thinking and developments in the natural sciences, and in many ways sociology operates with a view of causality now long outmoded. Current scientific notions of causality, especially those emerging from physics and cosmology, are extremely subtle and in no way resemble the one-to-one relationship implied in the old “billiard ball” model. Things can have multiple causes, can change their physical and atomic characters, are influenced by observation, may apparently be “uncaused” at all by conventional standards, may be related to origins of which we as yet know

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nothing or do not have the instruments to detect. Oddly enough, the very idea of “causation” itself proves to be something of a social construction and even ideological. What, in the social sciences, is causation for a Marxist is not necessarily so for a phenomenologist. In the sociology of art, what is causation for Pierre Bourdieu is not necessarily what will be seen by Nathalie Heinich. Sociological notions of causality consequently need to be rethought from the bottom up, for without this all sociological “explanations”, not only those pertaining to art, will prove to be inadequate (for an analysis of notions of causality in contemporary physics and cosmology, accessible to the nonmathematically trained layman see Holt 2012). We are often told that human beings are creative, and the evidence from technology, the arts, the media, torture, gastronomy, the sciences and other human activities would seem to bear this out. But large gaps in our theoretical understanding of creativity still exist. How do creative developments in these specific fields relate to other areas of social and cultural life? Why, when to be a “creative” implies activity in a field such as fashion or software development, are people who are socially creative called deviants, revolutionaries or worse? A great deal of what I would call social imagination in practice goes into the invention (usually on paper) of utopias, social futurism, science fiction and other areas of creativity not taken very seriously by mainstream sociology. Yet social realities, including such now taken-for-granted social and economic practices such as capitalism or socialism, have of course emerged out of such social imaginaries, and if they have, so might other new sociological, economic and political possibilities – one of the main ones at the present juncture being the idea of a sustainable future (for a very good analysis of how capitalism emerged from competing and contrary social visions, and so indeed may not have emerged at all, see Hirschman 1981). Subjectivities are constantly re-moulded, and it is to a great extent through culture that this occurs. While the sociology of the body, including the ways in which bodies are depicted in contemporary art (Boyne 1991), has flourished in the last two decades as a sociological theme, the corresponding sociology of the emotions has lagged behind, and even that literature which does exist rarely makes mention of the arts. Yet it is through the arts that emotions, whatever their precise ontological, physical or psychological character or origins, are manifested – feelings of desire, fear, hope, love and so forth. Indeed, it seems that we often do not quite know what emotions are, or whether the “correct” ones are being expressed or in the “correct” way, unless and until we see them embodied in an artistic expression – comedy, tragedy, the novel, ritual, poetry, music, the dance or, increasingly so today, the film. Emotions are shaped, expressed, channelled, identified even, by their artistic manifestations. While the old notion of the artist as solitary genius has thankfully fallen by the sociological wayside, it is nevertheless true that the artist has great power to create, shape, reinforce or undermine the emotional structures of society. And a far from absurd theory could indeed be developed arguing


Revisioning art and society

that a society is essentially its emotional structure, its more obviously “sociological” forms being largely the containers or expressions of that fundamental emotional content (Scheff 1997). The classical categories of sociological theory – class, ethnicity, gender – and their expressions in the various schools of social theory – the Frankfurt School, Marxism, post-modernism and so forth, in no way limit what is possible within the range of sociological theory. Current attempts to link art and social theory, however, mostly buy into the pre-defined set of categories suggested not by art, but by conventional sociology (for example Harrington 2004), rather than by asking what art does to sociology. But even when modest attempts are made to draw on a vocabulary of art, for example in the context of understanding social movements as expressive movements, substantial sociological results are obtained (Hetherington 1998; Clammer 2012: 242–62). While art itself may not “think”, it furnishes us with non-cognitive categories through which we, in myriad cultural ways, can order the world (for example Pollock 2003 in relation to gender). The fact is that in virtually every known society, colours (purple, scarlet and gold, conspicuously) mark status and rank (one thinks of kings, judges, academic dress). So do sumptuary laws (as in Tokugawa Japan), the wearing of fur, the carrying of symbols of office (maces, swords and wands), the mode of body decoration (jewels, hats, make-up, hairstyles) and the accompaniment of music and ritual forms (imagine a coronation). Architecture furnishes many examples of this principle in terms of external and internal design, the size and elevation of rooms (why is a penthouse superior to even a well-lit basement?), lighting, modes of approach to those of high status or low (“below stairs”). This code is subtly built into the design and furnishing of the Nijo Palace in Kyoto (Coaldrake 1996), and is an idea satirized at length in Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1940 film The Great Dictator and given literary form in the short stories of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges. Decades ago the critic Kenneth Boulding drew attention to the role of the image in society (Boulding 1975), and, if anything, this role has increased its significance with the explosive growth of media and the reproducibility of works of art in books, posters, postcards, calendars and in advertising. The post-modernist idea that in fact all is image is not necessarily as trivial as it first seems, for even Baudrillard presumably did not think that the Gulf War never actually happened and that there were no casualties from that war. The argument, I take it, is rather that the power of the media is now such, and the lives of so many First World affluent citizens so tied up with it, that it is indeed difficult if not impossible to separate the “real” from the “image” when what we know about the world, nature, news, events, is almost entirely received at second hand – delivered to us passively by television for the most part. What a less extreme and less provocative version would suggest is indeed that the image is central to social and cultural life and with the dominance of mass media we have passed into a social space

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where the image is the major structuring force of social life. Speaking of the “future of the image” especially in the context of design, the French philosopher of culture Jacques Rancière says the following: [I]f I speak here of design, it is not as an art historian or a philosopher of technique. I am neither. What interests me is the way in which, by drawing lines, arranging words or distributing surfaces, one also designs divisions of communal space. It is the way in which, by assembling words or forms, people define not merely various forms of art, but certain configurations of what can be seen and what can be thought, certain forms of inhabiting the material world. These configurations, which are at once symbolic and material, cross the boundaries between arts, genres and epochs. This is the standpoint from which I will broach the question: how do the practice and idea of design … redefine the place of artistic activities in the set of practices that configure the shared material world – the practices of creators of commodities, of those who arrange them in shop windows or put their images in catalogues; the practices of constructors of buildings or posters … but also of politicians who propose new forms of community around certain exemplary institutions, practices or facilities – for example electricity and soviets? (Rancière 2010: 91) It is in fact not only the sociological aspects of the power of the image that should interest us, but very much that the same images are the tools through which politicians, for good or bad, mobilize new social imaginaries or defend old ones. Images are as much political as they are sociological. Such ideas have their roots in some of the traditions of, at least Continental, philosophy. Heidegger for instance turned to what he termed the “poetic” not simply as a mode of expression, but as a form of truth and knowledge repressed by the Western rationalist tradition. While for Heidegger this claim was situated as part of a larger critique of techno-scientific civilization, it has other implications: art as a form of knowledge, its essential role in the plenitude of Heidegger’s central concern with Being, as leading to a non-theoretical understanding of life, as pointing to a holism in the analysis of the totality of social life and as constituting a key to “the history of Being” (Seinsgeschichte). While art may or may not directly create social change (it certainly does create and indeed often constitutes cultural change), it is the primary means to prepare for the emergence of another “mode of being” – a future beyond our current self-destructive and ecologicallydestructive civilization of consumption and technology (Heidegger 1977). In his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” (Heidegger 1971) he never fully resolves his views on the potential of works of art in a technological age. As Timothy Clark summarizes it, for Heidegger ‘The world-disclosing potential of art is stifled in the modern epoch, with its appropriation of art as a form


Revisioning art and society

of merely subjective experience, as an object for museums or for school and university study’ (Clark 2002: 69). Art, for Heidegger, embodies holistic, alternative ways of understanding and if the contexts in which these can flourish are killed off by technological civilization, then art will die and with it the modes of thought that it carries. But what Heidegger does not seem to have grasped is the significance of the counter-currents within that technological civilization: Deep Ecology and other forms of holistic environmental thinking, new religions and revivals of older ones (such as Buddhism) with a non-dualistic world-view, the vast array of social movements that form a counter-point to dominant culture (Hawken 2008). Art itself, of course, is also an important counter-current; far from being moribund, it is constantly and energetically reinventing itself, as are those crafts which Heidegger saw as embodying organic, non-theoretical understandings of the world. Poetic spaces take us beyond the rationalistic world of techno-civilization: they point continuously to the possibility of new ways of being; indeed, as active agents, they already are new modes of being. The spaces that the arts create are not outside of life: they are not only a significant part of it, but are to a great extent what animates and irradiates the rest of that life and transforms even its arid parts into possibilities of transcendence and magic.

The structure of the book The book proceeds to illustrate these ideas and possibilities through two main sections: a longer theoretical part and a series of case studies actually making concrete the ideas set out in this chapter and in the subsequent seven chapters that comprise the first part of the book. Each chapter draws out an aspect of the overall theme and to some extent attempts to relate its specific theme to the issues raised in the other chapters by elaborating and illustrating from multiple perspectives what is, after all, a multiple field, both from the perspective of art, and from the perspective of sociology. Chapter 2 accordingly lays further foundations by elaborating the concept of a social aesthetics – the fundamental role of aesthetic factors in the constitution of social life. Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 apply and elaborate this perspective in relation to the notions of social change and “development”, which, given the multiple crises which human society and the biosphere now face, ought to be amongst the most central questions of any sociology. “Development”, as it is conventionally understood, is rarely seen in relation to the arts; although there is a literature that purports to explore the relationship between culture and development, little of that literature has any actual content in the sense of either assessing the contribution that the arts can make to development (one estimate for example suggesting that at least 20 million people make their living from some form of artistic production in Asia alone), or in filling out the vague concept of “culture” with any concrete examples of cultural practice (theatre, sculpture, dance, painting and so forth).

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Chapter 5 takes some of these ideas in another direction by examining architecture as a major form of visual culture, one that impinges on our daily lives like no other, and to rescue the idea of the “gaze” from its usual home in feminist literature to apply it to the sociology of everyday life as it is lived in built environments, the habitat of most of us. Chapter 6 extends the notion of aesthetics itself well beyond its usual philosophical context, to apply it to a much wider range of social activities and to the generation of conviviality. Chapter 7 explores in some detail the highly neglected field of art movements as an important category of social movements, not least through their transforming role in areas left out of conventional social movements theories, such as visualities, subjectivities and emotions. The final chapter in this first and more theoretical section reviews the issue of the migration of images and their relationship to the sociology of space and geography. The second part of the book consists of three case studies. The first discusses the role of the influential Bauhaus school as its seminal ideas were transmitted to India and Japan, and explores the concept of modernity as it appears in non-Western contexts and the very different readings of the interaction between colonialism and culture expressed in the ways in which art traditions and styles from abroad were assimilated into two quite different but major Asian societies. The second can in some ways be seen as a detailed extension of the second, being a close analysis of the forced transmission (and control) of cultural influences, not from West to East, but from one colonizing Asian society to one of its major colonies, in this case from Japan to Korea. Here again, the issues of the role of art in cultural transmission and resistance arise, as does the question of the meaning of modernity in non-Western sociological contexts. The final chapter provides a counterpoint to the chapter dealing primarily with Korea by examining Japan itself and the question of the relationship between a late or advanced capitalist society and the modes of artistic and more general cultural production and reception within that society. The cumulative effect of the three case studies is to provide at least the elements of a comparative art sociology or sociology from art, by showing new dimensions of the field, by suggesting the theoretical implications of those comparisons and by theorizing that very different societies necessarily generate different issues in art sociology and hence of the role of the arts in the constitution of those societies. While art history, which is still very Western in its orientation and examples, does nevertheless contain a substantial literature on non-Western art forms, the sociology of art, even in its “new” forms, still lags substantially in this regard. It is to be hoped that this book as a whole will both provide a fresh way of looking at the relationships between the arts and society – as constituitive not merely reflective of the latter – and greatly expand the geographical scope of sociological studies of the arts and to alert us to the immense theoretical and emancipatory possibilities that those alternative and comparative examples prefigure.

Chapter 2

Social aesthetics/sociological aesthetics

Towards a social aesthetics The question of the relationship of art to society seems to be a perennial one, motivating debates in the sociology of art, the social history of art, art theory and amongst practising artists themselves as they reflect on their role and the wider purpose of their work beyond mere self-expression. In the interpretation of art works themselves, questions of “meaning” usually arise, giving rise to the further question of whether art is only a decorative enterprise (important socially and culturally as that may be) or whether it also plays a role in positive social transformation and the promotion of a culture that is expanding its boundaries in ever more humanist and ecologically sound directions. These questions are important well beyond the boundaries of art itself: they relate to the much debated issues of modernity and post-modernity, of cultures of colonialism and post-colonialism and increasingly to the responses of a civilization that is now facing unprecedented and critical issues of humanly induced climate change, environmental degradation, resource depletion and loss of bio-diversity (and indeed cultural and linguistic diversity), terrorism, conflict and patterns of globalization that are working increasingly against the interests of the majority of the world’s population. The critic John Berger (1989: 86–7) argues that this question becomes especially acute in times of social crisis such as war. He illustrates this by debating the role of Cubism during the First World War and in particular the case of the Cubist-inspired ballet Parade, written by Jean Cocteau for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with music by Eric Satie and curtains, costumes and scenery by Picasso. Shortly before the ballet opened in Paris, the French army launched one of its most disastrous attacks on the German lines, losing, it is estimated, 120,000 troops, just 150 miles from the theatre where the show was being staged. Berger suggests that this cultural event in a Paris theatre poses one of the most important and recurring problems for art in our time: at a time of global crises, how can artists justify what they are doing in such times? He also points out the paradoxes involved in attempting

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to give an answer: Parade, in attempting to shock the bourgeoisie out of their complacency, merely reconfirmed them in it. The Cubist still-lives of Juan Gris that he continued to produce during the war despite his own extreme poverty and despite the war ranging around him, have greatly enriched European culture; Picasso’s celebrated Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907 and a precursor to Cubism proper (although not publically exhibited until 1937 when the Spanish civil war was in full swing) was intended to shock. [I]t was a raging frontal attack, not against sexual ‘immorality’, [its subject matter is presumably the interior of a brothel] but against life as Picasso found it – the waste, the disease, the ugliness, and the ruthlessness of it … But instead of criticizing modern life by comparing it, as much in sorrow as in anger, with a more primitive way of life, he now uses his sense of the primitive to violate and shock the civilized. (Berger 1989: 72, 84–9) For Picasso, at least during his Cubist period, art had a critical function, an idea shared by many other art movements – the Vienna Secessionists, the Surrealists, German Expressionists and many subsequent ones – thereby defining one of its non-decorative roles. The poet Octavio Paz goes rather further, suggesting that art is an essential part of human nature, expressed through the faculty of the imagination: “Imagination – the power to produce images and the temptation to incarnate these images – is part of his nature. Imagination: a faculty of our nature to change itself” (Paz 1990: 78). He develops from this idea a whole theory of art: that in a world where socialism has failed to transform human relations, but which has been nevertheless transformed by modernity “It is difficult to imagine man returning to metaphysics. Having been so deeply disappointed by science and technology, he will seek a poetics” (Paz 1990: 117) for “To return to the unity of vision is to reconcile body, soul and the world” (Paz 1990: 83). To do this it is necessary to turn to art: [T]he source of modern ‘wisdom’ is not philosophy, but art. And it is not ‘wisdom’ but madness, a poetics. In the last century it went by the name of Romanticism, and in the first half of our century by the name of Surrealism. Neither philosophy nor religion nor politics Vienna Secessionists, the Surrealists, German Expressionists has been able to withstand the attack of science and technology. But art has borne up under the onslaught. Dadaists – above all Duchamp and Picabia – exploited technology to make a mockery of it: they turned it into something useless. Modern art is a passion, a critique and a cult. It is also a game and a form of wisdom – the wisdom of madness. (Paz 1990: 118)


Revisioning art and society

This vision of art is in many ways a very ancient one: that art, by tapping into the unconscious, provides a privileged route into areas of mind, life and spirit inaccessible by any other means. Here, the artist is something like a shaman, a trafficker between this world and deeper ones, a role greatly exploited by some contemporary artists such as the late Joseph Bueys and many other performance artists who have followed him. An obvious objection to such a conception, other than the dangers of identifying art with madness, is that it can easily become privatized and inward-looking, losing in the process any social or critical function that it might possess. One would assume that this was not Paz’s intention: his own poetry and writing engage deeply with the world, and he himself led an active public life, including a period as Mexico’s ambassador to India. His work rather reinforces the idea that if culture does not speak out against political and economic crimes, it becomes an accomplice in them. The freedom of art then carries with it the parallel requirement of responsibility. Criticizing the political posturing of much contemporary art and its haste to be taken up and promoted by a totally capitalist and commodified “art world”, author and curator Wilfried Dickhoff suggests that rather than surrender to that commercialized milieu, making art means to consider the desire of the impossible as reasonable. The desire of the impossible is art’s reason. And this reason could still and again generate wonderful paradoxical presences of non-indifference, which might parry human’s contemporary nihilistic condition. (Dickhoff 2009: 137) When asked if then the “impossible” is simply another word for utopia, Dickhoff replies: [N]o, not at all. I agree with Jacques Derrida that the impossible is actually the opposite of utopia. In a certain sense utopia is an insult of the presence. The im-possible is here and now, it gives our wishes, acts, and decisions its direction. While utopia is irreal, the im-possible is a figure of the real. It is nothing negative, it is an affirmation, which allows us to critically resist all the pseudo-acts, pseudo-decisions, and pseudo-responsibilities in art and ‘real’ life. (Dickhoff 2009: 139) It is significant, then, that the weight of opinion is away from the old doctrine of “art for art’s sake”, a no longer tenable position in a world marked by environmental collapse, unacceptable levels of poverty, war, terrorism and massive social and economic injustice. This is not a new position and even Marcel Proust, hardly a revolutionary in his habits, daily life or ideology, argued that the role of art (and he was a great fan of

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Impressionism, surely a style revolutionary in its visual techniques, but hardly in terms of its social impact) was to remove our blinkers, to undo the work of habit and to allow depths concealed behind everyday perceptions to emerge. Art, like myth with which it has much in common, should, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss suggests, be regarded “if not as a superior form of knowledge, at least as the most fundamental and the only one really common to us all” (Lévi-Strauss 1978: 154). The problem, however, is to reconcile this “deep” view of art with its extensive commodification. Slavoj Z˘ iz˘ ek addresses this by suggesting that there is also a move in the opposite direction – towards what he terms the “culturalization” of the market economy itself (Z˘ iz˘ ek 2000: 25) – in which culture becomes not just one of the spheres of the market, but its central component. But while this, in principle, places cultural production (including the media, video games and so forth as well as art) back at the centre of the economy and hence of life in general, it also leads to the waning of the modernist conception of the avantgarde provoking and shocking the establishment, since in the new order [T]oday, more and more, the cultural-economic apparatus, in order to reproduce itself in competitive market conditions, has not only to tolerate but directly to provoke stronger and stronger shocking effects and products … Perhaps this is one possible definition of post-modern as opposed to modernist art: in postmodernism, the transgressive loses its shock value and is fully integrated into the established artistic market. (Z˘ iz˘ ek 2000: 25) Regardless of how one interprets, or how much one enjoys, the resulting products of post-modern or contemporary art, the fact remains that it has to be located within a social matrix, both in terms of what it does (its role in society and culture) and its links to economy and modes of exchange and consumption. The debate about the nature of a social aesthetics can remain at the level of interpretation (theories about the “meaning” of the art produced, its place within art history, its links to the biographies and social location of specific artists and so on). Alternatively, it can take up the challenge of reformulating the nature of art itself, away from the narcissism, self-referentiality, hedonism and commodification of so much contemporary art, towards taking an active role in the promotion of an eco-just society in which the deeper inclinations of the human spirit can be acknowledged, nurtured and applied, as opposed to the environmentally and psychologically destructive nature of so much of the trivia that makes up what is usually termed “popular culture”. Or as the poet Czeslaw Milosz speaking of film, and specifically of Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute, rightly says “a film that better perhaps than any other demonstrates what film art is capable of, especially now when its technical perfection is primarily used to debase man” (Milosz 1983: 119). Such a


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statement is immediately likely to be interpreted as a call to some kind of authoritarianism or contemporary expression of some kind of Socialist Realism. It is nothing of the sort: it is a call for the depth of imagination expressed in the kinds of views of art exemplified by Paz, Berger, Dickhoff and many others to be not only acknowledged as perhaps the most fundamental faculty of human beings, but to be applied to what we might here call “social imagination”. By this term, I mean the expansion of creativity from the arts as such to society itself: to possibilities, alternatives, humane ways of living, to ecology and environmental justice, to promoting civilizational and religious harmony, healing and new cultural formations. A number of commentators on art have written about the “re-enchantment of art” (Gablik 2002), of art itself being a “technology of enchantment” (Moya 2008) or of art as “re-enchanting the world” (Faria et al. n.d). These are excellent ideas and we will return to some of them in greater detail later, but the danger in the concept of re-enchantment is that it leads again to an interiority that points away from an engagement with the already emerged multiple crises now engulfing the globe: climate change, resource depletion, poverty, conflict and population. The re-enchantment, important as it is, must be located in a bigger project altogether: the education of desire.

The politics of the imagination In classical aesthetics there would have been some agreement with this position, even though the social challenges were somewhat different. In defining aesthetics as that which “applies to created symbolic genres, or dynamic structures within which human experience, meaning, and value are constituted or emergent”, Kapferer and Hobart (2005) suggest that “For Kant, as with Hegel, aesthetics does not merely concern art but rather lies at the heart of the critical understanding of the human project as a whole” (Kapferer and Hobart 2005: 1–2). In this view, art not only plays a major role in shaping and giving form to human experience, but is rightly considered as active, as agency in its own right, and not simply as response to something already given: [W]hat we emphasize is that aesthetic processes highlight not merely that realities are symbolic constructions but that life exists in these constructions that commands or demands or calls forth ways of living the realities the aesthetic as a symbolic composition may be conceived as objectifying or representing. Immanent in the compositional symbolic dynamic of aesthetic construction is how human beings imagine and form their existential circumstances to themselves and others. It constitutes both the reality and the emergent possibility of the worlds they come to live. (Kapferer and Hobart 2005: 7)

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This agency of the aesthetic requires that it be seen as a “strong” force that can and does exercise power over the life worlds that it shapes. At the root of this agency is imagination, something that both shapes and is shaped by social forces and is consequently and necessarily political. This politics can take many forms: as an attempt to escape from the dominant economism of modern society, as the imagination of utopias and as a generator of value, amongst many other things. As a mechanism of transformative potential, the relation of art to value becomes central. John Fekete expresses this idea as follows: [I]f art is seen as an orientational objectification, pressing back the limits of perceptual, rational, affective, and imaginary experience, and as an order of relations, orienting to autonomy in contrast to the automatism of individual particularities and social customs, then this autonomy can be regarded as not referring primarily to value-utility at the level of individual appropriation, not even to the utility of autonomy as a value content, but referring rather to those other systems of social value and establishing an order of relations to these. At this level, the aesthetic can be understood to be engaged with economies of every kind,but to be as much apart from them as it is part of them. This order of autonomous relations can be made intelligible as a universal anthropological horizon of human life: it is a mode of invoking the human for us. It challenges the instrumental subject of modern culture and through it, also addresses the whole being … Every work of art as a value relation creates de novo both its own codes and its own mode of evocation of a generative transitional space into which the codes are displaced. (Fekete 1987: 82) But this generation of value is not neutral. Speaking of the poet Adam Zagajewski, Edward Hirsch in his study of the sources of the artistic imagination notes that the writer applauds the “nourishers of humanity”(Hirsch 2002: 75) – the great artists and prophets of our times, whether they be those who rebel against the dictatorship of rationalism and technology, the seekers of a return to faith, those who endorse the metaphysical imagination and those who represent both the affirmative side of the quest for depth or who embody the negative diagnosis of the human condition. However, he also notes how susceptible those who think in holistic, organic and romantic categories have been to authoritarian politics, (and he cites Heidegger as an example) since there is no correspondence between an organic and holistic imagination and a holistic and organic society. This, Hirsch suggests, is a very important point to make “because it allows us to praise the creative power of deep mind and metaphysical imagination, the dimension of the holy in life, while also remaining faithful to a democratic ideal” (Hirsch 2002: 75). This latter he sees exemplified in the painter Robert Motherwell’s


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series Elegies to the Spanish Republic, in which the destruction of the Spanish republic by the forces of Franco’s fascist movement is mourned not only for the appalling loss of life, but also for the loss of social hope and a collective ideal (Hirsch 2002: 188–9). The imagination itself then is “political” – it can be directed towards humanization or destruction, to the invention of art or to the invention of weapons of mass destruction. But then the political itself is often defined in a very narrow way: its potential expansion might greatly expand areas of human freedom by making far more imaginative possibilities viable and by transcending its arid concern with institutions, constitutions, parties, power, resources and manipulation, as if this constituted the whole of social life or, with its companion, economics, occupied the whole space of culture (on power in particular see Clammer 2009b). For as Albert Camus put it: “Poverty prevented me from thinking that all is well under the sun and in history; the sun taught me that history is not everything” (Camus 1979: 18). What is needed then is a wider definition of politics, one that touches on the deeper qualities of human existence as well as its surface and often superficial manifestations. In the dialogue between Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said about the relationship of music to society and the implications of this for peace building (specifically in the context of that between Israelis and Palestinians) an important point is raised. Barenboim suggests that “a conflict of this nature will not be solved only through political means, through economical means, or through arrangements. It requires the courage of everybody to use, as it were, artistic solutions” (Barenboim and Said 2004). To this Said replies [Y]es, I know, but why do we, in some profound sense … distrust and dislike politicians? Precisely for the reason that they’re fixers. They are more interested in any end rather than in a larger process. What they want to do is to get to the next position and say, ‘Look what I’ve done’, whereas for an intellectual or for an artist, the main thing is the ideal, without any compromises … And the question is: Is there any way of bridging the gap? That’s a difficult question – whether the methods of the politician can be open to the methods of the artist and the intellectual? (Barenboim and Said 2004: 60–1) For art to intervene in social processes beyond the purely artistic, this is indeed a major question. Certainly a number of significant figures, politicians, intellectuals and artists have thought it possible to bridge the gap, including Gandhi (Parel 2006: 157–73), Ernst Bloch, Sri Aurobindo, André Breton, Tolstoy, the, sadly, poorly known Indian writer and thinker Chitta Ranjan Das (Clammer 2012), the Japanese painter and peace activist Furusawa Jun, Rabindranath Tagore and Milan Kundera, to name but a few, including those who attempt

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to establish this bridge by exploring the relationships between aesthetics and ethics, for example the contemporary French sociologist Michel Maffesoli (1990). When Frida Kahlo commented to Trotsky that she regretted that her work was not “political enough”, Trotsky’s response was that, on the contrary, it represented to the world a vision of the future beyond the categories of conventional politics. The political task for art then becomes that of reclaiming spaces for the imagination, spaces in which alternatives can be formulated and new social and cultural possibilities conceived, the spaces that David Harvey has called “spaces of hope” (Harvey 2002). As Harvey rightly points out, these spaces implicate utopian possibilities, architecture as the art most concerned with directly shaping space, the politics of the body, responsibility towards nature and issues of social justice and the active pursuit of what Ivan Illich has dubbed “conviviality”. In his book on the sociology of art, Jean Duvignaud suggests that [T]he imagination, therefore, is much is more than the imaginary. It embraces the entire existence of man, for we not only respond with feelings of admiration, but participate, through the symbols offered by a work of the imagination, in a potential society that lies beyond our grasp. (Duvignaud 1972: 20) He elaborates on this idea by proposing that [I]t is this continual search for social structures which gives these attitudes their validity in sociological terms. They do not necessarily add up to ‘visions of the world’ … nor are they merely psychological patterns of behavior. These attitudes attempt to create a ‘society’. It is in this way that the imaginary plays its true part within the framework of social life. (Duvignaud 1972: 66) From this analysis, Duvignaud suggests three principle conclusions: that artistic imagination involves a “participation” in society that can never be fully realized; that to a large extent it anticipates what is possible by drawing on actual experience; and that it is a wager on the capacity of human beings to invent new relationships and to experience hitherto unknown emotions. He continues: [A]s an unrealizable participation, artistic imagination competes with the very essence of social groups, but it also suggests a total communication in which people attain a full awareness of each other, where mutual fulfillment of the social substance takes place, and is also unceasingly enriched by an intense and continuous interchange. Such a re-grouping, produced by the signs and symbols of art, cannot be compared to any


Revisioning art and society other re-grouping, and because of this such a group never belongs to any definable reality. Because imagined creation is a way of anticipating real experience, it is a hypothesis formulated about what could be, and therefore about the possible nature of the life and experience of groups and individuals. (Duvignaud 1972: 143)

Involvement and communication, for Duvignaud, provide the basis from which our freedom can find its truest expression, a process that requires art as its medium and vehicle and a view which certainly finds confirmation in the work of Habermas. We find, then, a triangular relationship between changing life, changing society and changing space. All of these involve images of the future, whether they be technological utopias, green cities, eco-socialism or any of the other myriad possibilities that have been canvassed in the present or in the past. Any of these, in turn, involve conceptions of design: as a means to beautify life, to change consciousness, to transform space and hence the social relationships and interactions that are dependent on it, to channel and energize the emotions. And all of these are linked to our understanding of the imagination and its role in social transformation – in the direction of livable, just, sustainable and emotionally satisfying solutions that have liberatory potential for human beings and nature. A key thinker in this respect is Cornelius Castoriadis, who in his essay “Radical Imagination and the Social Instituting Imaginary” (Castoriadis 1994) makes a number of important points. Castoriadis suggests that societies essentially create themselves as, in a sense imaginary bodies, held together by their institutions and systems of representation and meaning, which structure the ways they relate to nature and determine their patterns of socialization. This whole process – a society’s “creative construction of edifices” – he terms “social imaginaries”(Castoriadis 1994: 136). Castoriadis uses the word “imagination” in two slightly different senses: in connection with visual images and in relation to invention, innovation and creativity. Drawing on these ideas, Richard Peet and Michael Watts attempt to apply them to ecology. They propose that the word ‘imaginary’ is used in the full sense of creativity – the projection of thought into the scarcely known – so that it is a vital source of transformational, as well as merely reproductive, dynamics: the imaginary links natural conditions with the construction of new social forms. (Peet and Watts 1998: 268) Indeed, they see the natural environment, always present beneath layers of socialization, to be the main source of any society’s meaning systems, aesthetics and ultimately systems of thought: hence an “environmental imaginary” is as significant as a social one in the construction of our overall

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cultural worlds. Other recent scholarship has suggested that there is an intimate connection between art, our perception of nature and our evolutionary path as humans (Rothenberg 2011).The imagination then is perhaps the most political of all our faculties.

Visual utopias/visual justice It is interesting that in the Western world the literary utopia is the most common form of expressing the imaginary or desired future state of society. In much of the rest of the world, however, utopian longings take visual form, often deriving from religious sources (e.g. Baas and Jacob 2004) or taking the form of imaginary cities or palaces, as in the work of the Chinese poet, art collector and inventor of what he called “paradises of the mind”, Zhang Dai, who wrote and invented during a period of great social chaos during the Manchu overthrow of the Ming dynasty. Much of the art of Southeast Asia certainly falls into this category (Singapore Art Museum 2000). Some is overtly political, depicting, for example, the liberation struggles in Indonesia against the Dutch or the Vietnamese against the French and then the United States (US) or, in the case of much art from the Philippines, providing visual critiques of poverty, social injustice and foreign cultural domination. However, much more is religious (in Thai painting in particular), insofar as it draws on mainly Buddhist themes of an ideal realm, and much is a kind of transposition into Southeast Asia of a version of Matisse’s Luxe, calme et volupté, depicting not what is but what might be. As the authors of the Indonesian Manifesto Kebudayaan put it in the early years of Indonesian independence, “For us, culture means a struggle to perfect the conditions of human life” (Soemantri 1999: 58). Politics in art, then, may not necessarily take overt forms: it can equally be expressed in the depiction of what might be – the alternative to the managerial, urbanized, technological and economistic utopia of the politicians. Justice itself need not only be pursued through political means, a good example of this being environmental issues. As Peet and Watts (1998) suggested on p. 26, an environmental imaginary exists in symbiosis with a social imaginary and is always in a dialectical relationship with the aesthetics of any given society: its landscapes reveal the state of its soul. The influential critic and art historian John Berger, cited on p. 18, has indeed argued that all aesthetic emotion is derivative of the emotion we feel before nature (Berger 1985: 9). Extending this insight, he suggests that high modernist art was a “tradition whose aim was to cheat the world of its hollow triumphs, and disclose its pain” (Berger 1985: 184): a struggle carried out through visual means to make unnatural the distinction between the actual and the desirable. This is a notion expressed elsewhere by the novelist Milan Kundera, who writes that “the meaning of an art’s history is opposed to the meaning of history itself. Because of its personal nature, the history of


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art is a revenge by man against the impersonality of the history of humanity” (Kundera 1996: 16). But for art to do this effectively it has to liberate itself somehow from its absorption into the commodified, productivist and consumerist totalizing environment of capitalism. How exactly to do this becomes an exciting and highly progressive project, which necessarily involves at least four levels. The first is the transformation of vision itself into the visionary. Speaking of the painter Anselm Kiefer and the performance artist Joseph Beuys, the critic Suzi Gablik argues that [B]oth Kiefer and Beuys perceive that the only way to create significantly political art today is by making the visionary powers central. This widening of the creative field by grounding oneself in transformational vision is the only thing that can eliminate the spiritual sterility of modern life, and possibly save the world from suicide. (Gablik 1986: 124) The second level, which Gablik derives from this first one, relates to the role of the critic: [T]he role of criticism today, as I see it, is to engage in a fundamental reconstruction of the basic premises of our whole culture; it can be nothing less than challenging the oppressive assumptions of our secular, technocratic Western mentality. It is not just a matter of seeing things differently, but of seeing different things. (Gablik 1986: 128) The third is re-linking the aesthetic, the moral and the social, three realms that in contemporary consumerist society have drifted far apart, leading to what Gablik and others have called the necessity of both the re-enchantment of art and through it the re-enchantment of the world. Without doing so, indeed, the current passive and marginal status of art in relation to any kind of meaningful social transformation can only persist: art for art’s sake equating effectively with meaningless art. The fourth, and perhaps the most painful level, is to participate in the transformation of the material conditions of existence: an active intervention in the very mechanisms of advanced capitalism and its expressions in globalization and commodification. Without this, “subversive” art, pending its own absorption into that commoditized system, can be little more than a passing guerrilla movement around the peripheries of a very well entrenched and defended totalizing system.

Questioning the boundaries of art The transformation of art and the transformation of society, then, go hand in hand. This has many implications for culture in general, and here we can

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mention at least three of them. The first is the dissolution of the entirely artificial boundary between the so called “fine arts” and craft or “folk arts”. This distinction is largely an invention of the highly artificial and commodified “art world” and has little bearing on either the aesthetic qualities of craft arts (often exceeding in skill, design and certainly beauty, anything being produced in the contemporary art scene today) or its place in the social relations of production. “Fine art”, often produced by narcissistic specialists, usually male, displayed in hard to access galleries, unintelligible to much of its potential public and sold at absurd prices has few social functions. Folk art, on the other hand, is produced within and for a community, usually combines beauty and functionality, is economically significant to the producing communities, arises out of socially organic sources (and incidentally, frequently utilizes literally organic and environmentally friendly materials and pigments available locally) and is often the work of women (Barta 2003; Bundgaard 1999). It was exactly the overcoming of this artificial distinction with no basis in aesthetic merit that the Bauhaus set out to challenge in its attempts to blend the activities of the artist and the craftsperson and to express the work of both in beautiful, functional and socially useful products. Today, it is perhaps in public art that some residue of this endeavour still persists as an attempt not so much to revivify folk arts as to take “high” art out of the gallery, expose it to public gaze and to utilize it to animate public spaces in new and unexpected ways (Miles 2000). It furthermore continues in the revival of craft practices that have learnt from innovations in contemporary art, while expressing them in highly original ways in the context of an entirely different order of artistic production, one requiring both new curatorial practices in galleries and museums and a new critical language when it comes to appreciation and explanation (Buszek 2011). The second implication is the coming together of art and ecology as our world-wide environmental crisis deepens and expands. This has had many cultural effects in both directions: in promoting Land Art and other forms of artistic intervention in, or utilizing elements directly derived from, nature and often returning to it (twigs, stones, ice, etc.). It has also awakened many artists to the depth and significance of environmental problems, leading to new forms of performance and site specific art (Gablik 2002) in promoting environmentally sound forms of architecture. This has manifested in both ecologically sensitive buildings or so called “green architecture” (Wines 2008) and built forms that derive from traditional, low energy, low impact forms that blend with the landscape, utilize locally available materials and labour and which are culturally as well as environmentally friendly (Magee 1999). While these ideas may not yet be architecturally or artistically mainstream, they are having substantial influence on art theory and practice and have given rise to a new branch of aesthetics – notably the field of environmental aesthetics concerned with the relationships between art and nature and such issues as the perception of wilderness, landscape and gardens


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(Carlson 2005). This in turn is becoming more and more tied in with ideas of sustainability and the possibility of the ecosystem to sustain itself in the face of the relentless assaults of industrial civilization and “development”. The third issue is the recognition of a plurality of aesthetic possibilities: that not only have conceptions of beauty and ideas about the nature and role of the arts changed over time, but that this is also true cross-culturally today. Indian aesthetics for example arises from a very different soil, religiously, environmentally, culturally and historically, than does Western aesthetics, tied to its own specific and actually local philosophical system that has only achieved its current degree of hegemony because of mechanisms of colonialism and globalization that have artificially extended its reach well beyond its own historical heartland (on Indian aesthetics see Lannoy 1974). A great deal of post-colonial theory is actually to do with aesthetics – with issues of representation, exclusion, aesthetic and institutional hegemony, ethnicity. It also explores the definition or re-definition of the terms of art and art historical discourse, including words such as tradition, modernity and heritage (Araeen et al. 2002) and the ways that these are reflected in literature and art by and about the former colonies (indeed interestingly and paradoxically, post-colonial studies seems to flourish mainly in university departments of English). The recognition of what Shohat and Stam have called a “polycentric aesthetics” (Shohat and Stam 2002) is liberating because it not only absolves the non-West from having to follow the Western canon, but it also, as it were, gives permission for any number of indigenous styles, expressions, experiments, themes and artistic intentions to flourish well outside of the centres of the “art world” and its hyper-capitalist structure. What Western art critics may pronounce as being art or not-art may have no relevance whatsoever in India, Kenya, Cuba or New Guinea, and nor should it. Neocolonialism and globalization can take many forms and appear culturally as well as economically. Visual justice requires not only access to aesthetically and environmentally attractive living and leisure spaces, but also to the possibility of liberated expression: art that is authentic precisely because it emerges from the soil of the culture in which it is produced (see also Sasaki 2010 for discussion of Asian examples). Art, then, is not confined to objects that can be placed in a gallery and viewed in a largely passive way, something that we have also learnt from performance art and land art). It is, according to the peace scholar and activist Jean Paul Lederach, the vehicle for providing space for creativity to emerge, that gives birth to the unexpected, to imaginative possibilities and to alternatives (Lederach 2005: 38–9) and as such extends its reach well beyond the conventional boundaries of art into what I might call the social imagination – into the application of creativity to new forms relationships, to new possibilities of social and economic order. Indeed, it is for exactly these reasons that, despite the apparent harmlessness of art, totalitarian regimes always fear it, for it is the channel that proposes alternatives, makes critiques

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that are powerful despite coming from outside of the political realm and creates new avenues of change. Given that change begins in the mind, the perceptions and the emotions, anything that promotes the flourishing of possibilities outside of the currently acceptable or politically dictated is suspect to the powers that be. It is for this reason that taking art seriously from a sociological and social transformation point of view is so important, quite beyond its own intrinsic interest: it is the medium, not loaded with the ideological tensions of religion, through which existential questions beyond the scope of politics or economics, or their handmaiden, management, can be pursued. Its very non-utilitarian character makes it the ideal vehicle for generating what Roberto Mangabeira Unger has called “anti-necessitarian” social theory (Unger 2001). For culture is the site on which identities are both formed and contested. Representation can easily become subjection as many commentators have noted. It is for this reason that Craig Owens (1994) has argued that the goal of alternative thinking and visualities is not only that of politically motivated “consciousness raising”, but also the mobilization of the spectator, a process that includes the recognition that there is no one master narrative, but a plurality of aesthetic possibilities or alternative aesthetics (including not only “indigenous” or folk art, but also such forms as so called “Outsider” Art or Art Brut). This opening of imaginative possibilities activates the realization that the future is not just out there waiting for us, but has to be actively remade. Art for Owens is not an alternative to reality (as in the Freudian view), but a recognition of it: a mode of apprehending and representing it, through means which not only simply represent, but which also frequently reveal new aspects of the world, create awareness of the hitherto unseen or un-noticed and de-familiarize the taken-for-granted. This applies as much to ourselves as it does to the representation of others: ‘Perhaps it is this project of learning how to represent ourselves – how to speak to, rather than for or about, others – that the possibility of a “global” culture resides’ (Owens 1994: 326). This is a view largely shared by John Berger and expounded in his well known book Ways of Seeing: [I]f the new language of images were used differently, it would, through its use, confer a new kind of power. Within it we could begin to define our experiences more precisely in areas where words are inadequate … Not only personal experience, but also the essential historical experience of our relation to the past: that is to say the experience of seeking to give meaning to our lives, of trying to understand the history of which we can become active agents. (Berger 1972: 33) The currently emerging dialogue between art and ecology (the latter another source of deep intuitions into reality), illustrates one of the ways in


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which this is now happening. In the Indian tradition there was a “Fifth Veda” – notably art – for those excluded by their low caste status from studying the four Vedas – the foundational scriptures of Hinduism. In the Western Christian tradition, especially in its more mystical manifestations and in the Sufi variants of Islam, it is nature itself which is the “Fifth Veda”. The rapprochement between art and ecology shows the ways in which these themes are now converging, assisted significantly by more radical thinkers within the religious traditions (e.g. Fox 1984). For this to have effect in the world it also implies a rapprochement between aesthetics and ethics. Imagination, fantasy and desire can be used for ends other than simply expanding the realm of consumption They are also the means of critiquing purely instrumental reason, of overcoming the atrophy of actual experience that plagues our “virtual” society, of reclaiming the body and genuine sensuousness, of revolutionizing the image world which we largely inhabit in the rich world with our addiction to television, advertising, video games and other electronic substitutes for life and for positing alternative realities beyond that programmed for us by late industrial capitalism. What a society dreams is every bit as important as what it makes. Indeed, this introduces the subversive thought that beauty is every bit as much a legitimate category of “development” as are material indicators and the utilitarian notions of efficiency, growth and progress on which it has fed for far too long. The education of desire in the direction of more responsible, ecologically sensitive, non-consumerist and peaceful forms is ultimately the only way out of the tragic impasse into which our civilization has led us and into which it is drawing the innocent millions in no way implicated in the expansionist mania of Western industrial society. If our civilization is the problem, then we need to change it. A renewed art is one of the ways in which this might be done. As Simone Weil once remarked, there are only two things that really pierce the human heart – beauty and affliction.

Thinking through social aesthetics The role of art can be contested at at least two levels: the more general theoretical or sociological level on the one hand and rooted case studies on the other, the latter illustrating the intimate connections between art, modernity and colonialism. This book attempts to illuminate the issues at both levels. The first part of the book explores the first dimension in precisely those sociological and theoretical frameworks, and in so doing extends the vocabulary of both the sociology of art and of art history. The former it addresses by bringing into play issues quite beyond the usual conventional scope of both the sociology and anthropology of art and of art history, including the relationships of art to social change, to development as an exemplar of those change processes, to the urban as the context in which most of our contact

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with culturally constructed material forms of aesthetic expression and in particular architecture, decoration, design and commodities occurs, the extension of the concept of the aesthetic beyond its application to the artefacts of art as usually understood and the role of art movements as cultural movements of considerable (but almost totally ignored) significance for social movement theory. These theoretical issues it concretizes in four nonWestern case studies (which hopefully furnish us with fresh perspectives outside of the usual preoccupations of Western art history). These case studies illustrate the place of art in the construction of the geographical and cultural/civilizational categories with which we organize our spatial and political models of the world, suggesting that the image plays a much larger role than that usually assigned to it by historians. They also discuss the relationship between art, modernism and colonialism as it was played out in the dialogue between the Bauhaus movement and the rise of both modernist art and anti-colonial cultural movements in India and the complexities of the attempted creation of identity through the arts in colonized Korea during the period of its Japanese occupation. Finally, the case studies explore the place of art in a contemporary Asian society deeply influenced by mass media, especially electronic ones and which is both and exporter of its own popular culture to the rest of Asia and the recipient of artistic influences from the West and from China in particular. This is interesting because of Asian society’s own ambiguous relationship to globalization and its distinctive form of capitalism which resembles Western models in some respects, while operating on a very different sociological basis. The interplay between the theoretical chapters and the case studies is intended to show not only the salience of the theory and sociology, but to illustrate the intimate connections between art and modernism as it has occurred outside of Western societies as well as within them (Bothe and Fohl 1999). It also aims to substantially expand, deepen and give a greater comparative dimension to the debates in cultural theory about “representation”, Orientalism and the depiction of the “Other”, to expand the links between art and identity in colonial and post-colonial studies and to explore not only the history of art as an element in social change, but equally to promote its potential role as a transformative social and cultural agent. If it is to a great extent our civilization that has got us into the impasse that the world now confronts, then it must be to the transformation of culture that we must look for solutions. As a major part of the expressive culture of all societies we must then continue to look to art as an agent of that transformation towards a more just and sustainable form of civilization: a challenge for social theorists to theorize and for artists to respond to with forms of art that do indeed enhance and deepen our imaginative and social futures.

Chapter 3

Art and social transformation Challenges to the discourse and practice of human development

Central to current debates in cultural and social theory is the question, on the one hand, of the relationship between culture and development and, on the other, between culture and globalization. The two are in fact closely related: many would see globalization either as development (towards a unified and integrated world system) or, rather, as simply the latest and highest stage of colonialism. These debates raise a host of issues, but here I would identify simply two – one rather obvious and the other a less obvious but fundamental corollary of the first. The first is that in the many discussions on the two debates (for example on development see Schech and Haggis 2000, and on globalization Friedman 1996; Appadurai 1996 and Tomlinson 2000), actual examples or manifestations of real culture (literature, theatre, film, dance, art, design, architecture, fashion, body decoration, sport, music) are almost entirely absent; the space of “culture” is almost entirely occupied by ethnicity, gender, social exclusion and debates on multiculturalism. The paradoxical result is that, while we are intuitively convinced of the important role of culture in both development and globalization, cultural studies and the sociology of culture have given us little evidence of their actual role. This is largely because concrete manifestations of culture are rarely cited and a level of abstraction dominates discussion, such that any number of ideological or theoretical positions are deducible from the vagueness of the arguments: does culture retard “development” (usually seen as something entirely separate from culture, as in the old modernization theory of social change), or does it promote it? Does globalization destroy cultures or does it, through the dialectical mechanism of promoting localism, create cultural modes of resistance to its homogenizing tendencies or does it indeed create entirely new hybrid cultures of its own? Very little can really be said authoritatively, because we have so few empirical cases to go on (but for a useful survey of the issues from a specifically art perspective, see Smiers 2003). Important as this first level of debate is, it points to what I think is a much deeper and even more interesting theoretical question. I have argued elsewhere (Clammer 2005) that at the very moment when culture is re-entering

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in a very central way debates about (in that particular case) development, those who specialize in the study of culture are losing confidence in the possibility of even defining culture, let alone using it in any useful way to cast light on these practical debates (e.g. Fox and King 2002). This is not, I think, a merely semantic debate: it signals a deeper philosophical issue. In an intellectual environment still, despite the inroads of post-modernism, in practice dominated by an empiricist and positivist scientific method, does culture simply signify an epiphenomenon of economic and technocratic forces (the “real” forces that shape the world)? Or, does it in fact collectively constitute a body not only of practices (which it clearly does), but more significantly of knowledge? If it does, then it potentially contains or even constitutes the seeds of civilizational change, something sorely needed in the face of our current global crises. Yet the various branches of cultural sociology – for example the sociology of art or of literature, occupy a lowly place in the hierarchy of sociological knowledge, and are not even taught at all in many major university departments. It is true that the various sociologies of everyday life emerging on the one hand from ethnomethodology and its related methodologies, and on the other from the rise in interest in popular culture originating in large part in the work of Stuart Hall and the other members of the Birmingham school of cultural studies have had a significant impact (although there are older traditions that were themselves largely marginalized in mainstream academia such as folklore studies, local history and the work of the longstanding US journal, The Journal of Popular Culture). But in the case of the Birmingham school, much of the interest was not in culture per se, but in the culture of class and ethnic differences, i.e. culture as a signaller of inequalities. While sub-cultures were of interest here, and their expression in particular in popular music, little if anything was said about other cultural forms such as art. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with such a noble intent, but as with much sociology, it occludes the underlying philosophical issues, and it is these that I would like to bring to light here. My central argument can be stated quite simply: that culture, understood not as an abstract category, but in its concrete manifestations, challenges the boundaries of what can be considered social theory and also the boundaries of what can be considered knowledge. So to give it this necessary concrete quality, actual instances are necessary, and in this case of course that instance will be art, understood primarily in its visual manifestations. To date in sociology, the specialism that has been most concerned with these questions has been, interestingly, the sociology of religion, perhaps inevitably as the study of religion immediately raises questions about what can be considered as empirical. The study of ordinary religious practice, let alone of mysticism, confronts the mundane social world with the extraordinary, and while the tendency has been in sociology to attempt to absorb the study of religion into a “scientific” model, it in fact always escapes these


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categories and continues to pose by its very existence the existential and epistemological problems that sociology on the whole tries so assiduously to avoid. Here, I will argue that the sociology of culture, and specifically the sociology of art, raises similar questions, which must be pursued if sociology is to break out of its own self-imposed theoretical and methodological limitations. The consequence of breaking out from these categories is, I will also argue, not merely a theoretical one: it points the way to refreshing and noneconomistic forms of human liberation and fulfilment. If one looks at the few standard texts in the sociology of (almost invariably Western) art, one finds a pretty standard set of issues presented for the reader to contemplate. These include the relationship between art and society, often as reflected in the very little writing on this subject by the classical sociologists, the process of cultural production such as the art world, the music industry, networks, reception and audience studies, artistic careers, museums and galleries, artistic entrepreneurship, the social status of artists, critics and debates about the distinctions between “fine arts” and crafts or folk art (e.g. Alexander 2003; Tanner 2003). Almost always, these debates are framed with the assumption that Western art is the norm (for a significant exception see Bundgaard 1999), although this is much less true of visual anthropology and anthropology of art than it is of sociology, and that the institutional practices that dominate that world are the standard practices internationally and cross culturally. Again, the idea that art might constitute a form of social knowledge opposed to or undermining conventional empiricist knowledge is not an issue. Here, I will suggest that it is and that the transformative implications of this are great.

The old “what is art?” debate Throughout the history of self-conscious debates on the nature of art, two questions have consistently arisen. The first is the perennial question of ‘what is art?’ and its many derivatives, such as debates within anthropology and museum studies as to whether the art of pre-literate peoples can be considered as art at all, or whether the objects so classified or regarded both by Western artists and museum curators are in fact ritual or religious objects belonging to an entirely different category of use and intention. In the context of contemporary art, of course, the same debate continues – as to whether found objects, installations, videos or environmental art for example can be considered as “art”. This I would suggest, on Wittengensteinian grounds, is a largely fruitless discussion, reflecting as it does necessarily shifting standards of taste, subjectivities and sectional and class interests. The more useful question to ask rather is what these objects do – i.e. how they are incorporated into or challenge particular systems of representation which are themselves embedded in particular social systems and widely accepted cultural norms. The second question is whether art, once some acceptable

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definition has been found, contributes in any way to social and cultural transformation, or is alternatively a permanently peripheral activity mostly useful for its decorative or leisure functions, good at reflecting certain prevailing cultural or political norms (for example in portraiture) but with little in the way of a central social significance. This latter, alternative, view does seem to be the one implicitly accepted by most sociologists who, although in their private lives may well consume or even, if rarely, produce works of art, have banished it to the edges of the discipline – hence its underrepresentation in departmental curricula and the colonization of many of its dimensions in programmes in media studies and the like. Here, I will initially suggest a rather different view of the socio-cultural role of art (understood in this particular context as primarily the visual arts, but the argument can be extended to other forms) and suggest that this view of the arts points to a fresh understanding of their potential role in social transformation. If one at least partially accepts the argument that our present environmental and related crises are largely caused by the civilization that we have developed, then we are left with the very real challenge of conceiving of and expressing a different form of civilization, in which it is likely that the arts would play a central role. The sterile question of “what is art?” then is better replaced by the question of what art does. Apart from its role as a natural expression of human creativity (children almost always spontaneously produce art), it clearly has four major functions. The first of these is to create new imaginative spaces – to provide in fact the same role that Bakhtin (1981) ascribes to the novel: [N]ow Bakhtin has taught us that the novel is an unfinished genre, the genre of becoming, without finality, without definite form, in an ongoing interplay with other forms of discourse as well as with societal developments, continuously challenging discursive formations, revealing their limits, their artificial constraints, and inviting us to surpass them. (Maier 1996: 149) When successful, the novel can, like all great art, take us into the “great time” – a time outside of ordinary time, an imaginary space perhaps closer to the dream than to the mundane and quotidian. The second function is to reflect, record or symbolize, often in indirect but nevertheless unmistakable forms, the fundamental existential issues built into being human – suffering, mortality, death, belief, embodiment, sexuality, strangeness, curiosity, fear, our relationship to nature and our desire to represent in some physical form our current and cultural perceptions of the world around us and its varied inhabitants and our ideas of divinity. These dimensions of human society, suppressed in all but the most marginalized forms of social science, are in fact the animating forces of life, or indeed themselves constitute life and the failure to fully acknowledge them is the


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major weakness of most mainstream sociology (Clammer 2009a). This failure has meant that other forms of cultural engagement, and specifically art and religion, are the spaces in which confrontation with these fundamental characteristics of existence that largely defy deconstruction occur. The third function is the real but again indirect relationship between ethics and aesthetics, between truth and beauty. In contemporary analytical social science, the two are of course unrelated. So called “development” for example is “successful” if it brings about economic and material growth, even at the expense of immense ugliness, destruction of natural beauty and devastated landscapes and cityscapes, all issues thought to be peripheral to real “progress”. Even as the emerging field of eco-psychology has clearly showed that prolonged lack of exposure to nature is a source of stress, neurosis and violence, so too lack of exposure to beauty is exhausting and causes similar mental and behavioural problems. The extent to which art therapy is now prescribed as a remedy for such ills points clearly to the role of art as an essential part of human psychic make-up, which in turn has ethical implications. To impose ugliness and lack of form on any natural environment or humanscape is to do violence; not only symbolic violence, but also to create the conditions for many forms of behavioural disorder, crime and alienation. Perhaps the only major sociologist to note this or to draw professional attention to it, Michel Maffesoli, has indeed argued that aesthetics and ethics form a seamless web, the ignoring of which has serious if as yet uncharted social consequences, pursued almost nowhere except perhaps in media studies in the context of the social and behavioral effects of violence on television (Maffesoli 1990). We equally know from many art forms (architecture, portraiture and interior decoration being amongst the major ones) that art and politics are also closely connected – especially via the process of what William Coaldrake calls the “psychology of architectural intimidation” (Coaldrake 1996: 138–62). This is seen not only in his own case study of Japanese castle architecture and interior spaces, but also in colonial and post-colonial city planning – the geometry of New Delhi compared with the organic sprawl of old Delhi, or the remaking of Jakarta when it became the new capital of independent Indonesia (Kusno 2000). The fourth, and by no means the least, function is the search for fullness, wholeness or a sense of harmony and completion that appears to be characteristic of all human cultures, the arts being the primary location of this search. The deep sense of the connectedness of things at some primary level also links art again with religion (Wuthnow 2001) and it is significant that religious art constitutes one of the major genres of artistic and architectural production in almost every culture except the contemporary West. An aesthetics is consequently not just a theory of art – it is also a means for positing the connections that are already assumed to exist and which are widely intuitively assumed to constitute a wholeness beyond or disguised by fragmentation and the fracturing of reality that is so much part of the experience

Art and social transformation


of everyday life (Bauman 1995). Art, then, not only requires a hermeneutics, it is itself a hermeneutics: a mode of understanding, of grasping the world and of relating human life to that larger cosmos in a non-discursive mode of being in the world. It is a making concrete of our dreams and our dream of the ‘Other’, of expressing feeling and emotion, a mode of knowing through the body and a constantly utopian project in which imagination not reason is paramount and in which a vocabulary of colour and form provides the “language”. Art, then, shapes the apparent chaos – it is the “strange attractor” of chaos theory (Eve et al. 1997; Jackson 2004) and is an end in and of itself quite beyond the teleological tendencies of most concepts of development or social change. Given these characteristics of art, the significant links between art and social theory should begin to become apparent. These connections have often been occluded by the fact that many social theorists have quite wrongly assumed that the only possible sociological models of art are reductionist ones, and in the light of this (false) assumption have argued that such models are totally inadequate for explaining the real complexity of art (e.g. Heywood 1997). But in fact, these very models represent simply the selfimposed limitations of much conventional sociology and in no way exhaust the possibilities of approaching art sociologically or of asking meaningful questions about the social and cultural role of art that go beyond the standard “art worlds” textbook kind of approach. There are in fact a large number of interfaces and interpenetrations between art and social theory and we will now briefly enumerate and discuss these.

Art and social theory Older models of art and social theory largely saw the issue as being one of explanation – of understanding art as a product of particular social relationships and conditions. Such models on the whole are or were in their stronger form concerned with causality, or in their weaker form concerned with interdependence between art and society. Such relatively primitive models overlook the subtle nature of art/society relationships, in part because they work with a dualistic model that sees the two as separate rather than as integral aspects of each other. In reality, art works, or can work when given the chance, at many levels of cultural formation. These include, in a very summary form, the expression of agency, including the agency of relatively subordinated or excluded groups, as a primary means of mapping boundaries between humans and the rest of nature and between and within socio-cultural groups themselves. They also provide a way of conceptualizing notions of space and place and of expressing them back in culturally appropriate ways (architecture or landscape painting for example), as one of the few ways other than pornography of expressing the erotics of culture, of


Revisioning art and society

providing one of the main vehicles for the expression of identity and selfhood, in many cases of individuality. Finally, they include subjectivities as an important, if neglected, aspect of performativity and as the embodiment and expression of a culture’s view of beauty and its corollary, ideas of what is ugly or strange. The latter point is to some extent captured not in sociology but in art history, where the notion of art movements very much occurs, but usually in relation to stylistic developments within artistic cultures rather than as a sociology of social movements. The literature that attempts to link art movements to the idea of social movements is weak; although discussions of some of the more prominent examples, for example the Bauhaus or Surrealism, do attempt to understand them as socio-political as well as “artistic” in a narrow sense (Lucie-Smith 1995) and a few attempts have been made from the sociological side to understand social movements themselves as having a strongly expressive quality (Hetherington 1998). Art in fact moves social theory beyond epistemology to ontology. Sociologically, art movements in particular constitute both expressive organizations and emotional communities. In fact, although rarely linked to the ideas coming from critical theory and its successors, art represents a paradigm case of the communicative action of which Habermas (1987). speaks. It also points to two of the most neglected dimensions of social theory – the emotions and the erotics of culture – both of which art directly addresses, not through discursive and analytical means, but through direct or symbolic manifestations. In societies in which art (except for propaganda) is suppressed, the emotional and erotic lives of its citizens suffer – one thinks of the cultural revolution period China, for example, or contemporary North Korea. Art, then, has an essential cultural role and implicitly poses a critique of existing social and cultural orders, hence the hostility with which it is treated in most authoritarian societies. If we can and do have a moral critique of society, we can also have an aesthetic one. This suggests not an aesthetic of self indulgence, but a critical aesthetics, or what might be termed a social aesthetics. In the Asian traditions, aesthetics is never far from politics: in Confucianism, for example, self-cultivation is a primary ethical responsibility, not from egoistic motives, but in the context of responsibility to kin and community (Sasaki 2010). The central problem for theories of social transformation, including ideas of “development”, is that of creatively conceiving of future societies that do not simply reproduce the negative dimensions of the current ones, including their highly damaging ecological impact. How for example to imagine a just future society or a pattern of development that does not simply produce more consumers, greed, environmental destruction, class and gender inequality or racism? Is our utopia simply a version of the present world in which we are all bourgeois? This is of course where a critical view of culture is necessary and one in which art plays a central role. For art is paradoxical in terms of its cultural location – it is both a part of culture and a subversion

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of conventional culture. If Zygmunt Bauman is correct in his argument that the outcome of modernity was the Holocaust (Bauman 1999), then it is indeed our very civilization that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe, but perhaps this time an ecological Holocaust. If this is the case, then a selfcongratulatory view of culture is invalid – it is our very culture and the values that constitute it that is the root of our problems and a constantly critical view is necessary. But so is a reconstructive one, since critique alone simply leads to a negativity if nothing new is put in its place. This is where the paradoxical role of art becomes a highly positive one – as both the subversive questioning of the status quo and as the formulation of alternative visions. Art in its various manifestations then becomes (especially in a “post-religious” and even “post-materialist” social environment) the primary means of recolonizing the life world that has been invaded by bureaucratization, consumption, technology, corruption and misinformation and the negative aspects of homogenizing globalization (Starr 2000). It is the means of restoring culture, reinventing culture, discovering or inventing new forms of sociality, autonomy, empowerment and expression. For what do we actually want from our society and culture? The answers would suggest a range of elements including freedom, autonomy, self-expression and self-fulfilment, the opportunity to be creative, to detect meaning in one’s activities, to find a life-style that suits one’s inner predilections, to establish emotionally satisfactory relationships, to experience a reasonable level of social justice, to have contact with nature and to have the freedom to be able to organize these elements into a holistic world view that constitutes what we might term “spirituality”, whether this takes the form of an organized religion or a more diffused form. Many of these elements correspond closely to what, in an older approach, were termed “human needs”, and while shelter, clothing and adequate food are a very important part of these, the “cultural needs” in fact appear very high on almost every list of existential desiderata. Involved here, in fact, is a whole philosophical anthropology – a notion of what really constitutes the human being and our place in nature, which also indicates why art is itself so often the site of cultural struggles. Clearly, a variety of models of the human being exist, but what a great deal of art and of poetry in particular point most persuasively towards is a notion of the human self close to what the Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy has termed the “ecological self” (Macy 1990: 35–48). This is a notion of the human person not as an atomistic individual (a view in any case not only disputed by social psychology and almost all Indian, Japanese and Chinese social thought and philosophy), but as an identity intimately linked with nature, with other human beings and indeed with the whole cosmos. This relational view of the self understands the human being as an open system, as evolving and developing and as not only searching for pre-ordained patterns in the universe, but also as an active participant in creating those very patterns. Creativity takes many


Revisioning art and society

forms, but evidently art, in its many manifestations, is one of its primary cultural modes and one mysteriously providing amongst the deepest psychological and spiritual satisfactions (Cameron 1995). The problem with a great deal of social theory is that it operates with an inadequate or even false model of what human beings are like, a problem that is bound to lead to sterility in outcomes – a shallow sociology as opposed to a deep one. The root of much of this shallowness derives from the suppression of the imagination. If it is the case, as can certainly be argued, that human beings are more emotional than rational, more erotic than logical, then it is the imagination that is the primary human faculty, but one that has been devalued or marginalized at the expense of the desire by the managers of society for order, planning and system. The imagination of possible futures, of utopias and anti-utopias, of new forms of social arrangements, of new ways of quite literally seeing the world, new techniques of awareness, the promotion of humour, love, enchantment, leisure, beauty, are all left to the arts, which are themselves marginalized and/or commoditized in the managerial society. We face then, so often, the paradoxical situation of a society’s most exciting and innovative dimension – its non-technological and non-economistic creativity (cultural production in short) – being neither recognized nor supported. Yet it is art that promotes and nurtures new interpretative communities, is a major way in which humans seek or seek to affirm their authenticity and is the primary cultural means of giving voice, telling stories and uncovering the narratives of lives and resolving traumas. It is through artistic expression that much of the damage inflicted by life or the understanding of the mysteries of existence are managed, assimilated and made part of a richer cultural existence (Tal 1996; Bettelheim 1976). Art then confronts social theory with at least six unavoidable challenges: 1. The violence of society and of social transformation, including the violence of “development” and its failure to resolve the major questions of a satisfactory human existence even as it continuously creates new ones. This includes the values, implicit or explicit, on which this fundamentally violent world-view is based and expressed, often disguised in a managerial language of “security”, “efficiency”, “productivity” and the like. The fundamental meaning of “development” is consequently at stake here and the significant question of whether there can be any satisfactory concept of development that prioritizes economic and material growth over cultural development. 2. The actual means of recolonizing the life world, including fresh ways of restoring and reinventing culture and or discovering new forms of sociability and ways of being-in-the-world that are positive in their outcomes for both the individuals involved and the wider society and nature, and which point as well to alternative forms of economy outside of both neoliberal and Marxist paradigms (e.g. Cobb 1990). This is especially true for

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colonized societies, or today for possibly almost every society facing the common pressures of globalization and commodification. Transforming society through cultural change and recognizing artistic movements as social movements representing not just new styles (of, say, painting or architecture) but equally liberatory thinking, praxis, new forms of social knowledge, action and organization and fresh techniques of transformation that fall outside of the obviously or conventionally political or social. There are forms of social transformation in other words of another order than the simply political, and these may typically take the form of either or both the religious and the artistic. Expanding the scope of social theory to place at its centre and not at its periphery the imagination, processes of creativity, the emotions, eroticism, performativity and expression. Methodologically by providing the means to see and create connections that are not apparent in standard empirical approaches and which provides an avenue to the non-logical, the mythical, the magical, the dreamworld, to madness and to the subjective worlds of the child, the outsider and the “creatives” who are engaged in cultural production for nonutilitarian means – the “excess” of which Georges Bataille (1985) writes which marks out the space of the non-utilitarian, of fun, joy and play, of spectacle and of what Bourdieu calls the “cultural negation of economics” (Bourdieu 1986: 55). A means of recovering not only the lost dimensions of social theory, but also significant cultural theorists whose work has been marginalized in the social sciences or entirely ignored. One thinks of Rudolph Steiner for example, much of whose writings and educational practice touch upon art, Bruno Bettelheim, psychoanalyst, scholar of myth and fairy tales and of a profound study of human behaviour under the extreme conditions of the concentration camps (of which he himself was a survivor), of C.J. Jung, hardly read professionally by sociologists or anthropologists despite his profound insights into mythical and artistic thinking, or of significant non-Western thinkers such as the Indian Sri Aurobindo. The “developing” world is particularly rich in indigenous cultural theorists whose voices are rarely heard and even cases such as that of Walter Benjamin are interesting, as a figure initially marginalized even within the Frankfurt School group of which he was a member and who continued to be so until his “rediscovery” with the rise of cultural studies as a respectable discipline in the West.

David Harvey has suggested that all societies require “spaces of hope” (Harvey 2002: 206–9) that include the need for utopias and new “myths”–i.e. guiding stories or the very master narratives far from swept away by postmodernism. The poet Octavio Paz has argued for the critical role of artists as those people who tap the well-springs of invention and who often stand


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against the idea of “progress”, realizing all too clearly the dehumanizing and anti-ecological character of our present industrial civilization that the “underdeveloped” portions of the world are rushing headlong to emulate (Paz 1990).

Art and communicative action The French artist Jean Dubuffet, in a celebrated lecture at the Chicago Arts Club, asserted that ‘Art speaks to the mind, not to the eyes. This is how “primitive” societies have always understood it, and they are right. Art is a language: an instrument of knowledge and an instrument of communication’ (Dubuffet 1967: 99). He is, I think, correct, and this viewpoint, from a prominent practising artist stands against the pervasive and superficial aestheticization of contemporary everyday life that has been noted and documented by scholars such as Wolfgang Welsch (1997), in which art becomes superfluous once beautification and artifice is everywhere (at least in post-modern or post-industrial societies in forms such as advertising). Welsch’s viewpoint appears to be that of the positions of Schiller and Hegel, that aesthetics will restore our wholeness and overcome the fragmentation of modern life, has failed because of this pervasive aestheticization. My position, on the other hand, is that they were essentially right and Welsch’s mistake is to confuse aesthetics and aestheticization, the genuinely beautiful with the kitsch that does indeed constantly invade everyday life. But where he is right is in recognizing that there is an alternative to the dilemma of art either conforming to social expectations or adopting a posture of permanent resistance which renders it politically sterile: what he calls the “transhuman” (Welsch 2004: 66). By this he means not antihuman, but non-anthropocentric in the same sense that deep ecologists and many Buddhists understand the human self – as participating in a greater-than-human world in which humans are not the sole point of reference or significance but stand in a relational posture and sense of connectedness not only with other humans and possibly the divine, but with nature too. Welsch suggests that artworks emerging from this perspective (which he finds already present in Eastern societies) would transcend the fragmentation of modernity and that this art would have a great impact on values by demanding respect for our connectedness to the rest of the natural world and encouraging an integrative rather than anthropocentric view of reality. This would have corresponding effects on our environmental behaviour, ethics and notions of freedom and liberation – not only from human-made economic and social structures, but more essentially from the closure or solipsistic self-referentiality of the human mind. In a parallel essay, Michel Maffesoli argues for a similar move, signalled in aesthetics, in which he proposes to take as my point of departure not the libido dominandi, exercising control over the self and the world, nor the libido sciendi, giving me

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knowledge of how to master myself and the world, but rather the libido sentiendi, the desire to feel. (Maffesoli 2004: 71) By this means, he suggests that [O]ne shifts in this way from a political morality to an ethic of the aesthetic. This emergence is no longer perceptible using our favoured tools of analysis – the self mastering rational individual and the notion of social, national or international contact. The challenge of the ethic of the aesthetic thus consists in reflecting what lies alongside or behind the democratic ideal as formulated by Hannah Arendt: a community ideal. Walter Benjamin said that ‘each age dreams of the next’, and I think that it is important for us to assume responsibility for what is in the process of being born, on pain of seeing the dream turn into a nightmare. (Maffesoli 2004: 72) Art then, despite the frivolous nature of much contemporary art, points us in principle in a number of very important directions: to a non-political radicalism that proposes new images of community, solidarity and relationships with nature and to our own bodies and senses; to a deepened sociological methodology that lies not only far beyond the methodological individualism that has so often paradoxically pervaded the social sciences, but which recognizes that huge areas of human experience, including the emotions and the sensuous (Stoller 1997), have been suppressed by the overly rationalistic assumptions of mainstream and classical social science. This has led to a sadly impoverished philosophical anthropology underpinning sociology, political science, economics and development studies. Finally, art points to forms of knowledge and communication that are actually central to the human experience and hence to ontology – the non-cognitive and nonrational dimensions of human make up which actually provide the deep wells of action, motivation, desire and creativity. Philip Quarles van Ufford, Ananta Kumar Giri and David Mosse, in their discussion of what they term “emergent ethics” or the crossing of the boundary between facts and values, suggest that the notion of ‘emergent ethics’ involves recognition of the tensions between the two sides of development: the ethical and the aesthetic. Development as a shared global responsibility entails two concerns: the ethical concern with ‘care of the other’ and the aesthetic ‘care of the self ’. We suggest that development ethics must deal with these two at the same time, as well as acknowledging that links between them are problematic. (Quarles van Ufford et al. 2003: 23)


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This is a valid point, but the danger in their approach is the restricting of aesthetics to the idea of self-cultivation, whereas here a much more extensive concept of art is being proffered. They do, however, approvingly quote Fred Dallmayr, who rightly argues that philosophy is not just a second-order discipline commenting on what is, but also has a critical and constructive role in creating new spaces of both self-development and mutual flourishing (Dallmayr 1998), a role that has largely been abdicated by sociology. This, we are also arguing here, is the proper role of aesthetics as the theory of art, and of art as the embodiment of that aesthetics. This view also takes us beyond the position of Niklaus Luhmann who has suggested that [A]rt has very few direct effects on other functional systems, and this is why society rarely responds to the differentiation and autonomy of the art system. It tends to attract attention when certain functional systems fail to recognize or accept their own specificity and therefore consider developments within the art system to be an encroachment or mistake that needs to be corrected (Luhmann 2000: 181–2) As a formal way of simply stating that art attracts attention when it becomes critical or subversive of other “systems” (in particular the political), this is true, but it is an impoverished conception of art as a whole which has a far wider role and much deeper characteristics than this systems approach can admit. I have argued elsewhere (Clammer 2005) that cultural studies in general, and here I would include the sociology of art, can make a significant contribution to fields as apparently remote from it as development studies, since all social change involves a transformation of subjectivities and hence of identity, desire and emotion, and that the tracking of these shifts points to deep levels of culture which touch on the uncertain and existential nature of human life (e.g. Clammer 2000b). As David Harvey has pointed out (Harvey 2002: 208), our “species being” is, perhaps uniquely amongst the inhabitants of nature, also “species potential.” We are in that sense “open ended” beings and culture, of which art is an essential part, is our main means of enhancing those capacities, our main evolutionary tool. As such, it is both our major way of relating to the worlds of nature and other humans and of transforming it, ideally not only in ways more just and sustainable, but also making it more enchanting, sensuous and meaningful. Which is after all, the main purpose of art. The fear of art in totalitarian societies, whether religious or secular, illustrates well that those who would control must control the imagination. Without such control, creativity rapidly overspills the narrower boundaries of purely artistic expression into the social, and the social imagination is the most dangerous form of all to any regime or group that would assert its hegemony over cultural practices.

Chapter 4

The aesthetics of social change

The subject of the ethics of “development”, understood as one of the major forms of contemporary social change, is, if not yet mainstream in development studies, at least an accepted part of the field (Goulet 1995). The same cannot, however, be said of what should perhaps be its partner in the humanizing of development theory, policy and practice – notably development aesthetics. In fact, the subject as yet hardly exists and such attempts that have been made to introduce the idea seem to largely equate aesthetics with the cultivation of the self (Quales van Ufford et al. 2003: 23). Here I will propose, however, that aesthetic considerations are as central to development issues and to issues of social change as they are to all other sociological considerations (perhaps more so) and that the introduction of this perspective, with aesthetics being understood in a broader sense, can have a profound impact on the whole way in which “development” and other forms of planned change and social policy interventions are conceived. The visual plays an essential but understated role in cultural identities, and indeed many of the controversies in critical cultural and cross-cultural studies are precisely about the issue of representation (Said 1985, 1993). Significantly, in the older “basic needs” approach to development popularized in the 1980s by such thinkers as Johan Galtung and Carlos Mallmann (Dube 1984), the issue of beauty inevitably appeared in the guise of the necessity of at least a relatively attractive environment and of a satisfactory relationship to nature, the latter now re-emphasized in the emergent field of eco-psychology. In fact, any cultural approach to development should quickly realize that any adequate model of human Being in the world necessarily involves aesthetics – its connections with emotions and the erotics of culture, the identification of spaces of identity and intimacy, the importance of memory and nostalgia and the stories that people constantly tell about their environment, sense of belonging, loneliness, exile, suffering, fantasy and their utopian visions. All of these factors illustrate the primacy of the imagination in human culture and also suggest that beauty is as much a category of development as are concepts such as “efficiency” or “productivity”. Visual violence is as much violence as its more obvious physical


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counterparts and has equally deleterious effects. Michel Maffesoli has argued that ethics and aesthetics are intimately connected (Maffesoli 1990) and we will argue here that both are fundamentally linked to any adequate idea of a holistic or integral sense of development. Development studies, as it has emerged as an academic field of study as well as a kind of policy science, is highly textual and pays little attention to the visual, sensory, sensual or erotic aspects of the specific areas of life-inthe-world that it purports to analyze and understand. In fact, the existential fullness of life as much involves these elements as it does the economic. Development studies exists in an almost wholly unexplored relationship with the visual and the sensory. In this chapter, I will explore some of the interfaces between them and demonstrate how a deeper appreciation of these linkages transforms the concept of development itself, in ways that I will argue are more humane, ecologically responsible, poetic, spiritual and holistic than what has hitherto passed as the subject matter of development studies and development theory. Development, long having been the imposition upon the relatively powerless of the techniques and world views of the powerful, has always been concerned, albeit at an unconscious level, with the construction and representation of the “Other” – the subjects of development. And as it has undertaken this transformation of economic, political, technological and institutional fields, so it has also transformed the visual, musical and sensory fields too and by doing so has modified subjectivities in ways that are still hardly understood. While the subject of representation has baulked large in Western social science, at least since Edward Said’s classic Orientalism (Said 1985), very little research exists as to the effects of this on its subjects. While in the field of religious studies substantial attention has been paid to conversion and its profound effects on the culture, social networks and psyches of the converts (e.g. Viswanathan 1998; Clammer 2009c), little parallel work has been carried out on the aesthetic transformations that accompany development, which are, I would argue, equally profound. While in visual anthropology film and photography have been used to record cultures, the same techniques have been little applied to the documentation of social change. While some socially conscious photographers such as Tina Modotti have used photography to record poverty, war, famine and underdevelopment, little of this material has been assimilated into development studies. And while whole art forms exist depicting the encounter with development and modernity on the part of indigenous cultures (e.g. Sabapathy 1996), this whole zone of culture is left to art historians and rarely if ever, in my experience, is employed as actual material in the study of development. Yet the visual (to take just one form of artistic expression) looms large in socio-cultural and economic change. For example, as consumption culture spreads, everyday aesthetics becomes increasingly tied in with the objects of consumption and is expressed too in architecture and design. One has only

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to compare the visual and architectural qualities – the buildings, shops, streets, malls and markets – of the capitalist city with those of cities in the developing world and one can see so clearly that as an “underdeveloped” city evolves and grows richer it takes on (often an ersatz version of) the architecture and consumption spaces of its developed counterparts. For example, Bangalore, or Shanghai with its plethora of skyscrapers decorated with every possible architectural excess of turrets, spires, Greek columns, marble porticos and flashing lights. Development and aesthetics are consequently connected in at least two major ways – the empirical links between modernization and aesthetic transformation, usually in the direction of commodity aesthetics, and at a conceptual level in which the whole notion of the good life is intimately tied up with an increase in and access to beauty. The aggressive ugliness of most cities in the developing world (and many in the developed) well illustrates the former; the yearning for a higher quality of cultural life, including the visual, signals the profound need for beauty for psychic health and the tragic uncoupling of “development” and an actual increase in the quality of the visual and sensory environment in which humans are forced to live out their lives.

Vision and justice/visual justice: or, why should beauty be only the province of the rich? The concept of environmental justice has drawn attention to the fact that it is usually minorities who get stuck with the worst environments and are forced to live in unhealthy conditions, adjacent to or even literally on top of trash dumps, while the rich can move to leafy suburbs, protect themselves with technology (air conditioning, water filters, safe food) and move if necessary to safer environments. Here, I would like to introduce the idea of visual justice, a parallel concept that indicates that it is minorities who are most likely to be forced to live in ugly, tiring and aesthetically fragmented neighbourhoods, while the rich can buy beauty both in their external environments and also buy art to beautify their interior ones. A number of individual artists and art movements have recognized this unacceptable dichotomy and have attempted to remedy it by a number of means – the Mexican Muralists such as Diego Rivera through the production of public art and movements such as the German Bauhaus through overcoming the distinction between arts and crafts and attempting to produce high quality and aesthetically pleasing housing and everyday artefacts accessible to the proletariat of that time. The whole contemporary notion of public art in fact carries into the present the same inspiration (Miles 2000). This points beyond a concept of development as simply economic or even social to a broader project of the evolution of a social aesthetics – a critical aesthetics concerned as much with the aesthetic critique of society and culture as it has traditionally been with simply works of art themselves. This is


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a project very different from what are sometimes termed “social theories of art” – that is to say, sociological attempts to explain art in terms of the conventional sociological categories of class, race, gender, occupational background and so on. Here, we are concerned with the much more global project of not simply (difficult as it is in actual practice) situating particular works of art, or particular artists, in their social milieu, but of an aesthetic critique of society itself. Such a critique has a number of components. First, a concern with visual justice (the right for all to have access to and to inhabit aesthetically pleasing environments, housing, work and leisure spaces regardless of social status, ethnicity, gender or religion). Second, the notion of development not only as freedom or external emancipation, but as internal also – to the possibility of psychic, emotional and spiritual growth and transformation along autonomous lines, to the broad enhancement of life and its quality and to the acquiring of the mechanisms for the transformation of oppressive structures, institutions, environments and patterns of dependency by non-political or extra-political means. Third, the enhancement of the role of the imagination in social transformation; the imagination is perhaps the most significant human faculty, since where reason is limited, imagination is essentially unbounded. Such an approach opens new conceptual and imaginative spaces. One amongst these is that social research itself becomes more creative and allows the social scientist legitimate access to areas of human life, emotion and culture that have hitherto been primarily the province of the artist, the poet or possibly the psychiatrist. Another is that it points us beyond an understandable but conceptually limited preoccupation with politics and power (Clammer 2009b) and suggests the possibility of “revolution by enlightenment” by way of refreshing and non-economic forms of human liberation and fulfilment. These also have the potential to re-link humans with the natural environments from which civilization so called has become dangerously and self-destructively estranged. Indeed, if as many have suggested, the form of our industrial, environment destroying, consumerist civilization is itself our central problem, then the question must arise of how we can conceive of different and less dysfunctional forms. The category of the aesthetic then re-emerges as far from a luxury item at the very edges of serious socio-political engagement, but rather as the primary means of recolonizing our life worlds, of restoring, revitalizing and reinventing culture and of discovering new forms of expression, empowerment and autonomy: of redefining in short, the good life. Part of the problem here is a theoretical one – the lack of communication between development studies and cultural studies. The marginalization of the visual and the sensory in development studies has paradoxically occurred at the very moment when the visual has become important in cultural studies. But such limitations (at least on the part of development studies) are largely self-imposed. There are many potential new avenues of inquiry,

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possible fresh reworkings of conventional methodologies and new uses to which the valuable insights of parallel fields can be put, but which have not yet been explored or exploited. The key question in the context of this chapter is how to incorporate the aesthetic dimension in an authentic and integral way into the concerns of development studies and to adequately demonstrate the centrality of the aesthetic to the cultural dimensions of development and to the cultural critique which should be an important dimension of development seen as a holistic discipline. For the aesthetic is not only that which immediately presents itself to the senses, but equally invokes and enshrines memory and the recognition of sites of happiness and suffering, embodies emotions, nostalgia and modes of representation of the past and their projection into the present and the future. The recovery of some sense of the “fullness” of the aesthetic dimension of human life and our life in nature is an important part of the attempt to reconstruct an appropriate philosophical anthropology for our time, and equally to recover a sense of the fullness of culture, not as a denuded and abstract concept, but as the cradle and expression of human being-in-the-world. We can illustrate this by building on some remarks of Raimon Panikkar to the effect that rationality does not exhaust being. Panikkar’s point had been that reason is not the only instrument for the human investigation of reality as demonstrated by the power of art, myths, mysticism and the role of play in human cultures, reflecting amongst other things, that “Man is not the whole of reality”, a deeply ecological view that refuses to reduce the human to the socio-political (Panikkar 1993: 15). In a world saturated with information and also what passes as “knowledge”, wisdom is often lost, whereas what really needs to be explored is the relationship between art and knowledge – alternative ways of knowing, one of which is embodied in poetry. Art in this view both creates the world and changes the world – it has a formative as well as a reflective aspect and that in some Indian traditions the “Fifth Veda” (the Vedas, themselves deeply poetic documents, acknowledged as the essential scriptures of Hinduism) – i.e. art – was created for those not permitted to learn the four orthodox Vedas by virtue of their gender or caste status. An important implication of this is the suggestion that, despite its technological prowess, our civilization is actually in the process of shrinking – in language diversity, biodiversity, ethnic diversity and also in terms of our conception of knowledge, which now excludes the insights expressed in the medium of poetry. Whereas songs and poetry are now read mainly as “texts”, they are in fact the distillation of wisdom and of forms of perception that often or usually fall outside of the boundaries of conventional “knowledge”. This perspective on the arts opens up a number of avenues for exploration largely closed off by aesthetics itself, sociology and development studies, while providing a basis for an alternative form of critical theory rooted in a new mode of cultural criticism. In such a model, art proves to be the


Revisioning art and society

boundary crossing mechanism between the usually separated spheres of the “spiritual” and the “material” and does so in a way that goes well beyond the Marxist formulation of base and superstructure or its Weberian reversal, both of which assume and posit a particular causal epistemology. The critical dimension comes from not only revealing the violence in a great deal of contemporary visual culture and its own complicity in the system of capitalist commodification and the marketization of art, but also in revealing the extent to which the poor in particular are not only denied access to real beauty, but are doubly denied by only having access to ersatz versions – Bollywood, Hollywood and the virtual “reality” of the video game. This in turn points to a very significant and little discussed question – that of culture after capitalism, or if you prefer, culture after development.

The education of desire It is an endlessly repeated mantra that if the currently developing world (including the two giants, India and China) were to attain a standard of living comparable to the contemporary US or Japan, we would require at least two and a half Earth-sized and Earth-endowed planets to sustain the vehicles, pollution, urbanization and resource depletion resulting from this “development”. But even such a potential scenario is not in fact sustainable, given the current dominant model of development, since in a relatively short time even those two and a half extra Earths will be reduced to the same state of ecological disaster, endemic violence, corruption and level of social inequalities of the present one, which is in fact of course the only one we have. The consequences of this are very hard indeed for many people to think through or to contemplate. Bearing in mind the very real possibility of environmental catastrophe bringing an end to the present world-system, the only possible outcomes are a drastic scaling down of living standards in the already “developed” world and a corresponding and very painful realization on the part of the developing world that the attainment of the industrial civilization and the living standards currently found in a small number of “advanced” economies is impossible within the ecological constraints of the planet. The violence, resource competition (fuelling the next generation of wars over access to oil, water, food and living space) and social upheavals consequent upon this realization can only be realistically avoided by one alternative scenario – notably development without greed, or what, building on a term used by Herbert Marcuse (1964), we might term the education of desire. Consumerism itself is, of course, socially sanctioned desire, conferring upon those able to access it status and security. And it is consumerism that supports and extends the industrial resource depleting economic system that is the main threat to the environmental integrity of the planet (Kovel 2002). To move away from such a system implies an alternative set of desires

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focused on a very different relationship to the world than that primarily mediated by the possession or manipulation of things. As Gloria Orenstein puts it succinctly in her essay on “Artists as Healers”, “It is imperative that we go about the task of creating an alternative society that is interconnected with nature now” (Orenstein 1990: 287). Underlying this objective are, I think, a number of important ideas, including that throughout human history, new creative capacities not previously known before have emerged over and over again. These are in practice associated with the great religious innovators (Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Zarathustra and company), major philosophical thinkers (Lao Tze, Confucius, Socrates etc.) and artists of various stripes (Homer, the unknown architects and craftsmen of the great Gothic cathedrals), down through the roll call of luminaries and the illuminated who have fundamentally changed human modes of perception and modes of engaging the world. In a sense, all of these have pointed to ways of making the ecosystem and people’s lives fuller, more enriched, responsible and meaningful, towards spiritual richness rather than material abundance and realizing the infinite possibilities hidden in our everyday lives. This is deeply important as culture is the site on which our identities are formed and contested: the content and quality of culture is consequently crucial to the overall quality of human life. Yet it is often this culture itself which proves to be inhumane, imposing arbitrary or cruel modes of conduct, dress or livelihood and status on women, children, outsiders, members of religious minorities, the ethnically different or even its own privileged members. For many, their culture is an ordeal to be endured, rather than a source of liberation and fulfilment. It is for this reason that the question of representation is so central to contemporary cultural studies. Edward Said (1985) has of course classically pointed out and analysed the ways in which representations of the Orient in literature, and art in particular, were fundamentally formative of Western and colonial attitudes to the Others that they encountered in their voyaging and colonial expansion. This included the exoticising, eroticizing and infantalising of the inhabitants of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, a tradition of scholarship that now has many followers and imitators (e.g. Thomas 1994). This issue remains central to any critical social aesthetics. As the art and culture critic Craig Owens (1994) suggests, the critique of representation is vital because representation so often means, in fact, subjugation. The recognition of this points not just to the politically motivated goal of “consciousness raising”, but also to the mobilization of the spectator who needs to recognize that there is no one narrative of culture, but a plurality of aesthetics. The role of comparative aesthetics is to reveal the existence of a whole set of possible or alternative aesthetic systems (a recognition that as Owens notes can activate the realization of the intrinsic value of “outsider” art and indigenous artistic forms and traditions). Representational systems are apparatuses of power, and the role of a critical aesthetics is to reveal the


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structure of these systems and so to deconstruct them, while also revealing the existence of alternative systems of representation/aesthetics that signal quite different ontological assumptions (Clammer et al. 2004). Art for Owens is not an alternative to reality (the Freudian model), but a recognition of reality, a mode of apprehending and representing it, of revealing, creating awareness, of defamiliarization. This, furthermore, is not simply a project projected onto the ‘Other’, but applies equally to the observer: ‘Perhaps it is this project of learning how to represent ourselves – how to speak to, rather than for or about, others – that the possibility of a ‘global’ culture resides’ (Owens 1994: 326). This resonates very well with the observation of John Berger that art need not only represent the nostalgia of a class in decline (the aristocracy or bourgeoisie) but rather that [I]f the new language of images was used differently, it would, through its use, confer a new kind of power. Within it we could begin to define our experiences more precisely in areas where words are inadequate … Not only personal experience, but also the essential historical experience of our relation to the past: that is to say the experience of seeking to give meaning to our lives, of trying to understand the history of which we can become the active agents. (Berger 1972: 33) The cultivation of aesthetic appreciation is in principle one means of not simply practicing self-cultivation, but a way of seeing the world such that its own depth and beauty (and the necessity of enhancing and protecting those qualities) become central to the individual’s project of being-in-the-world. Awareness (and an awareness of the fragility of the environment), rather than the possession of things, then becomes the dominant mode of cultural practice. This relates to, but is rather different from, debates within critical art studies that attempt to relate art less to “self-expression” and more to its potential political, social and environmental context and take it out of museums and galleries into everyday practice. In conversations with a range of contemporary artists, aestheticians and social activists, the art critic Suzi Gablik discovered the common chord that the site of aesthetic experience was perceived as shifting out of galleries into the broader world, that art should not be defined as a professionalized or specialized category of objects or activities “but is a living process centered around daily life and vital human concerns” (Gablik 2000: 32) and that it is modern aesthetics that is the anomaly. Art itself, in this view, is a natural and universal cultural practice and the human propensity for aesthetic expression has been distorted both by systems of education and specialization, which relegate it to a largely fringe activity in daily life, and by wider societal trends which have allowed the economic, the managerial and the technical to fill the field of vital human endeavours. As a consequence art, like religion, has been driven

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to the edges of significant everyday practice and is even regarded as a retreat from the “real” world, when both should in fact be at the centre. Given the fact that, to a great extent, we live by images, the corruption and trivialization of so many of those images in the mass media is a major factor in civilizational decline. Beauty is fundamental to life, and certainly to the good life, and is not the province simply of the “arts”, but is central to cultural well being and to human appreciation of nature. Discussing her interview with the psychologist James Hillman, Suzi Gablik summarizes his (and her) basic philosophy as follows: [B]eauty in its sensate presence, is, for Hillman, absolutely fundamental to life; it is not a cultural accessory, or some thing that belongs to the exclusive province of the arts. Beauty is the inherent radiance of the world, and its repression, he feels, is the most significant factor in our culture, because its loss is what keeps us from caring for nature. ‘Nature today is on dialysis’, he says, ‘slowly expiring, kept alive only by advanced technology’. When all is said and done, it is only love for the world, and a desire for rich, sensory contact with the beauty of its sounds and smells and textures that will save us. A truly aesthetic response, in Hillman’s view, could affect issues of civilization that most concern us today which have remained largely intractable to psychological resolution. Like Satish Kumar, Hillman feels that beauty has been sequestered into the ghetto of beautiful objects by museums, by the ministry of culture, and by a professional cadre of artists. Indeed, he claims, we must cleave beauty altogether away from art, art history, art objects, art appreciation, because they posit beauty into an instance of it, when in fact, beauty is the manifest anima mundi, the very sensibility of the cosmos. (Gablik 2000: 179–80) This, then, is a different perspective from the idea of art being in the service of something (social issues in particular). It is a much broader claim that art itself is simply a particular cultural practice that applies certain culturally accepted techniques to produce certain types of artefacts (such as paintings or sculptures) to be exhibited or appreciated in particular kinds of settings. Such art may be self-expressive or socially concerned, but in both cases it applies to a particular mode of cultural production. The point, however, is that the category of the beautiful far exceeds the limitations of art, so defined. It in fact refers to what used to be called in development discourse a “basic need”, an aesthetic orientation to the world more often violated than respected in development practice, urban planning and growth-oriented strategies. Changing desires in sustainable directions is hardly possible if this fundamental quality of human being-in-the-world is not given centre place.


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Imagination and the erotics of development If the subject of the aesthetics of development is rarely admitted into the dominant discourse, the issue of the erotics of development is even less so. Yet art is largely about the sensuous – depicting it, rendering it into a form that stimulates the imagination, and a great deal of that imagination is, in the broadest sense, erotic. Most images of the good life are not only concerned with the fullest play of the senses (all of them, not only the visual), but also recognize that spirituality need not be ethereal, but can be rooted, earthy and bodily. Even when “human needs” are discussed as part of development discourse, such sensuous capacities are never mentioned or prioritized, but if they exist at all are assimilated into broad abstract categories such as the need for leisure or exposure to nature. In fact, “development” itself is a highly impoverished concept if it is only concerned with the exterior political and economic aspects of life, as it usually is. Yet in fact any sense of a life of fullness and satisfaction must include the expression of emotional needs, of bodily freedom and the ranging of the imagination. Sexuality is a major component of this wider sense of freedom and on the one hand art itself is closely connected to sexuality in many of its manifestations, while on the other sexuality does not exhaust the category of the erotic. This can encompass a far wider range of expressions of the primary contact between the body and nature (including other animals), which is the source of some of the deepest feelings of well being and health available to human beings. The shallowness of much development thinking and practice derives not from its materialism per se, but from the shallowness of that materialism itself. A truly material existence involves intimate connections with environment in all its manifestations – air, light, fragrance and the means by which we experience and participate in it, touch, taste, smell and vision. Contemporary society too often tells us what these sensations should be, which are legitimate and which are not and encourages us by numerous mechanisms to give up our sensuous autonomy for the codified, even in cultures that still claim a close connection to the natural (Clammer 2000b). But as Susan Griffin puts it: [I]f sexual desire, sensitivity to touch, taste, smell, love of color, movement, passionate emotion, all that which is the estate of those on earth, is consigned to others, it is also relinquished. What is lost is nothing else than the eros at the heart of existence. (Griffin 1995: 51–2) In the process of “development”, how much of the eros of indigenous cultures has been lost for ever, what range of feelings and sensitivities to the earth extinguished? In the overly cognitive models of Western anthropology, indigenous knowledge has been given pride of place, without the recognition

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that in fact such “knowledge” is not merely technique, but in actuality encompasses modes of feeling, of relating, of alternative modes of being in the world. Globalization not only reduces the economic and cultural diversity of the world (and biodiversity too), but also its emotional and erotic diversity, signalled by language loss which is one of its causes and which leads to a psychic deprivation of the highest order. The recovery or recolonization of this realm presents itself as a primary task for what might be called the poetics of development. It is in radical environmentalism as well as in art that this truth has been recognized, in particular in the former’s critique of the technological domination of humanity and nature that has been one of the major outcomes of “development”: “Technology totalizes existence along one axis, the axis of utility, and all the other rich, poetic, wild ways in which a human being is able to encounter the world are excluded” (Manes 1990: 226). It also excludes or channels in particular ways (the computer game for instance) the full range of the human imagination. As the great Sufi poet Rumi rightly said, “The world of phantasy is broader than the world of concepts. For all concepts are born in phantasy. The world of phantasy likewise is narrow in relation to the world out of which phantasy comes into being” (Arberry 1994: 202). The imagination, then, is perhaps the primary human faculty (and not reason as is so commonly supposed) and it is through imagination that desire is formed and educated and that the fullest life is achieved. As Henry James aptly put it, “I call that man rich who can satisfy the requirements of his imagination”. Art in its various forms is one of the main ways in which this opening to or of the imagination takes place, and the deprivation of the aesthetic dimension is as much a form of poverty as material want. As the writer Pico Iyer has put it, “It is not easy to explain that poverty can take many forms, and that poverty of horizon can seem as paralyzing as the other kinds” (Iyer 2004: 189). Aesthetic deprivation, ignored as a factor or imposed actively by the ugliness of much development practice, is as much a violation of human rights as the deprivation of physical liberty, and conversely the presence of aesthetic qualities in the environment is a source of fundamental satisfactions. As the novelist and dramatist Albert Camus expressed it, reflecting on his own humble, North African origins, “Originally brought up surrounded by beauty which was my only wealth, I had begun in plenty” (Camus 1979: 18). This view is indeed the consensus of the majority of practising artists and poets and sympathetic commentators on their works. Susan Murphy draws a parallel between religious insight and art: [T]o understand this better, consider how great paintings rearrange us. You don’t so much look at a great painting and figure it out as stand before it and, with a sense of the self dropping away, let it reorganize


Revisioning art and society you from the centre of your being … It is learning to be present with the whole body rather than just the pinpoint of the intellect and the customary buzz of thought. (Murphy 2004: 70, 205)

The Colombian poet Eduardo Carrenza commented: [I]f poetry does not make my blood run faster, open sudden windows for me into the mysterious, help me discover the world, accompany this desolate heart in solitude and in love, in joy and in enmity, what good is poetry to me? (Marquez 2004: 252) Elias Canetti said: “Only an image can please you totally, never a human being. The origins of angels … The inklings of poets are the forgotten adventures of God” (Canetti 1986: 2, 4). Even the philosophers agree: for the political philosopher John Finnis the universal categories of all human cultures are life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, friendship, practical reasonableness and religion (Finnis 1980). The aesthetic, then, not only stands at the heart of human culture, but its performance leads to a relationship with the world unique in its inherent and undeconstructable authenticity.

The art of sustainability The architectural historian James Wines has cogently noted that “Without art, the whole idea of sustainability fails” (Wines 2008: 194). This comment succinctly summarizes the core of the argument presented here: that without art, development fails. It becomes, in fact, all of the things that its critics have charged it with – ecologically irresponsible, resource depleting, the principle generator of ugly, boring and unhealthy environments and ultimately unsatisfying to the human spirit and its aesthetic, erotic, cosmological and utopian needs. The eclipse of utopia parallels the rise of growth oriented developmentalism, its toxic modernist architecture and its assault on nature (Jacoby 1999; Kovel 2002). Without a fertile, organic and earth rooted imagination the world becomes technocratic and sterile, and as Suzi Gablik has rightly argued, the re-enchantment of art and the re-enchantment of the world go hand-in-hand (Gablik 2002). Likewise art, as Michael Chanan (1972) has argued, is one of the principle fields of cultural experimentation, and its drive towards increasing rather than restricting our responses to the world is one of the main means of preventing the stagnation of our species. This is the case even when the experimentation seems outlandish and pointless, criticisms frequently directed at new art movements which later become assimilated into mainstream or establishment

The aesthetics of social change


art – Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism being exemplary instances (Chanan 1972: 146). The artist and poet, then, far from being marginal to true civilization, are its essence. They are the ones, as much as the scientist, who produce exploratory languages, whether of words or images, that point to new significations and meanings. Or as Shakespeare puts it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream “ … as imagination bodies forth/ The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen/ Turns them into shapes, and gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name.” Obviously there will continue to be argument over the definition of art, even as there is argument over the definition of development. The critic Julian Spalding, however, is right to note the increasing narcissism and failure to produce images of any real social consequence that characterizes so much contemporary art, which is driving many people who would otherwise like to be open and appreciative of art to essentially decide that much of what they are asked to see is rubbish (Spalding 2003). Art that resonates with people’s imagination and their primal experiences is more powerful in giving access to alternative cultural resources than those purveyed by the dominant matrix. Aesthetics can form the basis for a critique of instrumental reason, and while they can be so easily co-opted by those forces, imagination, fantasy, desire and the urge to produce images, can be directed to other ends than simply enhancing consumption. Art, in fact, has the potential to revolutionize the image world and overcoming the atrophy of experience that is characteristic of the anomie of the industrialized world. It is not only through politics that utopia can be approached – indeed, it is politics that has constantly been the betrayer of alternative futures. As the artist Joseph Beuys put it: [A]s our ageing old order muddles its way towards death, it is only by radically widening our conceptual understanding to embrace art, that we will be able to receive the powerful inspiration of art. And it is only such inspiration of creative art that can serve as evolutionary midwife to aid the birth of a new society. Such a society, celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity, would itself be a great work of art, and every person in it a deeply fulfilled artist. (Beuys 1977: 127) Such a vision to become reality places great responsibility on art, and it then becomes incumbent on actual artistic production to fulfil this mandate. It is also a statement that comes from a highly secularized social location. With the rise of new forms of spirituality in the contemporary world, many of which have an expanding ecological consciousness and some of which are allied with art, any number of fresh syntheses and advances will undoubtedly propose themselves and point to alternative conceptions of society, culture and community that are now just beginning to appear.


Revisioning art and society

The aesthetics of imperfection Discussion of art in relation to development may for many have an idealistic ring about it. While that is understandable, especially given the social irrelevance of much contemporary art, the whole thrust of this chapter has been to show that, in fact, the aesthetic dimension of life is to be counted amongst the most basic of “human needs” and that any fulfilling “post-development” culture would be one in which creative faculties were given the fullest rein. The aridity of much current development practice derives from its ignoring of this crucial dimension of human existence, and one could argue too that its lack of serious concern with the environment is equally derived from this deprivation of any sense of beauty as an essential component of a rounded lifestyle. But to say this is not to argue for some kind of perfectionism. In practice, the world is a complex and messy place, always in the process of change and transformation and never in full equilibrium. Commenting on a line by the poet Wallace Stevens that “The imperfect is our paradise” (Stevens 1954: 194), David Morris suggests: [S]uppose that the earth – what Dante emerging from hell called the ‘shining world’ (chiaro mondo) – is the only paradise we will know. Suppose that paradise is here and now, not in some future or perfect state: the world and all its people with their glaring deficiencies. We might then be called upon to begin working towards an aesthetics and an ethics of imperfection. The aim would be to base our values not in the quest for perfection but in an appreciation of the imperfect. (Morris 1998: 162) In the light of suffering, itself a universal characteristic of life in the world, the need to give voice to this suffering falls as much on the arts as on religion, pastoral care or science. The objective is not then the attainment of utopia with all its attendant problems and the dystopias that the pursuit of perfection has so frequently engendered, but rather that [W]e might then come to recognize in our inevitable imperfections – signs of the only paradise on earth that we will ever know – both the evidence of a shared humanity that makes an ongoing ethical claim upon us and the occasion for seeking to create a culture in which human life could be, as Karl Popper put it in his postwar critique of utopian thinking, thinking inseparable from Nazi fantasies of eugenics, ‘a little less terrible and a little less unjust’. (Morris 1998: 163) The embodied life carries with it the existential realities of illness, ageing, accident and death, the very existential dimensions of existence rarely if ever

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touched upon in conventional development thinking. As the sociologist Ian Craib has noted, disappointment – the non-realization in everyday life of desires and ambitions, is an essential not a contingent part of the tragi-comedy of everyday human life (Craib 1994). Nowhere is this more the case than in “development” – in the pursuit of material goals that recede as they are approached, or which prove to generate even more and unexpected problems than they solve. It is precisely in this context that the capacities of the imagination are most needed, not as escapism (although that is a very undervalued and all too frequently maligned genuine need), but as a way of conceiving of alternatives and conferring meaning on existing suffering and disappointment. In his literary biography of the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, Peter Bien sums up his subject’s life project as follows: [B]oth art and religion, far from being escapes from life, bring us into a more meaningful contact with reality than we achieve via quotidian experience. This is especially true of tragic art, which teaches us to understand suffering and death; but it is also true of comedy, which celebrates human foolishness. To the degree to which art, whether tragic or comic, escapes subservience to everyday reality, to that same degree will it succeed in returning us more meaningfully to that same reality, because it will have concerned itself with the meaning of being rather than of things. Far from avoiding a confrontation with the problem of value, it will have placed itself in a position where value can be truly discovered and formulated. In other words, it will have refuted nihilism The very “playing with the world” commonly scorned as irresponsible aestheticism is precisely what strengthens our capacity to act in the world instead of merely making a picture or spectacle of it, because it teaches us to live in the truth. (Bien 1989: 231) In speaking of the issues involved in the construction, experience and representation of pain, Veena Das supports this view by noting that [S]ome realities need to be fictionalized before they can be apprehended. This is apparent in the weight of the distinction between the three registers of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary in the work of Lacan, and in Castoriadis’s formulation of the necessity of working on the register of the imaginary for the conceptualization of society itself [Castoriadis 1987]. I shall allow myself three scenes, or phantasms, that provide a theoretical scaffolding to the issues that I address. In these three scenes I call upon the words of the philosopher Wittgenstein, the poet-novelistessayist Tagore and the short story writer Sadat Hasan Manto, as persons who responded to the call of the world in the register of the imaginary. (Das 1997: 69)


Revisioning art and society

Perhaps enough said. The aesthetic is not merely a mode of representation, but also a mode of knowledge and of action. As Pablo Picasso well expressed his view of the social commitment of the artist during his politically active period after the painting of Guernica: [W]hat do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he’s a poet, or even if he is a boxer, just his muscles? On the contrary, he’s at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heartrending, fiery or happy events, to which he responds in every way. How would it be possible to feel no interest in other people and by virtue of an irony of indifference to detach yourself from the life which they so copiously bring to you? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy. (Picasso 1945/Read 1997: 160) Remembering, too, that art movements are also social movements, we can give the last word to Picasso’s contemporary, the poet, writer and leader of the Surrealist movement André Breton. In the 1926 edition of his 1924 Manifestes du Surrealisme, Breton (1926) stated in a comment that resonates well with contemporary conceptions of “development as freedom”: [O]nly the word freedom still exalts me. Among the many disgraces we inherit, we should do well to recognize that the greatest freedom of spirit is left to us. We ought not to misuse it. To reduce the imagination to slavery, even when it might lead to what one crudely calls happiness, is to evade whatever one finds, in the depths of the self, of supreme justice. Imagination alone tells me what can be, and this is enough to lift for a little the terrible interdict – enough also to allow me to abandon myself to this freedom without fear of self-deception. (Breton 1926: 40)

Chapter 5

The aesthetics of the urban Visual anthropology, space, place and public culture

Aesthetics, as we will explore in detail in the following chapter, need not be confined only to art: it has much broader applications, for example to nature. Similarly, “art” need not be confined to what can be hung on gallery walls: it may also include architecture and the decorative walls, sculptures and facades (in many cities now electronic ones) that adorn buildings and public spaces. The notion of “public art” indeed has emerged to describe many of these exterior objects with which people are in a sense forced to interact, as they occupy the same spaces that they traverse and use, often on a daily basis. Although conventional histories of art often ignore architecture and the built environment, both interior and exterior, this is a mistake. In reality, our visual culture is made up to a very large extent of the external environment that constantly shapes our spatial movement, what we see on an everyday basis and provides the primary context in which social interaction takes place. Even interior decoration – the aesthetic shaping of our everyday lived environments – is hardly considered an art: at best a craft, it occupies no space at all in the majority of histories of art. People (the great majority) who rarely if ever enter an art gallery or museum nevertheless occupy aesthetically formed environments – cities, buildings, spaces, routes and interiors. These elements are not only imbued with artistic elements: they are also political. The typical built environment or individual building encodes political and economic messages, frequently of power. It is consequently not surprising that every totalitarian regime and many newly post-colonial ones immediately set about shaping their cities and public spaces with overpowering buildings, monuments, boulevards and immense squares. Examples abound: colonial New Delhi, Moscow, Tiananmen Square in Beijing and during the imperial period, the Forbidden City, Jakarta redesigned along nationalist lines after independence from the Dutch (Kusno 2000) and even contemporary Washington with its neo-classical political buildings and monuments. Another contemporary manifestation of this is undoubtedly corporate headquarters – buildings designed to impress or even intimidate with their size, affluence and inaccessibility to any but the chosen. Such buildings may not only express power: many examples exist of ones designed


Revisioning art and society

to embody cultural identity, history and suffering, such as the Museum of Struggle in South Africa (Findley 2005). The aesthetics of the urban and the aesthetics of architecture are even more significant in the history of modernism, colonialism and post-colonial politics than is the conventional history of art. One subject that has emerged to study such issues on a comparative basis is the relatively new field of visual anthropology. This field is new largely because the technologies (in particular the camera) that have made it possible are of fairly recent vintage, as are its theoretical underpinnings relative to its more established sisters (kinship, political and economic organization or even the latecomer medical anthropology). Furthermore, its main products – the photograph and, more especially, the ethnographic film – are still marginalized in the textual production that is the main form of reportage and output in anthropology as a whole. This has led to a suspicion of the image as somehow superficial, even as seductive and as resulting from an unclear and perhaps unconventional relationship between the ethnographer and the subject quite different from that of the linguistically mediated traditional fieldworker (Grimshaw 2003). Yet it should be obvious that not only does the image, for all its problems of selectivity and ideology, play an important role in the most traditional ethnographies hitherto produced by anthropologists (for example the vaguely captioned photographs in Evans-Pritchard’s classic The Nuer), but that visuality is an essential part of any ethnographic representation. The legitimacy of visual anthropology per se, then, can hardly be called into question: the more relevant issue is that of its uses and its silences. Here, we stumble onto an interesting fact: that while in practice visual anthropology has largely entailed the production and analysis of ethnographic film and the interpretation of still photographs, its fuller potential in relation to other significant sub-fields of anthropology have hardly been explored at all. In Grimshaw’s book cited above (Grimshaw 2003), for example, there is effectively no discussion at all of art and certainly no discussion at all of the relationships between visual anthropology and the enormous expansion of what is being termed more generally “visual culture” on the one hand, or of one of the most obvious fields of application – the urban – on the other. The weakness of visual anthropology lies not in its potential, but in exactly these kinds of self-limitations. In practice, visual anthropology, urban anthropology, the anthropology of development and certainly medical anthropology, with its problems of the imaging of disease organisms or diseased bodies, are profoundly related. In this chapter, I will discuss one instance of this – the relationship between visual anthropology and urban anthropology. I will argue that not only is the urban a primary visual field, as any architect knows, but that the navigation of the urban world on the part of its denizens requires sophisticated visual strategies made more complex by the deliberate interventions of planners. Examples of this include

The aesthetics of the urban


the provision of public art as well as the spontaneous interventions of the strangers, street hawkers, musicians, advertising media, traffic and movements that make up the typical urbanscape.

Visual anthropology and the urban It has been evident since Walter Benjamin’s celebrated Arcades project that cityscapes are the subject of the gaze: that of the flaneur wandering the boulevards, of the shopper, the pickpocket, of the police and those whose responsibility it is to maintain surveillance of the streets, the taxi driver looking for a fare, the prostitute looking for a client, the street artist or the artist of the street, the hotel guest or apartment renter who deliberately chooses a room with a view and those who pay to ascend the Eiffel Tower or Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills complex to look out over the city scene from specially dedicated viewing spots. It is not surprising that the city and its parks, stations, streets and zoos has attracted both many of the most talented photographers since the invention of the medium and many major painters too, the German Expressionists August Macke and Lyonel Feininger being cases in point. Yet visual anthropology itself has made no move to incorporate the specificities of the city or the ethnography of urban life into its concerns or framework, and urban anthropology for its part, while talking constantly of spaces and places, has done little to visualize them or to incorporate visuality into its methodologies. Neither field has paid attention to one of the richest and most significant forms of writing and representation that does in fact implicitly blend the interests of the two – notably the writings of architects, clearly one of the most significant groups of actors in actually shaping urban space. In their stocktaking volume, Marcus Banks and Howard Morphy define visual anthropology as “the anthropology of visual systems or, more broadly, visible cultural forms” (Banks and Morphy 1997: 5). Such a definition, extending far beyond earlier preoccupations with film to include material culture, art and new media, certainly admits the architectural and the urbanscape in principle The question becomes how to fulfil this potentiality in practice, and in such a way that the consequences of this broadening will flow back into the sub-discipline as a whole, enriching it in unexpected ways. The study of the architectural (an almost uninhabited zone of sociology or of anthropology, with the exception of a few studies of house forms, or in contexts where the built form has to be mentioned but as subservient to some other purpose such as kinship or ritual activities), necessarily involves the image, and furthermore the image expressed in a number of possible forms – the photograph, sketches, plans, formal architectural drawings, models and even in film (Napier 1996: 112–38). Here, there is a clear convergence with the trend noted by George Marcus towards what he terms the “cinematic” nature of much recent experimental ethnographic writing, which


Revisioning art and society

he describes by the term “montage”: “simultaneity; multiperspectivism; discontinuous narrative” (Marcus 1994: 38), which might be taken as not only a characterization of post-modern ethnography, but also of the experience of urban life itself. Let us initially, then, undertake two moves: to characterize what a visual anthropology of the urban, and even more specifically of the architectural, might look like, and then to consider what might be the methodological implications of this. First, then, the visuality of the urban. Urban anthropology has to a great extent been occupied with urbanization of previously rural peoples, the origin and cultural role of cities, networks of kin and ethnicity and the role of voluntary associations, urban poverty and ethnic and social boundaries. This dominant approach has very surprisingly, given the overwhelmingly visual qualities of the cityscape, almost totally ignored the ocular as well as the tactile and emotional qualities of the urban. These qualities have been characterized by Norman Denzin (1994) as ranging across a number of significant existential issues: the connections between cultural identities and emotions, the importance of spaces of intimacy and of nostalgia, the metaphor of (city) life as theatre, the nature of the stories that people tell about their environment in post-modern, urban settings. Denzin explores the ways in which this influences the form of autobiography and narratives of belonging, exile, loneliness, fantasy and utopian visions, the excitement but also the dangers and even the alienation and repulsiveness of the city. He also introduces the term (Denzin 1994: 9) “pornography of excess” to describe the surfeit of signs, information, advertising, gigantic video screens, lighting, that so characterize the contemporary capitalist city, famously analysed by Roland Barthes in his encounter with the semiotics of modern Japan (Barthes 1970). What might then some of these elements be? Our initial list might include the gaze. The notion of the gaze has been mostly employed in feminist circles to describe sexually loaded ways of looking (“the male gaze”) or in postcolonial literature to describe (primarily) Western ways of looking at the “Other” – a notion since Edward Said’s work encapsulated by the term “Orientalism”, although that term existed rather earlier in art history (Lemaire 2008). However, it has much broader applications. The tourist gaze, for example, can be understood as a special way of looking, normally at unfamiliar objects, spaces, buildings or landscapes, detached from the observer’s usual cultural or temporal context: the otherness of the gazedupon being the whole point of viewing it. Cities, especially those of cultural or historical interest, attract in many cases literally hordes of tourists who come primarily (but also perhaps to shop, to eat, to be entertained) to view. The gaze and its representations (photographs, souvenir photobooks, postcards and possibly even sketches or paintings by the self or by local artists) legitimate the visit and the time and expense involved. A short business trip on which “I didn’t have time to see anything” hardly counts as a true visit

The aesthetics of the urban


and one can hardly claim to have “been to” say, Paris, if one has not viewed the iconic sights and preferably photographed them too as evidence and memories. The tourist gaze is not, of course, the only form of “urban looking”. Other forms equally affirm the visuality of the city, the consumer’s gaze being one of the most prominent examples. Much of the process of shopping is looking – viewing alternative possibilities, commenting on colour, texture, fabric, returning again to look anew at previously passed over or rejected examples of the desired object. A great deal of actual physical shopping is preceded by the viewing of advertisements, sources of information on products and browsing in magazines. In capitalist cities, much of the colour and dynamism of street life is made up of the shops, the advertisements, signs and displays that animate the environment. Against this, the architecture may be simply a backdrop, unnoticed by the shopper attracted by the colours and tactility of the products and their display. Alternatively, it may be fore-grounded in the distinctive architecture of the emporium itself, the design of which is iconic of the goods within – the Liberty store on London’s Regent Street, the Waco store on Tokyo’s Ginza or the great pre-war departmental stores of Berlin (Clammer 2003; Large 2000).Those who may remember travelling in eastern Europe before 1990, in China in the 1980s or in today’s Cuba will recall the totally different visual quality of the cities with their lack of shops, virtually no advertising, often shabby buildings, absence of restaurants or cafes, but with political slogans constituting the main non-architectural visual interest. With consumption, including cultural consumption (art galleries, museums, book and print or poster shops, television studios) now constituting the major form of the socio-economy in capitalist, transitional and “developing” world cities (Zukin 1995), its visual significance is hard to underestimate. Gaze, then, is a complex phenomenon and as “directed viewing” can encompass activities as different as viewing art, voyeurism, the pre-edited looking of the tourist who has been told what to see and how to interpret it by her guidebook, itself undoubtedly containing ideological and perceptual biases. It also includes the reconnaissance activities that accompany or precede shopping (itself a complex ethnographic phenomenon with its own temporal and spatial cycles) and specifically structured viewing – the architectural tour for example. Furthermore, these forms of gazing can be mixed in complex ways – the phenomenon that Tony Hiss (1991: 3–26), referring to what he calls the many messages that people can get from each place or space that they encounter, describes as “simultaneous perception”. This is a kind of cross-sensory or multi-sensory experience of an environment that can lead to fluid body-boundaries or less sense of a differentiation between oneself and other objects or people in the landscape. Such perception and the complex experience of urban spaces is effected by a multitude of factors, some sociological (age, gender, ethnicity, class), some subjective (memories of the place) or predispositions filtered from reading literature or viewing a


Revisioning art and society

movie about the place being visited (James Joyce’s Dublin for example). For some, it is a factor of environmental awareness – the perception of gradients that exist in what visually appears to be a flat cityscape, such as Manhattan or Kyoto with their straight street grids and right-angled intersections, the effects of light on the perception of an urban scene. For most, it is the complex ability to move fluently in crowds in which we rapidly and largely unconsciously process and act upon a constant flow of visual and other sensory information to navigate without bumping into everyone else. And of course, the other side of gazing is ignoring: the lack of perception that characterizers the regular users of spaces, the filtering out of visual information in spaces in which we feel safe: the not-seeing that is as much part of perception as forgetting is of remembering. The question of the gaze in turn points us to three issues significant in urban theory or wider sociology that should be of primary significance to a renewed urban anthropology – the nature of space, the paths by which we navigate through it and the bodies with which we occupy these spaces. Henri Lefebvre has cogently argued (Lefebvre 1996) that there are no empty spaces, but that all space is “full” – it is shaped by economic and political forces (corporate practices, the nature of consumption spaces, politically motivated buildings and city layouts). Lefebvre suggests that space encourages or inhibits certain patterns of social practice and all spaces, including what we think of as nature are socially/culturally constructed, that spaces have histories and are shaped by forms and forms by space. These multiple spaces are animated by spatial practices, which in Lefebvre’s analysis both ensure a degree of continuity and cohesion in the way in which people use or see particular spaces and guarantee a level of competence and performance in utilizing those spaces (behaviour in a park as opposed to in a concert hall or art gallery for example). This creates an “order” which is not only expressed in social practices, but also constitutes a kind of knowledge which is in turn embodied in systems of signs and codes. What Lefebvre does not stress is the visual aspect of this spatiality: that a form of visual socialization has to take place in order for social actors to be able to interpret these spaces that they inhabit or view and in which certain “correct” representations of space are internalized and reproduced in everyday behaviour. There are in fact at least three levels to this practice and its associated “spatial education”. The first is the literally visual – the seeing and interpreting of urban landscapes as they present themselves to the eye and the sense of security and of making-sense of familiar cityscapes (or landscapes) and the corresponding uncertainty or pleasure in encountering strange or unfamiliar forms. The second is navigation – the ability to move about these spaces with confidence, or to read a map if one is not confident. Together with this goes the highly selective seeing that accompanies movement through urban spaces. The practice of asking informants to generate “mental maps” is very instructive in this respect, as not only do class and ethnic patterns of movement,

The aesthetics of the urban


access and familiarity show up very clearly (Gould and White 1980), but so do the things not seen. When I have carried out this exercise with students in Tokyo and in Weimar this became very apparent – while navigation took place according to familiar landmarks and while familiar routes where followed routinely and certain specific nodes visited regularly, much of the cities even a short distance from the familiar routes was entirely unknown and unexplored. Even along familiar routes, many students could not name or identify buildings, shops and other urban forms that they passed on a virtually daily basis. Their eyes were open but they did not “see” features that were immediately visible to the stranger or visitor, especially one from another culture and set of urban experiences and expectations. The third is embodiment – the fact that vision is not an abstract process but takes place in the context of a moving, feeling body and in which vision itself is often part of a multi-sensory experience in which vision is merged with odours, the weather, emotions, expectations, depending on whether one is alone or not, and if not, with whom one is sharing the view. The belated discovery of the body in sociology has had many positive effects, for example (and very relevant to urban anthropology) the role of the body in consumer culture – its health, appearance, presentation, beauty, youth and performance in sex, sports or social interaction (Featherstone 1991). What is to be emphasized here is that the body is the vehicle for visual interaction with the urban environment, and that not only is consumption and its associated activities of viewing others, being seen, shopping, consuming visual culture (art, films, architecture) strongly visual, but that the whole urban experience is for the sighted an intensely visual event, practice and source of stimulation. It is a form of stimulation that is highly corporeal in which the moving, viewing, sensing body is the entity through which the urban experience is filtered, assimilated and fed back in to culture as architecture, emotions about particular spaces or buildings and as art (Boyne 1991).

The sociology and anthropology of architecture These elements can all be seen in a practical relationship if we explore briefly the almost uninhabited terrain of the anthropology and sociology of architecture. Despite the obvious fact that in all cultures people occupy space, and in virtually all of them they create and occupy structures, very little attention has been paid within anthropology, even within urban anthropology, to this fundamental cultural activity. Yet clearly space, and the structures that occupy it and within which in many societies people spend most of their time, deeply affect subjectivities in all their dimensions, as we see from the profound associations of the simple word “home” and its cognates in many languages. Within the possible totality of forms potentially available to human cultures, certain preferred forms emerge that seem best to express the world view of a particular culture on the planes of behaviour and imagination, as well as in


Revisioning art and society

terms of objective factors of ecology, habitat and economy. Architecture becomes the concrete embodiment of these material and cultural practices, shaped not only by the forces identified by Lefebvre, but also by the social location of the architect in relation to social and cultural factors influencing design. These encompass the expectations of clients, sources of patronage, reputation and rivalry with and knowledge of the work of other competing architects, knowledge of and availability of materials and the creativity of the individual architect. The built environment, which is the outcome of architectural decisions (reflecting of course economic and political ones), forms the daily life space of urban dwellers. It naturally forms their spatial movements, working, entertainment and living environments, exposure to beauty or ugliness and has deep psychological as well as physical impact on the individual. It also shapes, as well as is shaped by, politics (the buildings of the relatively new National University of Singapore, for example, being arranged in such a way as to provide no major central gathering place for students and with movement between parts of the campus easily controlled should the need arise). If we ask ourselves the simple question, “What is a building?” we come up with a complex answer. It is an object in space that modifies its surrounding environment, an expression of cultural values and current design fashions, a shaper of social interaction for those who work or live in it, are forced to go around it or to look at it from their own windows or the street, potentially a place of experiences and memories for those who use it or are displaced by it, a profound modifier of the visual qualities of a neighbourhood and perhaps too, if well designed, a source of aesthetic pleasure. It is almost certainly also, in Foucault’s terms, part of a “discourse” – a current architectural/visual language of style. If the city is the terrain of the most intensive human communication, it can be seen, like language, as having a syntax, but in this case a visual one, in which its combination of anonymity and stimulation provide an exciting mixture of the familiar and the unexpected, as acting in the movie that one is also seeing. The anthropology of architecture provides a key means of bringing together the preoccupations of visual anthropology and urban anthropology in a seamless way, and in a way which, as we shall shortly discuss, has many practical consequences for the politics of anthropology and the politics of cities. Cities, and the architecture that comprises them, have multiple social, economic and political roles. They are usually the centres of cultural production (film and TV studios, fashion houses, architects’ offices, publishers, artists’ ateliers) and of consumption (art galleries, museums, book shops), the centres of political power, they represent the largest concentrations of economic power (banks, corporate headquarters, factories, departmental stores) and contain the main concentration of research and educational resources (schools, laboratories, universities). The city is also in a sense a work of art: a complex ensemble of visual elements that have significant aesthetic impact, for good or for bad, whether that impact was deliberately

The aesthetics of the urban


intended or not. Architects consequently have a major aesthetic role as the primary artistic shapers of the environments that most of us inhabit for most of the time, and of environments that last in many cases for very long periods of time, often for centuries. While artists in the more conventional sense (painters and sculptors) may not have a great deal of social power, architects do, at least in the sense of possessing a form of cultural “soft power” unequalled by almost any other profession. Architecture is not only the most visual and quite literally concretized example of public aesthetics (far more so than public art, which usually has the secondary function of adorning buildings or enhancing already existing public spaces), it is also the convergence point of cultural globalization, often reflecting internationalized and non-indigenous conceptions of design, materials and situation. Colonial and post-colonial architectures represent too the complex semiotics of power and identity. A good example is the controversy surrounding, and the recent demolition of, Seoul City Hall in South Korea. This was a building of some architectural merit, but it was built during the Japanese colonial period and as such was the focus of both positive sentiments on the part of architectural historians, and of heavy criticism from more nationalistically minded Korean politicians and the public, whose views eventually prevailed. For a building is never simply a physical assemblage: it also is both a semiotic entity encoding memories, emotions, nostalgia, concepts of power and resistance and an aesthetic one, embodying ideas of form, materials and relationship to surrounding buildings or the landscape. Both these elements may contain sociological references: who can access a building and who is excluded? To what extent is such access and exclusion based on ethnicity, class, gender, caste or religion? In the light of these, to what extent does a building concretize and express social injustice and how does its aesthetic qualities reflect or reinforce this injustice? The politics of space is a significant part of urban sociology and architectural aesthetics and has considerable significance for wider social theory. Modern social theory, with the exception of that emerging from geography, has been largely concerned with the analysis of time, most clearly expressed in the central role of history. But this is now changing with the recognition that the analysis of space is equally important, not only in the study of micro-processes of social interaction (for example of how people use a public park), but also in relation to global processes such as the international division of labour, the global sourcing of components for manufactured objects such as cars and aircraft regardless of where they are actually assembled or the spread of the so called “international style” in architecture. All social interaction and cultural processes have a spatial dimension. Architecture as an art form and as a technology is a significant part of culture: it both shapes cultural environments and is in itself an expression of those environments. This can be seen very clearly in the comparative study of indigenous architecture: house forms and the interior


Revisioning art and society

distribution and use of space differ substantially between Japan, China, and the variations of domestic architecture found throughout Southeast Asia within Asia itself. All these examples contrast significantly with their European or North American counterparts, and this in turn is expressed in contemporary design that draws on the vernacular for its inspiration (Lim and Tan 1998). The layout of capital cities, new or old, likewise reflects not only culture but also power. Modern capitals such as Canberra or Brazilia indicate this clearly, and it is significant that the illegitimate military government of Myanmar chose very recently and at considerable cost, the move the capital from Yangon (Rangoon) to a remote and inaccessible site north of the traditional capital with its literate population and restive monks. For older capitals, Vienna is a classical example, with its major public buildings – the parliament, city hall, university, opera house and the former palace – situated close together on the Ring: the massive boulevard separating the old inner city from the newer (and proletarian) suburbs This spatial arrangement both symbolizes power and high culture (and the link between them) and provides a defensive perimeter not against foreign enemies, but against the local restive working class (Schorske 1981). In some cases all these forces are concentrated in a single building: the museum, especially a national museum or gallery, with the building itself symbolizing high cultural capital, while containing the art that reinforces the cultural splendour of the nation. The sociology or anthropology of architecture, then, operates at a number of levels – contributing to understanding the interactions between buildings and their inhabitants, in understanding how culture shapes and is shaped by its buildings and the spaces between them, how architecture as a profession is situated in society and is seen as both related to but different from the activities of artists (painters, sculptors, graphic designers), how processes of social change, and especially large scale ones such as globalization, influence architecture, and how architecture itself interacts with other cultural forces such as popular culture. Studies of the so called “art world” – the nexus of artists, galleries, art fairs, biennales, auction houses and dealers that form the social structure of much contemporary art production and circulation (Thornton 2008) – show clearly the intimate links between art and capitalism. Much the same is true of the “architectural world”, where clients (especially corporations), consumer culture (reflected in the spread of phenomena such as shopping malls to cities in India where they were formerly unknown), architectural competitions for prestigious assignments and a whole sub-structure of books and architectural magazines (which highlight the work of certain architects) indicate clearly the even more intimate links between architecture and capitalism. Architecture is in the paradoxical position of being both a victim and agent of globalization, and as such is not only an economic and political force, but also perhaps the major agent of aesthetic homogenization in the contemporary world.

The aesthetics of the urban


A city is, in a sense, an “ecology”, and is certainly an environment. As with ecology in its normal sense, there are deep and shallow versions. The shallow represents standard urban anthropology with its limited agenda of preoccupations; the deep the complex phenomenology of the urban experience – seeing and being seen, being a newcomer as opposed to the long time inhabitant who has internalized the spaces and rhythms of the city, detailed knowledge of routes, metro stations, cafes, special shops, the place to get the best bread. The contribution of visual anthropology is to foreground the element of seeing: the multiformed gazes that constitute the apparatus of recognition, enjoyment, survival, movement, performance and competence, and to acknowledge that the perception of the cityscape and its built forms and spaces is a primary mode of being-in-the-city. All this necessarily has implications for the methodology of both urban anthropology and visual anthropology: their intersection throws up new problems and insights that each alone does not seem to possess.

Visuality and urban ethnography What differences to the mutual relationships between visual and urban anthropology do these intersections between them suggest for the methodologies of both sides of the equation? The first is simply the incorporation of the gaze into ethnography itself. Although conventional ethnography is presented as text and frequently analyzed, discussed and indeed assessed as such, it is in fact the product of the senses. Its highly cognitive and literary form disguises the fact that the data presented arrived through the sight and hearing of the ethnographer and through other senses too. Paul Stoller made a career out of pointing out the essential but neglected role of the less stressed senses, including taste and smell (Stoller 1989). Stoller indeed presents an elegant argument in his work (which includes a book on ethnographic film) for the inclusion of the “lower” senses as being central to the metaphoric organization of experience and against the typically Western tendency to regard the body as a text to be “read” (Stoller 1997). The recognition of the sensuous nature of ethnographic work, largely filtered out in the textual product that results from distilling the fieldwork, restores to anthropology a depth and richness otherwise lacking. A similar approach in urban studies also foregrounds the multi-sensory character of the experience of urban space and the differences between simply viewing and actual living: the wide open spaces that characterize many European cities being pleasant for the gaze, but much less attractive to actually inhabit than the intimate spaces of a city like Tokyo. Here, view is largely oriented outside of the city towards Mount Fuji to the west and Mount Tsukuba to the north and not to the plazas, avenues and squares that Tokyo so conspicuously lacks. Ken-Ichi Sasaki argues in fact that, in city planning, the visual needs to be balanced by the tactile in cultures such as Japan, where there is a very weak


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inclination for enclosing public space, but a great desire for a sense of openness towards nature, combined with a sense of intimacy and even darkness in private and domestic spaces (Sasaki 2000). In this argument, which should be attractive to anthropologists, the actual nature of visuality (i.e. the cultural shaping of perception and its representation in art, architecture and urban planning) varies historically and across cultures. Part of the role of the anthropologist then becomes to map and appreciate these differences and to feed them back into planning and architectural practice. Similarly, the placing of the visual at the centre of the ethnographic enterprise enables a set of rather more traditional themes of anthropology to be re-explored from a very fresh (literally) viewpoint. These include memory (much of which is actually visual and/or activated by visual stimuli) and ritual – urban life being replete with rituals of following pathways, marking boundaries, visiting certain sites at certain specific occasions, the emotions (deeply shaped by place) and, as suggested on p. 69, embodiment. And of course, anthropology is not only ethnography by any means, and while discussions of film in visual anthropology have concentrated almost exclusively on ethnographic film, in fact the city appears in or is indeed the theme of many commercial or art films. In these, urban spaces – ethnic enclaves or the spaces of urban migrants and minorities, fashionable zones, markets, wastelands, liminal spaces such as airports, Hollywood, the experience of transit, homelessness or utopian or dystopian cities, futuristic cities and so forth – are all represented, not simply as the background for the activities of the actors, but as the deep context of the entire film (Shiel and Fitzmaurice 2001).The exploration of the multiple relationships and complex interactions between commercial film, ethnographic film, architecture, our perception of our own cities represented in film or our “knowledge” of other cities never visited but seen on film, and which may well then provide the motive to visit a particular city and to follow within it a particular itinerary dictated by the events or movements within a film once viewed, is an important one. Beginnings of such an analysis have been initiated, largely in relation to commercial film, architecture and the city (Dear 2000), but such an approach has not yet been taken in relation to the subject matter of visual anthropology and in particular ethnographic film. Walter Benjamin suggested as long ago as the 1930s that the filmic is the essentially modern aesthetic. The extent to which we see the world, and the city in particular, through this lens is an important insight into the ways in which modern or post-modern people interpret their spatial environments and lifeworlds. Just as photography as transformed the ways in which we see the world and construct our images of bodies (Lalvani 1996), so film and other techniques of forming images, including art and now digital techniques, shape our perception of the city, and this perceptual process is a dynamic one, evolving with technology and with new forms of the built environment itself.

The aesthetics of the urban


Vision and justice Anthropology as a whole, except for its critical fringe, tends to stay away from social critique. This, however, is a mistake that condemns most anthropology to a conversation between specialists, an internal dialogue unheard by the wider world, despite the subject’s claims to be the comparative science of culture. Development anthropology, because of its necessary proximity to pressing social and existential issues – poverty, inequality, conflict and so forth – is forced to some degree to address the policy and practical implications of its own activities. While urban anthropology, through its studies of urban migrants, ethnicity and so forth has come marginally closer to this position, visual anthropology has yet to develop a critical perspective beyond its internal critiques of, for example, ethnic or gender representations in a particular ethnographic film. But what we have said so far in this chapter suggests that it does potentially possess a very critical edge indeed. The spatial realization of a design – the transfer from notebook, sketch and plan to a realized built environment – is fraught with issues. These include the sociological implications of the result (will it promote neighbourliness? Is it safe? Is it accessible to the elderly or handicapped?) and also aesthetic matters (is it attractive, and if so, to whom apart from the architect or patron? Does it inflict visual violence on inhabitants, passersby or the natural environment in which it is situated? Does it blend with its surroundings or is it in harmony with pre-existing buildings on the site?). Speaking of alternative perceptions of the visibility or invisibility of what he calls the “obscene” (the noise, superficial distractions, dehumanization of work, consumerism, environmental destruction and injustices built into the contemporary city and its sites of entertainment and consumption in particular), George Ritzer suggests that a high degree of visibility exists to distract the consumer from the hidden problems and prospects. Distracted or enthralled by the visible, the consumer is less likely to think about the invisible irrationalities that lie hidden below the surface. Thus, one obscenity allows the other to exist. (Ritzer 2002: 326) There has, of course, been much talk of “convivial cities”, and the theoretical writings of architects are full of utopian plans for our individual and collective happiness as a result of living in the right kinds of spaces (designed by themselves of course) and talk too of the role of public art in beautifying urban environments (Miles 2000). It is easy to allow talk of the “visual”, as Ritzer suggests, to distract from the real meanings of what is seen, and to allow the surface appearances to distract from the underlying reality – the colorful fashion products in the shops manufactured by sweated labour, the


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attractive cafes and hotels made possible by the poorly paid migrant labour in the kitchens and cleaning departments, the efficient public transport staffed by minority ethnic group members from the former colonies who now find themselves discriminated against in many areas of everyday life despite their provision of essential services. The visual is not a substitute for social analysis but its tool, as those photographers who have taken upon themselves to document social exclusion and political invisibility have so well demonstrated (David Seymour, Marc Riboud or Tina Modotti for example). Urbanization has brought with it new forms of social exclusion and social injustice and the visible forms of these are as much the subject of visual anthropology as is the classic ethnographic film of ritual or tribal life. Visual violence is sadly a characteristic of much contemporary urbanization and of “development”, with its assumption that progress is to be largely measured in economic terms. This chapter, however, suggests that the interface of visual anthropology and of urban anthropology points to new ways of seeing and analyzing, not only the more obvious architectural qualities of cities, but also the quality of the visual environments that result from planning, building and manipulating public space. This requires that visual anthropology in particular be prepared to adopt a critical posture when necessary, one which analyzes ugliness as well as beauty, the mundane as well as the exceptional. What this points to, as we have constantly emphasized, is a notion of a social aesthetics in which social justice and aesthetic justice are intimately connected. Is it too much to argue that beauty is as much a human right as free association or the right to travel?

Chapter 6

Aesthetics beyond art Conviviality and social imagination

Amongst the social sciences, it is anthropology that has long announced itself as the comparative study of human civilizations (in the plural of course). Its various sub-branches – kinship studies, the analysis of religion, human–environment relationships, economic anthropology and so forth – all purport to explore human societies in a non-ethnocentric way and to treat, at least in principle, all cultures as equal in a philosophical if not in a material sense. While these principles have frequently been honoured more in the breach than in their fulfilment, the comparative intent still lies at the heart of anthropology and, rather like the universal declaration of human rights, is extremely useful as a way of reminding people that such principles exist, even when they are not fully observed in practice. It sometimes used to be said (although one does not hear this so much nowadays) that the understanding of religion was the key to broader methodological and conceptual understanding in the social sciences. The reasons for this claim were that religion is notoriously hard to grasp sociologically, and for decades, at least since Weber and Durkheim, sociologists and anthropologists have struggled with the issues of the limits of sociological explanation when applied to religion. These questions include amongst others: what can be said about religion from a sociological perspective without falling into a crude functionalism? Is it possible to understand a religion without being a believer? How are religious or quasi-religious theories of causality (for example Azande witchcraft) to be aligned with what we believe to be “scientific” ones? What exactly does ritual enact or do? Are twins birds? Is animism a quite reasonable set of beliefs and not an archaic residue of some long relegated set of beliefs about the relationship between humans and nature? Attempts to answer these questions, and there have been many such attempts, place us at or beyond the outer limits of sociological explanation. But while religion cannot be said to have declined, as cruder secularization theories used to argue, and still remains a profound organizing principle for many cultures and individuals, its role as a general structuring principle in post- or post-post-modern society has changed. Despite predictions to that effect, scientific principles of explanation, while


Revisioning art and society

they are widely applied to practical and material issues, have not filled the spiritual vacuum. Some instead have argued that for post-modern people, or at least a significant section of them, it is now art that fills this role, “a kind of alternative religion for atheists” (Thornton 2008: xiv). If this is true even to some extent (and one suspects that it is a classist argument applying more to the art gallery going literati than to the average factory worker), it may in fact signal a significant shift in cultural orientation – away from religion and possibly the written and declaimed word on which it so heavily relied in most of its manifestations, and towards the visual and the aural. The proliferation of social science work in “visual culture”, including film, photography, popular culture, comics, animation, internet studies, sound cultures including new music and popular music and media (especially television) studies have virtually eclipsed the more traditional focus on art objects and their means of production. The result for anthropology has been a rather paradoxical situation: at the moment when the visual and aural aspects of culture have become prominent, the anthropological sub-discipline of visual anthropology/anthropology of art (posed one would assume to inform these debates from a comparative perspective) has become uncertain of its own role. This has occurred not only as subversives within the discipline have begun to question the whole concept of culture (Fox and King 2002), but also as the relationship of the anthropology of art to aesthetics has become a source of deep confusion and debate. In this chapter, I will attempt to recast the question of the relationship between visual anthropology in particular (with less attention, that is, to aural anthropologies) and aesthetics. I will do this not from the point of view of a purely internal scholarly debate of little significance to the “real” world, but as a way of posing broader questions about the relationships between art and society when seen precisely from an anthropological perspective: in comparative terms, in other words. This also allows us to pose other questions, some of largely scholarly interest such as the question of the relationship between anthropologies of art and art history and between visual anthropology and more extensive developments in visual culture studies. Other questions address the applied implications of this – the set of issues conventionally called “development”, an issue that I have argued elsewhere both significantly informs cultural studies as well as deepening the discourse of development studies when issues of culture are seriously admitted into that field (Clammer 2005).

Aesthetics beyond art? The technical study of aesthetics has long been thought to be a branch of philosophy – that concerned with the analysis and elucidation of beauty, and an adjunct to art history and the parallel exploration of other expressive forms: theatre, literature, dance and more recently, film. But when placed in

Aesthetics beyond art


a comparative perspective (as inevitably it must be in any anthropology of the arts) some major problems arise that are now familiar territory. These include such questions as the universality of standards of beauty, whether objects produced for ritual or other purposes are in fact “art” at all (the “totem poles” of the Northwest Coast Indians, the masks and votive objects found historically throughout African and New Guinean cultures, Chinese ancestral paintings), the role and status of both the ethnographic museum and the art gallery displaying “primitive art” as art, the question of the assimilation of non-Western art or ritual objects into the canon of Western modernist painting and sculpture (Picasso being a case in point) and the commercialized production of invented art objects for tourist consumption where such objects in fact have no roots in the real or organic culture of the society in question. Examples of this are widespread, from the production of African tourist art (Littlefield 1999), contemporary Balinese painting (Djelantik 1990) and numerous other examples, often hiding behind the respectable label of “cultural tourism” (MacCannell 1992). With the emergence of visual anthropology and the anthropology of other forms of art such as music, dance and fashion, these questions have become central to the anthropological enterprise and indeed to its legitimacy and have forced anthropologists working in these fields to look again at the place of aesthetics in the context of comparative studies of the visual and performing arts. The result, informed by a much more ethnographic and sociological approach to the arts than that generally available to philosophers of art or even to art historians, has been an interesting one. Furthermore, it is one that unwittingly, as I will try to demonstrate, converges with central issues in a humane conception of “development”, and indeed potentially transforms this notion into something far more creative and imaginative than that used by most of its technically oriented practitioners and theorists. Possibly the starting point for this transformation of aesthetics from a philosophical to a social enterprise can be traced to the publication in 1986 of George Marcus and Michael Fischer’s important volume Anthropology as Cultural Critique (Marcus and Fischer 1986). This book, perhaps for the first time, dealt systematically with a number of key issues that had been slowly emerging in anthropology (and indeed in the wider arena of the social sciences). These included the problem of representation in the social sciences, an issue shared with art history and other forms of cross-cultural analysis (Richards 1994; Owens 1994), the relationship between anthropological method and knowledge and the much wider systems of the capitalist world economy. Also, and, very tellingly, that anthropology could no longer simply represent itself as neutral ethnography in a world of widespread social and cultural injustice and cruelty (the old issue of “value freedom” transposed to anthropology), but that it had a significant role as a medium of cultural critique. In pursuing this multiple agenda, and one that in the context of the mid-1980s was something of a wake up call to anthropology, a host of issues


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are raised. The one that concerns us here is that of aesthetics, a subject which as we will see is far from being of simply minority or limited interest, but which, treated in the right way, connects in unsuspected ways many levels and forms of social and cultural analysis. One chapter of Anthropology as Cultural Critique is concerned not with the representation of objects – the traditional subject matter of art history – but with the central problem (certainly for anthropologists) of conveying the cultural experience of others. This process incorporates a number of philosophically complex issues such as the nature and representation of persons/selves, the vital but until recently largely ignored (in the social sciences) question of emotions and their place in culture and personhood and that of art as the expressive dimension of culture. Art is especially interesting in this context: it appears in many ways to be purposeless (i.e. a society could apparently do without it in a way that it cannot do without kinship, economics or some form of political order and social control), yet individually and collectively vast amounts of energy and time, talent and creativity are invested in this seemingly unnecessary dimension of culture (do we really need opera?). Status and self-esteem are often measured by recognized facility in artistic production or performance from Samoa to New York, and as we know from contemporary capitalist or consumerist societies, vast amounts of wealth and energy can be invested (literally) in the acquisition and display of art. So what does it do, and why do so many of us care so much about it? This is the question that an anthropological aesthetics really needs to answer, and the answer may prove to be a very interesting one indeed. Need aesthetics be confined purely to art? If aesthetics is the analysis of our notions of beauty, why cannot it not in principle be extended to the appreciation of nature – as has indeed been done in the emergent field of environmental aesthetics (Carlson 2005) – to the body or to social relationships as a whole? Are there societies that in fact do this as an aspect of, or as the main thrust of, their own indigenous aesthetics? As Marcus and Fischer rightly point out, a number of attempts have been made to write ethnographies of what they term “strikingly different aesthetics than our own” (Marcus and Fischer 1986: 63). This includes a burst of activity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which incorporated John Chernoff’s African Rhythm and African Sensibility (1979), Charles Keil’s Tiv Song (1979), Steven Feld’s Sound and Sentiment (1982), Edward Schieffelin’s The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers (1976), to which we can add a number of works that appeared after the publication of their own book, including Paul Stoller’s The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology (1989), Lutz and Abu-Lughod’s Language and the Politics of Emotion (1990) and Iteanu and Schwimmer’s Parle, et je t’ecouterai (1996). Interestingly, this was also a period that saw intense anthropological and sociological interest in the concept of the self, of healing and charismatic forms of religious

Aesthetics beyond art


expression, the discovery of the body as a subject of sociological interest, in alternative psychotherapies, in shamanism and in the emotions, with correspondingly less attention going to the more traditional themes of kinship, economics, politics and social organization and control. What all these enumerated works have in common are two elements: on the one hand, they share an explication of “emotional styles”, to use Marcus and Fischer’s own term (Marcus and Fischer 1986: 62), in which specific forms of cultural behaviour (in particular ritual) expose the experiential life of the ethnographers’ subjects – their sentiments, anger, sadness, contentment and so forth. On the other hand, they have in common modes of interpretation of their worlds and particularly the natural world, in terms very different from those assumed to be central to Western philosophical aesthetics, and particularly its privileging of vision. As Schieffelin (1976) demonstrates and Feld (1982) further elaborates, the Kaluli (a New Guinea people), interpret their world through sound rather than vision and describe animals and birds not through their physical appearance, but through their calls and characteristic movements. This allows things which are unseen, the teeming invisible life of the forest, to be incorporated into a holistic but non-visual mode of representation. Feld indeed understands this to be an aesthetics in which expressive genres (in his case primarily music, whereas for Schieffelin it is primarily ritual) provides the route to uncovering the emotional life of the culture in question. If this can be done, it opens us up to a set of cognitive and sensory frameworks radically different from our own. If we stop at this point – at the elucidation of alternative cultural aesthetics seen simply as the frameworks through which culturally different art forms are constructed, appreciated and explained – anthropology would have done something valuable in decentring the universalist assumptions of Western aesthetics. For it is significant that a recent major reference volume on aesthetics (Gaut and Lopes 2005) contains not a single article on nonWestern art, and nor does a similar massively fat anthology on art theory, unless one excepts the brief extracts from the writings of two or three of the major Mexican modernists of the twentieth century and one African critic who lives and works in Florida (Harrison and Wood 2005). But this, as soon becomes apparent, is not the only or main objective. Rather, implicit in all these characterizations of alternative aesthetic systems is that aesthetics extends well beyond art in a narrow sense, to life and social relationships as a whole. Speaking of yet another 1980’s ethnography – Bradd Shore’s Sala’ilua: A Samoan Mystery (Shore 1982) – Shore argues that Samoan personhood is not only constrained by public and external means of control, but equally by an internalized aesthetic of proper behaviour. Marcus and Fischer argue that [S]hore’s intention is to demonstrate that Samoan aesthetics are concentrated, not in some distinct genre like music or dance, but rather in


Revisioning art and society the performance of social relationships themselves, and in the molding of appropriate personal orientations to life. In some sense, the quality of Samoan everyday life is comparable not to everyday life in the West, but to the forms and aesthetics of classic Western ‘high’ culture. (Marcus and Fischer 1986: 66)

As a result, many of the “problems” that have exercised Western aesthetics – such as the relationship between ethics and aesthetics (e.g. Maffesoli 1990) – effectively dissolve. Social life then requires or embodies an entire aesthetic of which art in the narrow sense is simply a part, a manifestation of an expressive urge mirroring important dimensions of the emotional life of the culture in question and of its individual members. This moves entirely the basis of anthropological aesthetics from its seemingly politically correct preoccupation with “representation”, with its assumption that all such representations must embody unequal power relationships, colonial distortions and misreadings of the art and cultures being so represented (for exemplars of this narrow and self-defeating approach see Richards 1994; Napier 1996). For the Foi people of Papua New Guinea studied by James Weiner (2001), art and magic are foundational rather than culturally epiphenomenal, such that “techniques and products and things are only revealed in their thingly quality through magic, myth, art and poetry” (Weiner 2001: 86). Furthermore, in such a society (and there appear to be many examples in Melanesia), forms of sociality and relationality are not openly articulated, but are hinted at and refracted through other cultural media than the directly sociological – through in fact art and poetics. Referring to the work of Marilyn Strathern also on New Guinea, on this hiddenness or concealment of sociological relationships by way of symbolic processes, Weiner suggests that with this realization, Strathern understands that anthropology is no longer restricted to the realm of conventional sociological analysis, but also includes what might even be called comparative aesthetics. And it is important to realize that by the term ‘aesthetic’ she does not appeal to the subjective or the sensual or the beautiful, but invokes the Kantian transcendental aesthetic: the specification of the forms of perception by which phenomena are made to appear. (Weiner 2001: 87) This insight for Weiner raises a crucial point: [W]e understand now that such an aesthetic is not merely an attitude of detached contemplation, but is an integral part of our life-constituting activities, including the activities of representing and interpreting as well as producing and making. Through our engagement in such activities,

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we discover the lineaments and forms of the world and remake them in the very act of encountering them. (Weiner 2001: 88) But as Weiner rightly goes on to point out, the activity of interpretation itself will be very different across cultures: [B]ecause the language and aesthetic of our own Western mode of engagement in the world is so heavily centred on the activities of producing, making, ordering and controlling, and the conscious, intentional postures that underlie them, the works and effects of elicitation come to occupy a subordinate position with respect to such activities. What is elicited for us is usually an unintended by-product of conscious deliberate intention. But what if it were the other way around, especially in the case of the non-Western societies that anthropologists commonly focus on? What if the world of production and making, of consumption and controlling, was only elicited, what if it were the reflexive by-product of something else, like magic and art? (Weiner 2001: 88) What, indeed? The key issue then is, for Weiner and a number of precursors that he invokes – Heidegger, Strathern again and Roy Wagner (1981), who, he argues start with similar goals in mind – they want to question the dominance of productionist models in human social life and social analysis, the kind of models that make the task of ‘establishing attributes’ the focus of conscious attention. And in their appeal to the alternative socialexistential tasks of evocation, elicitation and gathering, they have made the calling forth of a human world of action, relation and production a matter of the elicitation of forms and their proper grounding conditions – what we would conventionally label an aesthetic process. (Weiner 2001: 93–4) But there is a danger here that this total aestheticizing of the social world engenders – notably that there is no longer any distinction between social relations as a totality and the world of art as specific objects, performances or processes. For many this is not a problem, but rather the goal of the arts collectively is to colonize these wider spaces. Precisely this concept we see in James Boon’s description of the work of the composer Richard Wagner: “Art is no longer in painting, nor in literature, nor in music, but in the strict union of these genres and in the total life which is born thereof” (Boon 1972: 171). Is a work of art a kind of condensation of its larger social context – what the


Revisioning art and society

art historian Julian Bell calls a “Mirror of the World” (Bell 2007)? Or is it rather a bodying of life through form itself ? The point is not trivial, for many of the critiques of so called social theories of art are based on the premise of the mirroring function of art, which implies that at least at some level there is a sociological “explanation” of art, and art can never be seen as an autonomous mode of cultural creativity (e.g. Heywood 1997). But if the synthesizing view (not restricted to Wagner, but equally shared by Schiller, Hegel, Proust, Mallarmé, Baudelaire and not a few others), is correct, then the art object/process is not a diminution of the totality of the visible universe, but a kind of hologram of it. But this view incidentally overcomes, as the older Bauhaus theorists attempted to do in the early twentieth century, any false distinction between “arts” and “crafts”, as any piece of “folk”, outsider or naïve art can be read as much for its intrinsic aesthetic value as in the productionist terms favoured by most anthropologists of art (Bartra 2003). Weiner (2001) adds an important footnote here, notably that while art reveals, we cannot fully understand this function without also and equally recognizing that “such a revelation involves a suspension, cancellation, or concealment of conventional processes of social elicitation” (Weiner 2001: 95), since there is a dialectic at work between revelation and concealment. For we cannot appeal to the work of concealment or meconnaissance in a society without a simultaneous consideration of the procedures a society has for revelation. We must, that is, continue to think dialectically, and this means that the negation or collapse of the form of sociality is implicated in the same procedures that account for its positive instauration. Because art, unlike technology, focuses on the rift between the world and the limitations of our modes of appresenting it, it exposes the arbitrary differentiation that convention makes between them. It embodies the dialectic between the innate and external, and the human and the artificial, rather than fixing it in some antinomy of the objective, such as nature vs. culture, material vs. ideal, society vs. the individual, or inside vs. outside. (Weiner 2001: 95) For even the subjectivity of the artist, a theme given much emphasis in Western art theory, arises within a specific field of social perception. There are, then, dangers in the broadening of the range of the aesthetic – a possible negative implication being the trivialization that follows on the complete aestheticization of the everyday through fashion, media, advertising and a totalizing form of commodification of art, spirituality and nature. This process, in the view of Wolfgang Welsch, makes art superfluous (Welsch 1997), or, in Jean Baudrillard’s words, “art is everywhere, since artifice lies at the heart of reality” (Baudrillard 1993: 3). However, this is not to be confused with the position being advanced by Weiner, Strathern and Wagner.

Aesthetics beyond art


There appears to be something of a consensus emerging amongst anthropologists who paradoxically do not specifically study art, that aesthetic, form-inducing processes are endemic to human social and relational life and are not confined simply to the artwork as conventionally understood, although they also contain such works. The details of this now needs further explication, for the issues are significant, as such a position in suggesting that human relationality embodies aesthetic principles proposes in fact a general theory of society. This is extremely important, not only because it transcends a productivist account of cultural creativity, but equally because it suggests an alternative theory of human consumption; something that inherently embodies the forms of that creativity and is itself cultural rather than material until distorted, as consumption has been almost everywhere, by the commodified and commodifying economics of capitalism.

Aesthetics and the interpretation of cultures In a recent volume devoted to the cross-cultural manifestations of aesthetic principles and systems in the context of performance, the editors Bruce Kapferer and Angela Hobart argue that anthropological discussions of aesthetics, largely because of their primary focus on art, have become preoccupied with definitions of beauty. Instead, they recommend a return to Kant and even to Hegel since [F]or Kant, as with Hegel, aesthetics does not merely concern art but rather lies at the heart of the critical understanding of the human project as a whole. We open with this interpretative significance of Kant’s work in mind, for likewise we argue that the field of aesthetics is at the center of understanding of all human endeavor and practice. (Kapferer and Hobart 2005: 2) This they expand as follows in a paragraph, which summarizes the emerging anthropological consensus very clearly: [T]he aesthetic, therefore, is not in our usage exclusively the domain of what, regardless of specific convention, is defined as art, a concept that has mainly been shaped in recent and contemporary modernist and postmodernist discourses. As we have made explicit, the Kantian problem of aesthetic beauty and the notion of the sublime extends well beyond art towards a more general and unified approach to the understanding of human being. In other words, art or what is defined as art engages aesthetic processes but is not their necessary or ultimate expression. The aesthetic is primary. In our treatment the aesthetic is what ties art (as all other human endeavors) to life. The


Revisioning art and society aesthetic and its compositional forms are what human beings are already centered within as human beings. This is to say that human beings are beings whose lived realities are already their symbolic constructions or creations within, and through which, they are oriented to their realities and come to act within them. To concentrate on the aesthetic is to focus on the dynamic forces and other processes engaged in human cultural and historical experience as quintessentially symbolic processes of continual composition and recomposition. If the aesthetic is to be equated with art, then life is art, an attention to its aesthetic processes being a concern with its compositional forms and forces in which life is shaped and comes to discover its direction and meaning. (Kapferer and Hobart 2005: 5)

The significance of the aesthetic, then, lies not only in identifying the fundamentally symbol producing nature of human beings, but equally in overcoming the purely subjectivist approach to aesthetics – that art expresses (and in the Western context that it expresses the subjectivity and individuality of the artist) – and locates in its place a much broader existential model. [W]hat we emphasize is that aesthetic processes highlight not merely that realities are symbolic constructions but that life exists in these constructions that commands or demands or calls forth ways of living the realities the aesthetic as a symbolic composition may be conceived as objectifying or representing. Immanent in the compositional symbolic dynamic of aesthetic construction is how human beings imagine and form their existential circumstances to themselves and to others. It constitutes both the reality and the emergent possibility of the worlds they come to live. (Kapferer and Hobart 2005: 7) Aesthetic activity in this view becomes both a process of self-generation and a way not of mirroring realities but of materializing, imagining and constructing such realities. It is furthermore what Don Handelman (2005) calls “feelings of rightness-in-doing”: the aesthetics of practice transcend practice by enabling practice to communicate ‘more than we can tell’, while feeling the rightness of not needing to, not being able to, tell this. The aesthetics of practice integrate us with that which we do, in ways that self-produce and selforganize this integration as more than we can tell and as feeling the rightness of this. (Handelman 2005: 198)

Aesthetics beyond art


The aesthetic is consequently implicated in all behaviours, however everyday they may be, and without it emotional life is impossible (Katz 1999). This is a view that is expanded in considerable ethnographic detail in a significant volume of work on Amazonian societies (Overing and Passes 2000), in which the basic premise is that there is an aesthetics to Amazonian ways of acting, and styles of everyday relating that are morally – and therefore aesthetically – not only proper but beautiful and pleasing. In respect of Amazonian peoples, we can correctly speak of the ‘culinary arts’, the art of feeding, of speaking, of working, and that of nurturing. (Overing and Passes 2000: xii) This point of view has multiple implications, amongst which are the establishment of a new relationship between aesthetics and ethics by focusing on the virtues, not on rules and obligations. Also included is an expansion of the notion of aesthetics to encompass everyday life and in particular the management of relationships in which sociality and conviviality are seen as the highest art forms; the incorporation of humour and the ludic into the sphere of aesthetics. This therefore recognizes societies in which emphasis is much less on the classical issues of status, role and property than it is on creativity and the generative power of the ability to promote conviviality, and in which an aesthetics of social existence embraces as its paramount values peacefulness, cooperation, love, compassion, generosity, affability, amity and sociability. This expresses an emotional universe in which a language of intimacy and compassion is dominant and in which anger, jealousy, selfishness and individualism are regarded as diseases to be cured through creative human work. In such a society, a leader must be a good singer, dancer, jester and clown, bawdy and capable of merrymaking: a prescription that some of our politicians might fruitfully emulate (Overing 2000: 67). Each of the exemplary mini-ethnographies that make up this collection illustrate, from the perspective of different Amazonian societies, the widespread continuity of these ideas across a wide range of mainly tropical forest dwelling South American peoples: a view that as the editors rightly point out, challenges many of the central tenants of mainstream Western social, legal, psychological and political theory. And so they should, as, if comparative aesthetics itself has any larger utility, it is precisely to question and expand the borders of thought and signification. This is not as a critique of Western theory necessarily, but as an attempt to place that theory in a genuinely globalized context, one, that is, in which a plurality of legitimate knowledges is acknowledged and incorporated into the total range of creative cultural possibilities that have been historically and anthropologically open to human beings in their quest to master the existential conditions of our collective life on Earth.


Revisioning art and society

Aesthetics, ontology and cosmologies The most obvious implication is precisely that – the obvious expansion of the notion of aesthetics beyond art as conventionally understood into an element constituting, embodying and structuring social relationships. But there are others that are perhaps even more significant. These include the convergence or even identity of aesthetics and ethics, the fact that aesthetic performance (including songs, dances and designs) constitutes knowledge of an embodied, expressive and non-cognitive kind and the insight that aesthetics is deeply linked less to epistemologies (formal modes of knowing, represented in Western thinking as philosophical aesthetics) than to ontologies – ways of being-in-the-world (Clammer et al. 2004). And modes of being-in-the-world differ. As Sylvie Poirier says of the art forms of the Western Desert Australian Aboriginals: [S]ongs and designs, along with storytelling and mythical narratives, are forms that objectify ancestral and human action as congealed in the landscape. In addition, the act of putting one’s country into narrative, singing and painting is an act of communication and participation: they are political and aesthetic forms of involvement. (Poirier 2004: 75) But this aesthetic is specific to the culture, and in the Aboriginal case, in relation to the land and to the ancestors. This Poirier illustrates with reference to the now well known acrylic painting of the Western Desert Aboriginals, and in doing so refers to de Certeau’s distinction (de Certeau 1984: 119) between the “map” and the “itinerary”. As she puts it: [W]esterners often tend to present Aboriginal acrylic paintings as maps that are at the same time mythical and topographical. By doing so, we are trying to translate their ontology of dwelling into our own ontology of building. Tjupurrula’s [a Western Desert Kukatja artist] painting is a good example of how these painted spatial stories are not maps, at least not in the Western meaning of the word. For Aboriginal people, they are itineraries – that is, actions and movements within a named, personified land. Maps are fixed, whereas itineraries are open-ended, forever unfolding. (Poirier 2004:77–8) We are not, then, dealing here simply with representations, or with aesthetics understood simply as local theories of beauty, but with something that touches on the deepest levels of a culture: its way of being-in-the-world. Development theories and policies are mostly either ignorant of these ontologies or ignore them as irrelevant to the expansion of the material

Aesthetics beyond art


sphere, which is usually its primary objective. Where “culture” and “development” are brought together it is usually so that the former can enhance, or at least not retard, the “delivery” of the latter. Rarely is development seen as an integral process in which culture itself is enhanced and promoted, or even more fundamentally listens to the voices and whispers that embody and represent the ontolgies on which any authentic development must be built. This is what the anthropology of development should presumably do. But sadly its exemplars (e.g. Olivier de Sardan 2005; Gardner and Lewis 1996; Grillo and Stirrat 1997) fall far short of this ideal, and themselves fall back on a mechanistic and utilitarian approach which differs little in substance from that being offered in development sociology and policy “science”, so called. But for those being “developed”, this is a tragedy. Speaking of the Songhay peoples of Senegal where he carried out detailed ethnographic fieldwork on, in particular, spirit possession, the anthropologist Paul Stoller notes that [F]or most Songhay elders, the theoretical results of social science research are meaningless. They don’t care whether monographs on the Songhay refine theories of cultural hermeneutics or clear up the murkiness of the postmodern condition. They do care about how well their tale is told. They care about the poetic quality of their story. They especially care about whether scholars demonstrate a healthy respect for the ‘old words’. They care about whether scholars are humbled by history, which consumes the bodies of those who attempt to talk it, write it, or film it … For most Songhay elders the ultimate test of scholars is whether their words and images enable the young to uncover their past and discover their future. (Stoller 1997: 26) As he goes on to argue, in societies where textualism is not central, there is a very close connection between bodily practices and cultural memory. While his main point of reference is spirit possession (in fact itself a form of aesthetic performance), the same point can be made about any other expressive form. Indeed, in many art forms this is the essential nexus: in Western music there is an agreed form of notation by which sounds and their performance can be recorded so that anyone who can read a musical score and play the appropriate instrument can reproduce those sounds at any point in time. But in most non-Western music no such scores exist, despite the immense complexity of the music, as the Canadian composer and musicologist Colin McPhee discovered when he went to study Balinese music. “Scores” in Balinese gamelan music proved to be merely notes scratched on palm leaves representing the “roots” of a piece, the elaboration and performance of which existed primarily in the memory of someone who “knew” the work and how it should be elaborated from its “root” (McPhee 1966, 1947/2002).


Revisioning art and society

Much the same can, however, be said of dance: while a variety of forms of notation exist for recording dance, none are definitive. Rather like Balinese gamelan music, a ballet, for example, must be quite literally re-embodied by the choreographer who undertakes to recreate the piece, which may well have been performed many times before, but for which no absolute plan or “text” exists. We can, then, legitimately talk about an “aesthetics of development”, and following Stoller’s lead perhaps even of an “erotics of development” – a grasping of the sensory and embodied aspects of culture through which it is lived and which constitutes its expressive forms and of the underlying economy of desire which motivates action, initiates and sustains social, sexual and imaginary relationships (those embodied in fantasy and hence in literature, film, painting as well as in individual ruminations), promotes various forms of production and consumption, which structures the management of time and the ordering of spatial movement and which provides the basis of both memories and anticipations. This position is echoed by the social theorist Slavoj Z˘ iz˘ ek: “The lesson of all of this is that, in the opposition between fantasy and reality, the real is on the side of fantasy” (Z˘ iz˘ ek 2000: 67).

Deep aesthetics It should be apparent, especially to anyone with a knowledge of the recent literature in those fields, that the approach outlined above considerably transcends many of the ultimately sterile scholarly debates that currently infest the field of aesthetics, art history, visual culture studies and the sociology of art. In those fields there is a rather tired agenda of debate about the boundaries of each of these disciplines or quasi-disciplines, the subject of visual culture (e.g. Mirzoeff 2002 for an anthology of such approaches) and/or attempts to expand the subject matter of the sociology of art from art to cultural production as a means of dissolving precisely those boundaries between sociology, art history, anthropology and media and cultural studies (for a very good example, but one still entirely trapped in a productivist model of art generation, see the essay “The Social and the Aesthetic: For a Post-Bourdieuian Theory of Cultural Production” [Born 2010]). But simply to argue for more inter-disciplinary work or to attempt to move the focus of the academic study of art from art itself to an even fuzzier notion of cultural production, or to adopt an apparently “critical” stance towards artistic manifestations by attempting to situate them in terms of “representation”, globalization, colonialism or feminism, is not to go nearly deep enough at all. Such approaches, valid no doubt at their own levels of analysis, even if by now a little tired and repetitive, do not penetrate to the deep generative and existential issues raised by the central role of aesthetic activities in human societies. It is indeed significant that Born (2010), in the essay just cited, refers to anthropology rather than to

Aesthetics beyond art


sociology as providing the most significant insights into the aesthetic. It is sensitive to cultural specificities: “Sympathetic to the groups that it studies, it is invariably engaged in advocating their creative salience, a creativity that is commonly perceived to be linked to the promotion of a heightened sense of communality or social consciousness” (Born 2010: 182), while also being alert to ontologies. Here, again, Born invokes Feld’s exemplary ethnography of the Kaluli cited on p. 80: [F]eld’s account of the poetics and aesthetics of the musical forms of the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea similarly insists on the embeddedness of Kaluli aesthetics, centred on the metaphor dulugu ganalan or ‘lift-up-over sounding’, in their social ontology, itself inseparable from an ecological cosmology elaborated around their rainforest environment. Thus the aesthetic quality of ‘lift-up-over sounding’ is manifest not only in dense, layered sounds that are ‘in synchrony while out of phase’, but in the Kaluli social ideal of cooperative and collaborative autonomy, an ‘anarchistic synchrony’ that encompasses changing degrees of difference and displacement. (Born 2010: 185) This emphasis on the ontologies that frame expressive practices should not, Born herself recognizes, be confused with old fashioned anthropological relativism, but rather highlights “the need for an understanding of ontologies as the basis for an analysis of such practices, their social, discursive, aesthetic and material operations” (Born 2010: 186). As is frequently the case with anthropological studies, however, the emphasis on ethnography raises the question of change and how, in such apparently finely balanced socio-cultural situations, any kind of evolution can take place unless it is imposed from without by colonialism, globalization or “development”. Traditional theories of social change have great difficulties here and tend to fall back on categories and dichotomies such as “agency/structure” or “tradition/modernity”. These are, however, totally inadequate for grasping the nature of cultural change, and it has been from the perspective of anthropological aesthetics that the most innovative alternative models have come. These involve a complex process that involves not just the contact of material objects (the productivist/consumerist approach), but more significantly the encounter of differing ontologies, regimes of value or what Eric Schwimmer calls “semiospheres” (Schwimmer 2004: 244–5). From this, he develops a subtle theory of post-colonialism revolving around the struggle for ontological authenticity that transcends the economic and political aspects of struggles for land and justice amongst indigenous peoples (Clammer 2008). Returning to the case of Aboriginal acrylic paintings as an example, Fred Myers demonstrates how, as these paintings were absorbed into Western discourses of high art and the Western “art world” and its


Revisioning art and society

intense market orientation, a profound encounter occurs between what Myers’ terms “different object-ideologies” (Myers 2005: 89). If the Western art system sees such paintings as maps (rather than as itineraries as Poirier has demonstrated) and as commodities, for the artist these same works are material embodiments of ancestral knowledge, events and journeys – what is often referred to as the “Dreaming” – of which the artist is a custodian and protector. Therefore, the images produced cannot be seen as the “property” of the individual artist-producer, who is located within a system of kin-based obligations. When such art enters the international art market, with its totally commodified mind set and its productivist theories of individual creativity, it becomes emptied of the deep cultural values that it encodes, and so a contestation is set up between the embodied aesthetics of the Aboriginal work and the formal aesthetics of the art world at large. The struggle here, then, is one of ontologies and the values embedded in them, and of the validity of “alternative” modes of knowledge (and why are the non-Western/ non-scientific mainstream forms always the “alternatives”?) competing to structure the almost infinite number of semiospheres in principle open to human beings for forming and expressing their grasp of the world in which they find themselves placed and embodied. If we agree with Marshall Sahlins that in fact Western knowledge is only a particular form of local knowledge that has through processes of colonialism and other forms of domination come to represent itself as hegemonic, then in principle other forms of knowledge are equally valid and could historically have come to be dominant if that history had evolved in other directions (Sahlins 1996). Seen from this perspective, social change is much less a material struggle, as envisaged for example by classical Marxism, than it is a struggle of both ontologies and epistemologies; if not for hegemony, then at least for recognition. Much of the fierce argument about the “politics of difference” that has dominated the so called “multiculturalism” debates that have preoccupied so much of the Western world in the last decades and has even given rise to a whole vocabulary of difference rather than of unity (for example Irigaray 1989) should be seen in this light. Questions of value, then, remain at the forefront (Clammer 1996; Fekete 1987). Significantly, a number of individuals within the Western art world have argued recently that precisely the problem with much contemporary art is that it has lost exactly those qualities that anthropological aesthetics has identified as the keys to the indigenous art and cultural systems of Amazonia, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere – its intimate connection with sociality, its high levels of skill and execution, its drive to enchant social relationships, its embeddedness in ontology, its bodying forth of deep values and ecological awareness. Compared with this, so much of the commodified, socially pointless, life-denying and often low artistic skill level of much of what passes for contemporary art reflects perhaps the terminal decline of Western culture (Gablik 1986, 2002; Spalding 2003). If the lessons of

Aesthetics beyond art


anthropological aesthetics have largely been wasted on the Western art world and its historians and theorists, where it perhaps remains is in “alternative” orientation to the future. If, on the one hand, we see civilization in the industrial-militarist West fragmenting as it rapes and pollutes its own natural home, the essayist Susan Griffin in her meditations on art, ecology and gender suggests that: [B]ut on the other side of this nightmare a reverie was being formed. … On the backside of Cold War politics, an unarticulated dream, often sentimental or naïve, expressed itself still, sometimes in the idea of mother earth, at other times in the desire to empower idealized feminine values of nurturance, relation, kindness, or an attempt at a communal and hand-made life, giving the movement for social justice a hidden chiaroscuro, a perspective that stretched beyond the articulated boundaries of politics. A wish for a meaning that might weave oneself and the world together. Not dictated from above the earth but palpable, embedded and experienced in daily life. (Griffin 1995: 27) It is perhaps most in this future-thinking, the search for alternatives to the self-destructive nature of contemporary industrial-consumer culture, that the lessons of anthropological aesthetics are most meaningful. This is reflected in the myriads of social movements, the steep rise of ecological awareness and the discovery or rediscovery of other ways of life and paths into the future that now increasingly fill the cultural landscape of a globalized world in which that globalization has not delivered on its promises. That there are, and have been, authentic ways of existence on the Earth that bring together art and life in integral ways is surely one of the most important messages of anthropology and which requires it to break out of the scholarly prison house of its often esoteric internal debates to share its insights with a world badly in need of them. If the re-enchantment of art should be the task of contemporary artists, the re-enchantment of social relations should be the applied task of anthropology, the one real repository of authentic knowledge about actually existing other societies and their systems of knowledge and modes of conviviality and above all the ways in which their aesthetics transcends the object to include the subject. This is indeed an aesthetics that in the Western world needs to be extended beyond art and social relations to the dominant paradigm of our society – to science – and to what Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers in their remarkable and neglected book Presence (2005) call “Science Performed with the Mind of Wisdom” as they ask the question, “What will it take for us to become indigenous again – not as we were but as we might be?” (Senge et al. 2005: 247). Science itself has never been able to achieve a sense of ontological holism: this task


Revisioning art and society

still remains that of aesthetics; an aesthetics the elements of which exist, but which now needs to be elaborated into a new world view congruent with, and humble enough to learn from, the experience and knowledge of cultures that have preceded ours or which still exist on its margins. Such an aesthetics will no doubt survive the hubris of our technological-industrial civilization, which for all its efforts has never succeeded in burying that knowledge in which may lie our future cultural and social salvation.

Chapter 7

Art movements as social movements

In all of the large sociological and political science literature on social movements, none significantly seems to consider or even mention art movements as examples of social movements. Similarly, in the many art historical works on art movements, few consider them to be in any way movements of social transformation, treating them rather in terms of stylistic developments within the art world itself – from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism, from Post-Impressionism to Expressionism to Abstract Expressionism, from Dada to Surrealism and so forth. Most histories of art indeed organize themselves around these evolutionary categories, failing for the most part to consider in any detail either the social roots or the social impact of any given artistic school or stylistic movement. Sociologists of art, while certainly concerned with the relationships between art and the wider society of which it is inevitably a part, fail mostly to consider the works of art themselves. In short, discourses about the relationship between art and society, or of art and social change, are characterized by their gaps as much as by their achievements. This chapter will attempt to fill at least one of the largest of those gaps: the neglect of art movements considered as social movements. In so doing it will attempt not only to demonstrate that such movements are indeed social movements in the fullest sense, and as every bit as deserving attention as the better documented examples such as environmentalism, the anti-nuclear movement or feminism, but also to demonstrate that art movements deserve a central place in social movements theory. This, it will be argued, is not only the case because of their significance as agents of social and cultural change, but also because their analysis poses interesting methodological and theoretical questions for sociology in particular. These point to what I have elsewhere (Clammer 2009a) called, on the obvious analogy with ecology, a “deep” rather than a “shallow” sociology – one that addresses and places at its centre fundamental existential issues rather than passing superficialities. Even as the sociological analysis of religion throws up major issues about the extent, limits and depth of sociological explanations and understanding, so too I will argue does art. Addressing these issues in a sympathetic way may


Revisioning art and society

shed substantial light on both the possibility of extending and renovating many aspects of sociological methodology, while also contributing to the still underdeveloped field of the study of social transformation. If this move is successful, it might also have the salutary effect of bringing art history and sociology (of the arts, of social movements and of social theory) closer together in fruitful dialogue.

Art and social movement theory The mainstream (and very large) literature on the sociology of social movements has somewhat mysteriously ignored art movements as being of relevance to social movement theory. Whether this is an outcome of widespread ignorance about art on the part of sociologists, or of the assumption that art is peripheral to the study of social change and economy-led transformations of societies and social relationships, it is never the less the case that art movements rarely if ever appear in studies of social movements. One of the few examples of mainstream social movements literature in which one can find the word “art” in the index is James Jasper’s book The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements (Jasper 1997). However, on closer reading it transpires that these references are not to art as such, but by analogy to the creativity expressed in organizing, channelling and expressing moral protest, i.e. values led opposition to what participants consider to be unacceptable or immoral policies and practices. Or as Jasper phrases it: [T]his view of social life as artful, in which people play on cultural meanings and strategic expectations in a variety of ways, allows us to see the many benefits of moral protest. Rather than dismissing protestors as irrational kooks or selfish calculators, we can appreciate their creativity. Much like artists, they are at the cutting edge of society’s understanding of itself as it changes. (Jasper 1997: 13) But nowhere in his lengthy book about what he terms moral protest movements is there actually any consideration of art or art movements as such, although it does contain the assumption that artists are in a vanguard role in respect of cultural and social change. In much the same way, other social analysts use the term “art” as a phrase to refer to forms of social creativity in general, rather than to the actual production of art works or performances (e.g. Lederach 2005). Is this because art in its many and various manifestations is indeed marginal to explaining large scale social change, as might often seem to be the case? As decorative, as entertaining, as a sign of cultural and civilizational dynamism and achievement, certainly, but as in any way fundamental to social transformation? Against the apparent and superficial view of the arts as peripheral to the “serious” or mainstream structures

Art movements as social movements


of social life, I will argue that it is not only central, but that an examination of its role demonstrates subtle means of penetrating to levels of social meaning, subjectivity and cultural change inaccessible to almost any other branch of sociological investigation (cf. Fischer 2010). The apparent marginality of the arts to social transformation may, paradoxically, signal their strength in relation to a holistic theory of society. As suggested on p. 77, the sociology of religious movements raises very profound questions for sociology: the adherence of (often very large numbers of) people to apparently “irrational” sets of beliefs and practices, the absorbing of vast quantities of time and resources in pursuit of what from the outside seem to be illusory ends. Furthermore, the power of these very ends to promote any number of significant cultural practices including art, music, architecture, literary production, trends in fashion, modes of social organization, regimes of diet and hygiene, wars, martyrdom, pilgrimages and careers. Art, including such non-representational forms as calligraphy and architecture in the Muslim world, is indeed a normal product of such religious beliefs, and civilizations are often defined in terms precisely of that religious art – the Gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe, the temple architecture of Hindu India, the sculpture and sancturies of Buddhist East and Southeast Asia, the icons of Greek and Russian Orthodox Christianity. But at the same time, art should not be seen simply as a by-product of another level of social and cultural activity, but as a level of quasi-autonomous cultural activity in its own right, certainly closely linked to economic and social forces, but also driven by its own internal logic. It is this latter logic, indeed, that inspires and structures art history: the colour and chromatic discoveries of a Cezanne, a Van Gogh or a Matisse, or the reactions of German Expressionism to the perceived insipid qualities of French Impressionism cannot be explained simply by reference to outside forces or the social location of the artist. Rather, they are parallel in form to the evolution of the pure sciences, led by an internal logic and, as has been shown in the study of prominent creative scientists, especially in mathematics and physics, also by imagination and a strong aesthetic sense. It is perhaps no coincidence that, for example Albert Einstein in physics and Paul Klee in painting, were not only almost exact contemporaries, but were both accomplished musicians and could well have made professional careers in that latter field (Isaacson 2008; Duchting 2004). The very existence of art – a seemingly non-utilitarian, but very widespread cultural practice embedded in a whole social nexus of museums, galleries, dealers, critics, art schools, as well as the actual artists themselves (the whole complex memorably described by Howard Becker as the “Art World” (Becker 1982), perhaps poses a question for the social sciences. For if the arts are not to be dismissed as epiphenomenal to “real” social existence – as forms of escapism, mere entertainment (although it is difficult to see what is wrong with entertainment given how much time and resources we devote


Revisioning art and society

to it), as simply decorative, or I suppose in functionalist terms as generating quite large amounts of employment and other economic activity, they must have some significant social and existential role. The urban sociologist Sharon Zukin, for instance, has estimated that a very large percentage of the total economy of New York is made up of the cultural industries (theatres, television production, publishing, art galleries, orchestras, bookshops, universities and art schools teaching the arts themselves, cultural studies or the indirect study of the arts as in literature or film studies departments). In 1992, as much as $9.8 million annually (Zukin 1995: 109–51). Much the same could be said about Berlin, London, Paris and many other centres (Seoul, Tokyo and Singapore) where cultural production and consumption are also major components of the local economy and where a great deal of tourism is cultural tourism, dependent on the existence of museums, concerts, theatre and monuments. Alternative forms of explanation might be based more on psychology – aesthetic needs as part of human nature, or creativity and performativity as normal forms of human expression. A third possibility, often discounted in over-cognitive conceptions of human knowledge and rationality, is that art is itself a form of knowledge and represents the materialization of emotions, intuitions and perceptions that cannot satisfactorily be embodied in any other form. Poetry is not only not prose, but it also operates at a different level altogether in the ways in which it calls up or concretizes images, insights and emotional responses. What the arts collectively most certainly signal is the essential role of the imagination in the constitution of human social and cultural life, that imagination materializing in the concrete cultural products that define an era, whether they be Pop Art, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, medieval plain song, The Beatles, Madonna or The Magic Flute. Presumably, all cultures attempt to embody in material and imaginative forms their conception of themselves and of the universe in which they are embedded. Amongst these forms of self-presentation and self-understanding is the expression of the emotions, a field which despite a minor recent flourishing of literature (paralleled by an equally belated recognition of the significance of the body), sociology has been slow to grasp (but for some exceptions that do attempt to address this field see Scheff 1997; Mestrovic 1997; Clammer 2000b). But social transformation is never a mechanical or purely structural process: it involves imagination, a commitment fuelled by what James Jasper calls “moral visions” (Jasper 1997: 4) and in many cases an aesthetic motivation, utopian impulses and what as far as I know has never been named, but which I will call here “the erotics of transformation”. This is expressed in images of a relaxed and socially open future state of society, in which a great emphasis is placed on the ludic aspects of both social activism as the means to get there, and the playfulness of the social and cultural state which is the desired end point. This idea was first extensively explored by Johan Huizinga in his now classic work Homo Ludens

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(Huizinga 1970), and subsequently documented in any number of studies of new social movements, revolutionary and counter-culture groups and intentional communities (for documentation of the second see Stansill and Mairowitz 1971 and Neville 1970, on the latter, amongst a large literature, Moore and Myerhoff 1975 and Kanter 1972) and in what might be deemed contemporary utopias, especially those with an ecological theme, the paradigm case being Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (Callenbach 2004). In a sense, a vision of utopia, fully articulated or not, lies at the heart of every social movement which, while it might explain itself in terms of resource seeking, dissolution of existing social or gender hierarchies or social justice, also carries with it implicitly a cultural programme: what will life be like in practice after the revolution? It is unfortunate, that in many social movements and in the sociological literature that has studied them, this cultural dimension is given little attention, despite the obvious fact that culture is the medium of everyday existence – our leisure, entertainment, images of the world, desires, notions of selfhood, to say nothing of our material culture of implements, toys, gadgets, appliances and buildings are all expressed in this medium. A gap in the conventional analysis of social movements is precisely in the weakness or absence of studies of cultural innovation as leading or accompanying social innovation. Art movements, whether in music, the visual arts, theatre, dance, architecture, landscape design or indeed in design in general, are amongst the major sources of such cultural innovation. A major historical example of this can be found in the German Bauhaus movement centred on the school of design, architecture and art of that name. Despite its relatively brief existence as an organized entity, the movement revolutionized much of modern painting, pottery, textiles, architecture, furniture and even theatre. Perhaps even more importantly, it also conceived and spread ideas of the unity of art and crafts, the embodiment of good design and beauty in everyday objects including those designed for the workers, the unity of art and life and implicitly political ideas about the transforming role of the arts in society as a whole (amongst the large literature on the Bauhaus see Hochman 1997; Droste 2006), the latter being an important part of the reason for its dissolution by the Nazis in 1933. The fact that so many of the new social movements are expressive in nature, and often contain a large element of performativity (Hetherington 1998), should also alert us to their cultural role, not only in terms of their organizational forms, but in terms also of their role as providing constant cultural critique from within the wider society in which they move. Therefore, a case can be made for regarding art movements as a major source of cultural innovation, which in turn sparks changes in subjectivity, conceptions of self, identity, body and representation and ideas about the possible, the desirable, the fantastic or the imaginary. All of these concepts then ramify throughout the social fabric, including into such dimensions as gender roles, notions of masculinity and femininity, the nature of work, perceptions of


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nature and notions of value. This produces in turn yet further transformations, some of them so significant that they crystallize around notions that now structure our whole social, cultural and even moral vocabulary, such as the key notion of “modernity” or its once most vaunted alleged successor, “post-modernism”, both terms as much cultural in their content as they are sociological (Gay 2009). How, then, might we understand art movements not simply as stylistic evolutions within visual and expressive culture, but as genuine social movements in their own right? To answer that question will provide a model of the connections between cultural change and social change, something that would have wide ranging implications for social theory in general. Significantly, one of the major social movements theorists, Alberto Melucci, has entitled one of his key books Challenging Codes (Melucci 1996). While the book is an extended review of the conventional sociological categories of social action (conflict, collective identity, ethnicity, the state, mobilization and so forth), reading between the lines we find an embryonic although never fully articulated elements of a theory of cultural movements. On the very first page of the book, Melucci speaks of social movements as “disenchanted prophets”, as signs. For [T]hey signal a deep transformation in the logic and processes that guide complex societies. Like the prophets, the movements ‘speak before’: they announce what is taking place even before its direction and content has become clear. The inertia of the old categories may prevent us from hearing the message and from deciding, consciously and responsibly, what action to take in the light of it. Without the capacity of listening to these voices, new forms of power may thus coalesce, though multiple and diffuse and no longer reducible to any linear and easily recognized geometry. (Melucci 1996:1) Many such movements exist beyond or outside of politics as usually understood since [C]ontemporary ‘movements’ assume the form of solidarity networks entrusted with potent cultural meanings, and it is precisely these meanings that distinguish them so sharply from political actors and formal organizations next to them. (Melucci 1996: 4) These social networks are often of people linked by cultural practices: [S]ocial movements too seem to shift their focus from class, race, and other more traditional issues towards the cultural ground. In the last thirty years emerging social conflicts in complex societies have not

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expressed themselves through political action, but rather have raised cultural challenges to the dominant language, to the codes that organize information and shape social practices. (Melucci 1996: 8) Although Melucci sees these as very recent developments, largely as the product of what he calls the “information age”, if understood as applying to art movements, they are of much greater antiquity and depth and certainly apply to almost any of the art movements that herald and constitute modernity (on the Western tradition see Read 1997, for Asia Clark 1998 and for Latin America Sullivan 2000). So although Melucci does indeed suggest that collective action cannot be understood without referring to the implications of cultural changes for any theory of social action – and cites work by Jeffrey Alexander, Pierre Bourdieu, Norbert Elias, Mary Douglas and Clifford Geertz (Melucci 1996: 18) that he claims demonstrate such an approach – in practice, he does not develop this vital dimension in any depth and adduces no actual examples of such cultural changes or cultural movements. The result is that his book as a whole moves at a highly abstract, and one might even say arid, level of purely sociological discourse. So how can we better locate cultural movements within the field of collective action? Despite its apparent lack of immediate impact on the wider society, and with much of the heat of debates about art movements taking place entirely within the somewhat hermetic art world itself, why do governments, especially in authoritarian societies (China, Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR], contemporary Singapore, for example) worry so much about the arts, fear their influence and attempt to control and channel their manifestations through censorship, banning or promoting such socially safe and anodyne forms as Socialist Realism? Social movements theory would suggest that any movement that breaches the current normative framework or “reference system” of a society, even in a symbolic way, or which appears as a threat to “public morals”, will most likely attract suppression. Art movements by their very nature, given the internal logic of perpetual innovation and experimentation that drives them, must almost inevitably “push the envelope” of received opinion, taste and codes of representation. So even if the number of people involved is small, and access to their work limited, the perceived threat to the established order or ideology is still there. This was something which the Nazis recognized, in their attempted suppression through ridicule of modern painting and sculpture expressed in their notorious “Degenerate Art” (Entartete Kunst) exhibitions, which were designed to show the German public the low quality and even insanity of artists now of course recognized as amongst the luminaries of twentieth century visual culture (Altschuler 1994: 136–45). What is certain is that they fit within the definition of social movements, characterized by Melucci as


Revisioning art and society the mobilization of a collective actor (i) defined by specific solidarity, (ii) engaged in a conflict with an adversary for the appropriation and control of resources valued by both of them, (iii) and whose action entails a breach of the limits of compatibility of the system within which the action itself takes place. A movement, therefore, does not just restrict itself to expressing a conflict; it pushes the conflict beyond the limits of the system of social relationships within which the action is located. In other words, it breaks the rules of the game, it sets its own nonnegotiable objectives, it challenges the legitimacy of power and so forth. (Melucci 1996: 29–30)

Seen in this light, art movements are as much legitimate social movements as their more conventionally studied counterparts, a point that we will shortly deepen somewhat by looking at actual examples of art movements, primarily in the visual arts. They not only breach the symbolic limits of the “system” (conventional taste, the teaching of the mainstream art schools, the aesthetic criteria applied by the juries of salons and exhibitions and by museum curators and the commercial decisions of gallerists and critics), but in doing so also alter social relationships, create new groupings, found rival organizations (the Vienna Secession, the French Salon des Indépendants, etc.), form new personal networks, collaborate with other artistic movements (the visual arts and music with ballet for example through stage design and new scores, the visual arts with fashion, fashion with modern dance, modern dance with pop music and youth cultures and so forth) and often form nodes of resistance to prevailing notions of the family, bodily display, dress, interior decoration and public morals in general. It is for this latter reason in particular that many art movements are considered forms of deviance –as pathological – as with Nazi responses not only to modernist painting and sculpture, but also to jazz. Social movements take many forms, depending on their objectives (say the labour movement), their membership (e.g. feminist movements), their structure and organization, even within a broad tendency (EarthFirst! as a radical stream of environmentalism, compared with the Sierra Club with its predominantly white, upper-middle class membership and its middle-of-the-road conservationist policies) and their longevity. Art movements share many of these characteristics, for example the structured social nature and aesthetic organization of German Expressionism through its two major networks Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter (Dube 1983; Wolf 2004), compared with the amorphous and non-centralized world of French Impressionism and its imitators and followers around the world. Or the highly centralized organization of Surrealism around the authoritarian personality of its “Pope”, the poet André Breton (Caws 2010), compared with the personalized (around Picasso, Georges Braque and to a lesser extent Juan Gris) but formally unstructured world of Cubism that preceded it and to some extent overlapped with it (Antliff and Leighten 2001). But some

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characteristics which are given less prominence in many social movements have central significance in many art movements. These include implicit or explicit role of utopias, their expressive or performative nature, their attempt to transcend politics, their counter-cultural nature, their interrogation of the whole nature of communication, hierarchies and the taken-for-granted and in many cases their embracing of what Melucci calls the “nonsocial”: “resistance against the finely woven socialization of the processes of regulation and control take the form of recourse to Nature. Reappropriation of identity is culturally represented as a rediscovery of the nonsocial (biological structure, the body, sexuality, primary affiliation)” (Melucci 1996: 111). And so, too, in many cases is the quest for a spiritual dimension, a characteristic evidently shared by many contemporary artists (Wuthnow 2001). Even as many main stream social movements have distinctive forms of organization – clear leaders, manifestoes, factions and so forth, so too do many art movements: both the Italian Futurists and the Surrealists, even though art movements aimed at subverting the conventional mainstream society, had centralized and even authoritarian leadership and both were keen on manifestos. Perhaps the most significant feature of art movements as social movements is that, while recognizing that symbolic action has its limits in influencing the structural characteristics of a society, their strength lies in pointing beyond the technical rationality embedded in a managerial and scientific world view and attendant practices and their power to modify the symbolic relationship to the world of those who assimilate the visual, aural, physical (in movement, spatiality) and utopian prescriptions of the art movements in question. We all see and experience the world differently because of them: the very clothes we wear are a sign of that. Art movements shape the contours of society and constitute a large part of its culture. They make up a large part of society’s reflexivity, may be themselves or may parallel so called value-oriented movements, are significant forms of cultural and symbolic resistance to hegemonic lifestyle ideas and even seek to displace or transcend more conventional forms of political contestation. [F]or many movements, this embodies their philosophical or spiritual rejection of the instrumental rationality of advanced capitalist society and its systems of social control and cooptation. This cultural emphasis rejects conventional goals, tactics, and strategies in favor of the exploration of new identities, meanings, signs, and symbols. Although some have criticized this orientation as apolitical, such criticisms may ignore the importance of cultural forms of social power. (Buechler 2000: 47) Globalization has both strengthened certain forms of hegemony (through the power of multinational media corporations) and has also created new


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networks of artistic co-operation and links forged through popular culture that may be ranged against that very hegemony (Starr 2000). While most art movements may not in their formal organization constitute transnational social movements such as movements in human rights, anti-globalization and the environment, they may still have profound international impact. Artistic ideas travel, as indeed do artists, and developments in one part of the world frequently have significant impact on art in another, as witnessed for example by the mutual influence of Japanese and Western art, in the late nineteenth century in particular and later in post-war interactions between Japan and the US (Winther-Tamaki 2001). These influences change ways of seeing, of representation, of ideas about the role of the arts and the artist in society, which at a particular historical juncture may embody the form of modernism in that place and time. But still a strange gap exists in social movement theory, even as it does in globalization theory and development theory. Despite talk of the importance of culture in social movements (e.g. McAdam 1994), very little concrete evidence or adducing of examples is produced. In Buechler (2000) although an entire section is devoted to culture, not a single reference is made to art or to any of the other obvious manifestations of culture, whether in the “high” sense (theatre, ballet, classical music etc.) or in its popular forms. The only issues at stake for Buechler are collective identity, the framing of grievances, ideology and organizational culture. The only “cultural” movement discussed is feminism. Such is the blindness of conventional sociology. One surmises on this basis of this and innumerable examples from the huge social movements literature, that social movements theorists are either profoundly ignorant of the actual forms and content of the “culture” that they so abstractly invoke, or that they have just never even considered actual cultural movements to be “real” social movements. Although Buechler, for example, attempts to argue that “social movements are historical products of the age of modernity” (Buechler 2000: 211), and in the course of his book to relate them specifically to the emergence and crises of advanced capitalism, he clearly is not well read in history (one thinks, for example, of the classic work of Norman Cohn 1970), or concerned with the ways in which cultural movements create, define and shape modernity itself and are in fact inseparable from its definition. As a result, these movements are denied the very agency that makes them movements. This is clearly a gap in sociological theory that urgently needs to be filled.

Relocating the arts in sociological discourse It is fair to say that most of the little attention given to the arts in sociology occurs within the usually-considered minor field of the sociology of the arts (e.g. Alexander 2003; Tanner 2003; Duvignaud 1972). A recent upsurge in interest (e.g. de la Fuente 2007) in the so called “new sociology of art”, has

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done much to re-establish the theoretical legitimacy of art as a subject of sociological study, but it has done little if anything to reinstate art as a vehicle of social transformation – as a form of social movement, in other words. Art is a form of social capital for those who produce it, teach it, understand it, collect it and display it. As such, it is a significant part of the total economy, symbolic as well as “real”, of any given society. In an economy of signs in which cultural products are produced and circulate in enormous quantities and at enormous speeds, and in which the aestheticization of everyday life is widespread, the “culture industries”, including the art world, take on considerable significance. Art movements, understood in their conventional art history sense, might for analytical purposes be divided into two rough groups depending on their intentionality with regard to promoting social transformation. Some movements and some individual artists have no such intention, but mean rather to revolutionize the use of colour and ways of seeing within art (the Impressionists as a group, the early Gauguin, Matisse), although their experiments with seeing may well spill over into the broader culture and show up in fashion, stained glass, ceramics and interior decoration. Others have from the outset a socially transformative goal: Surrealism, the work of the Mexican Muralists, the Bauhaus movement, Socialist Realism and its offshoots such as the vibrant poster art of contemporary Cuba, much although not all Earth Art, a great deal of modern and contemporary photography and of course architecture, which self-consciously attempts to alter the nature of social relationships through the manipulation of space. Parallel examples can be found in literature (the works of Emile Zola for instance), theatre (Bertolt Brecht and the theatrical work of Antoine Artaud) and certainly in music, the avowed intention of which is often to change or create moods, to influence emotions and to rouse to some form of action. The boundaries between the two categories are in practice sometimes rather fuzzy. Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten (Antliff and Leighton 2001), in their study of the relationship between Cubism and culture, show that even this most apparently abstract and hermetic form of art was not only closely related to social and intellectual developments of the time, principally in France, but that Cubism itself had liberatory goals. As they suggest: [T]he Cubists purposely grappled in their art with contemporary ideas about modernity, society and the ‘nature of reality’, and also reflected their historical period in ways less conscious and controllable, as in their responses to colonialism or the rapid development of commercialism. (Antliff and Leighten 2001: 8) These responses included, as part of their revolt against nineteenth century academic techniques and themes: grappling with the emerging ideas about time and space propounded by amongst others the philosopher Henri


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Bergson and the mathematician Henri Poincaré, struggling with representations of gender as contemporary ideas about masculinity were challenged by female Cubists such as Sonia Terk Delaunay and Alice Halicka, colonialism (to which the Cubists were generally strongly opposed), notions of internationalism and class solidarity, a strong affinity for anarchism, opposition to the First World War on the part of some prominent Cubists and a subtle but unmistakable critique of commercialism appearing in the collages of Picasso and Braque where the pieces cut from contemporary newspapers provided an oblique commentary on advertising, consumption and taste. Lest it be thought that this was a phenomenon specific to the early years of the twentieth century, much the same inspiration can be found in many of the contemporary works classified under the label of “Realism” (Stremmel 2006), in which anti-commercial themes appear in the paintings of, for example, the French Nouveau Realiste group working variously with collage, posters, assemblages, accumulations and sculptures made of scrap and waste material. As Stremmel describes them: [I]n this way these artists hoped at the same time to provide an unaccustomed view of reality; thus the French critic Pierre Restany, the group’s initiator, came up with the formula ‘Nouveau Realisme = new ways of perceiving the real’. The intention was therefore also to express aesthetic criticism of the consumer world, of bourgeois possessiveness, and of a specious commodity aesthetic. (Stremmel 2006: 13) Further exemplars of Realism in painting and photography include the documentary (particularly of sharecroppers and migrant workers), photographs of Walker Evans, the anti-violence paintings of Leon Golub, the socially committed paintings of Ben Shahn, Socialist Realism, particularly in the USSR, China and North Korea. They also include the anti-war photographs of Jeff Wall (“while aesthetic pleasure may not change the world, it does change oneself and one’s relationship to the world” [Stremmel 2006: 92]) and in particular his well-known painting Dead Troops Talk (1991/92), and if one goes back a little further, the etchings and drawings of Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), with their profound social realism and grasp of human suffering and the horrors of both war and unbridled capitalism (Zigrosser 1969). Another example drawn from art history would undoubtedly be the Surrealist movement, emerging out of the anti-war Dada movement, which is usually dated to its emergence at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916. Surrealism, under the domination of its instigator and chief interpreter, the poet André Breton, was a complex movement incorporating poetry, a preoccupation with the unconscious, the irrational, the mysterious, games, automatic writing, dreams, chance encounters and the erotic (Caws 2004) and also ideas of revolution, revolt and refusal, a position that led

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Surrealism into an uneasy dialog with Marxism. Ferdinand Alquié, in his study of the politics of Surrealism quotes from an undelivered lecture by Breton to the effect that ‘Marx said “Transform the world”; Rimbaud said “Change life”; these two mottoes are for us one and the same’ and goes on to comment on this that [B]reton thus affirms as the object of his essential will the realization of man’s unity by the meeting of two opposed paths where our desire is engaged: that of the imaginary, of poetry, perhaps of madness; that of science, of practical activity, of political realization. (Alquié 1965: 56) This is because, for the Surrealists “the true aim of labor is to free man from labor and to lead him to the values of knowledge, of contemplation, and of pleasure” (Alquié 1965: 63). Whether or not Surrealism as a movement succeeded in these goals (collectively for society it would seem not, although for many of its individual members almost certainly it did) it did clearly address the issue of the arts as both needing transformation themselves and acting as agents of transformation. The continuing fascination with Surrealism, reflected in the number of exhibitions organized and books published, shows the pull of its central ideas – that imagination, desire and mystery create worlds far beyond and far more attractive than the arid world of instrumental rationality – a message that an over-bureaucratized and managerial world seems more and more willing to listen to, judging by the recent proliferation of novels, films, comics and video games embodying fantasy and the supernatural or at least the paranormal. Amongst the temporally parallel art movements to Surrealism, and ultimately one of world-wide significance, was the German Bauhaus movement mentioned previously. The Bauhaus itself was a school of art and design set up in 1919 in Weimar under the initial direction of the distinguished architect Walter Gropius. Attempting, successfully in many ways, to overcome the distinction between fine arts and crafts through an integrated program of study, the Bauhaus soon had workshops of painting, book binding, weaving, stained-glass, joinery (for furniture design and manufacture) and pottery. Mural painting, photography, advertising and later architecture were added to complete the rounded syllabus. It had a short initial history, as the original Bauhaus was closed down in 1933 under Nazi pressure and prior to that was relocated twice from its original home in Weimar, first to Dessau and then finally to Berlin. It was latterly reincarnated under the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on campuses both in Weimar and Dessau and is now a university of art, architecture and media studies on its original Weimar campus and adjacent buildings. However, during this time, the Bauhaus attracted an extraordinary group of faculty, many of whom were or soon became luminaries of modern painting, design and architecture. They


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included the painters Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Oskar Schlemmer and Lyonel Feininger, the architects Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the sculptor Gerhard Marcks, the visual designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and many others in design, textiles and other fields. The Bauhaus designs fundamentally altered European taste from the 1920s onwards, in areas as diverse as furniture, wallpaper, architecture, lamps, metalware and pottery. This is a legacy which is still working its way out today and was promoted after the demise of the original Bauhaus by Black Mountain College in North Carolina, to which some of the foundation staff migrated with the onset of war (Josef Albers in painting and his wife Anneliese [Anni] Albers in weaving) and in the creation of the “New Bauhaus” as a school of design in Chicago by Moholy-Nagy (Wingler 1969). The genius of the Bauhaus lay not only in the quality of its design work and fine arts, (especially in painting), but in its social vision expressed in designs for workers’ housing, design of everyday objects (pots, coffee cups, storage jars and many other things) which were affordable, simple, functional and beautiful on the principle that even the humblest object should be designed to both work and to be aesthetically highly pleasing. Its architectural work became highly internationalized through the work of both Gropius and van der Rohe, who both migrated to the US, and is still seen as laying the basis for the modern international style. Highly influential in its artistic work and radical in its politics and social attitudes, the Bauhaus stands out as a paradigm case of an art movement as a social movement. Other cases abound, including the very significant Arts and Crafts movement inspired by William Morris in England in the mid-nineteenth century and copied across Europe, particularly in Belgium, Austria and Germany. Significantly, Morris himself, realizing that his movement had political implications, became a strong advocate of socialism and was one of its most significant voices in England in the 1880s and 1890s (Burdick 2006). Interestingly, Henry van de Velde was director of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts, founded in Weimar in 1907 and inspired by the British model that was later assimilated into the Bauhaus and was the architect of the buildings occupied by the Bauhaus itself from 1919 and which still house its successor, the Bauhaus Universität Weimar. Another historical example well worth examining is that of the Mexican Muralists, whose social and political intentions were at the forefront of their art. Mexico was, and to some extent still is, a society whose history is pervaded by revolution, ethnic and cultural divisions, the search for a Latin American version of modernity, a vibrant indigenous culture and serious problems of poverty and under-development. In this context of political and economic upheaval and the search for a national identity arose one of the most distinctive forms of Latin American, and indeed international, art – the mural. Whereas the murals of medieval and Renaissance Europe, and in particular Italy, the mural painting of medieval India and the Buddhist

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murals of mainland Southeast Asia were primarily religious in intention and often had the didactic aim of instructing the illiterate in the stories and tenants of the local religion, the Mexican mural painting that began in the 1920s and flourished as late as the 1970s, was contemporary, highly political, often utopian, pro-technology and intended to be in the service of social change, the search for an indigenous form of modernity and even revolutionary. A feature that it shares with earlier forms of mural painting was its often educational character – intended as a form of conspicuous public art to instruct, edify and motivate a population that certainly in the 1920s had low levels of literacy and education. The three major Mexican Muralists – José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros – pursued this programme through a number of pictorial and thematic means, including the recovery of images from pre-Columbian Mexico, public commissions to decorate significant buildings including the Ministry of Education, the National Preparatory School, the Bolivar Amphitheatre, revolutionary themes and satire against the moneyed and political classes, the depiction of the Spanish colonization of Mexico, workers and peasants at their labour, images from Mexican popular culture, urban life, the fecundity of nature and utopian themes (Rochfort 1993). In all cases, the work of the three leading Muralists was strongly social and constituted both a kind of visual critique of modern civilization, colonialism and capitalism and offered visual representations of utopian alternatives, the fruitfulness of nature and the vibrancy of popular cultures. The highly politicized and self-consciously social themes of the work of the Mexican Muralists positions them as forming perhaps the most explicitly social movement amongst modern art movements. Mexican mural art was a response to a colonialism that was formally past, although the language, religion, social arrangements and oppressive and semi-feudal agrarian structures that it had brought with it were still vividly present. For Indian artists of the same period, the colonial domination was still very much a thing of the present. As Partha Mitter (2007) has shown, the progressive art of India between the 1920s and the achievement of independence was quite self-consciously seen as an anti-colonial struggle. The overcoming of the academic styles favoured in the art schools by their British teachers, the recovery of themes from folk art, the challenging of the gender attitudes both embodied in British colonialism and in the indigenous culture, the efforts of artists like Jamini Roy to construct what Mitter calls an “anti-colonial utopia” (Mitter 2007: 112), the visual critique of industrialism and the commercialized culture that came with it and the attempt to form and promote a distinctively Indian cultural nationalism as part of the political search for independence and autonomy, collectively constituted much of the agenda of pre-independence Indian painting and sculpture (Mitter 2007). In pursuit of this goal, Indian artists grasped exactly the point made by the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa-Thiongo (1981: 18): that the most


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important tool of colonialism was not force but in the domination of “the mental universe of the colonized, the control through culture of how a people perceive themselves and their relationship to the world … To control a peoples’ culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others”. In all these cases we see art in response to contemporary social issues and intellectual trends: colonialism, new ideas about space and time, the discovery by artists of the ideas of Freud, war and the great economic and political shifts that characterized the inter-war years, the rise of fascism, the successful consolidation of Bolshevism in the USSR, the Wall Street crash and the ensuing Great Depression, the beginning of the end of empire, the emergence of Japan as a great power, the Chinese revolution, the rapid development of technology and many other social and cultural forces. But what of the present? While Amory Starr has argued that many contemporary cultural movements are counter-hegemonic and seek to create spaces beyond those manufactured by an almost totally commoditized economic and ideological system (Starr 2000: 34–7), it is not clear how far they really succeed in doing so. It would be easier to argue, rather, that much contemporary art (although certainly not all) has turned from the world to focus on its own hermetic concerns, making it largely unintelligible and irrelevant to most of the viewing public (Spalding 2003). One major exception to this may be what is variously called Land Art, Earth Art or Environmental Art, all of these terms referring to attempts by artists to grapple with the emerging or already arrived ecological crisis that now engulfs the world (Lailach 2007). By drawing attention to nature, making sometimes major (as in the work of Robert Smithson with his well known work Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake in Utah and the work of Christo and JeanneClaude in wrapping coastlines in thousands of meters of fabric or hanging vast curtains across valleys) or very non-intrusive interventions (as in the work of Richard Long, Andy Goldsworthy, Carl Andre or Patricia Johanson), the environment is fore-grounded, and not only becomes the subject of art (as in landscape painting), but becomes art itself.

Art and art theory The theories that artists (as opposed to critics and outside commentators) have about their own activities and the social or other intentions of their art are often ignored. This is a pity as such ideas form a rich vein of social commentary, and one somewhat different from mainstream sociological theory. It is to these that we will now turn. As anyone familiar with social movements will be aware, what they say about themselves and their intentions is often every bit as interesting as what they actually do, if anything. The same is true of art movements and some commentary on the interesting form of socio-cultural theorizing embodied in artist’s writings is

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really necessary to fill out a rounded understanding of art movements as social movements. There are many examples (an anthology of manifestoes and comments can be found in Harrison and Wood 2003), but one good one is in the writings of the feminist painter Mira Schor (1996). An active painter and teacher, Schor in both her art work and her writings has attempted to achieve what she calls “political paintings”. Commenting on one of her painting series she notes that [T]hat these were in the full sense of both terms political paintings was exactly what I was trying to achieve: a visual and conceptual experience whose political content was all the more powerful given that the message or the challenging image was embedded in the seductive potential of oil paint, painting not as ‘eye candy’ but as a synergetic honey-trap for contemporary discourse. (Schor 1996: vii) Her work is powerful precisely because she opposes the idea that what she calls “materiality”, i.e. the actual physical art work, and theory, understood as contemporary social and cultural theory, are not mutually exclusive, but constantly inform each other, allowing not a retreat from intellectualism, but rather “a more synthetic complexity of critical thought set within visual practice” (Schor 1996: xiv). This creates the possibility of paint conveying a political message, particularly in Schor’s thinking, to effect feminist interventions and to de-stabilize standard identificatory practices and to restructure mythic narratives. This she sees as being as true of the work of contemporary female painters such as Ida Applebroog as it is of the Mexican Muralists, who created a populist form of painting that combined communist activism and the search for an authentically Mexican identity, and pre-war German painters such as Grosz, Beckman and Dix, who exposed and satirized corruption, greed and fascist values. She summarizes her own approach as follows: [M]y own charge to myself is to bring a feminist analysis of my own bodily experience, of political events, and of art history, to painting, using visual language not just to illustrate temporal political battles but also to offer an empowered, expanded example of what a feminist gaze would produce. My charge is to continually evaluate my work in relation to several theoretical discourses and critiques of painting while engaging with the serious pleasure that I get from the visual, not with the intention of making art that would look pretty or beautiful – in fact, one characteristic of much work by women painters that I am interested in is that they depict the underside of ideas of beauty but without contempt for paint itself – nor with the intention of presenting a positive, uninflected image of femininity, nor with the delusion that I


Revisioning art and society can invent a new language of painting. I want to engage with the language of painting, with the metaphorically expressive possibilities of the materiality of painting, trusting in the complexity of visual language in painting, in order to reinvest painting with the energy of a different politics, a politics of difference, and a different eroticism than that of the monocular penis. (Schor 1996: 169).

For Schor, then, a feminist art is possible, or presumably any number of other political positions, in which art is not peripheral but in which “the painting-ness of painting can be a viable language to speak current ideas” (Schor 1996: 174). Something approximating this position could be argued for other forms of issue-based art: gay Art, African American, AfroCaribbean and eclectic movements such as the 1960s Fluxus movement, with its roots in Dada that appeared in Europe and which gave rise to such prominent figures as Joseph Beuys (Lucie-Smith 1995). Recent art history is in fact riddled with such theoretically self-conscious movements combining art and social and political vision: the Dutch de Stiji movement, the Socialist Realists of post-war France, the left-wing sentiments of many of the American Abstract Expressionists including its dean, Jackson Pollock, the incendiary Lettrist movement of the 1950s led by Isidore Isou and the Situationalist International group whose main theorist was Guy Debord, whose 1967 work The Society of the Spectacle was its leading theoretical inspiration (Hopkins 2000). Indeed, one definition of the artistic avant-garde of the twentieth century, stretching from Futurism to Pollock and beyond, would be precisely its socially radical ideas, its presentation of critique in visual forms and its proposing of alternative lifestyles, economies and political forms (Craven 1999; Kester 1998), something as true for Latin America and Asia as it is for Europe (Clark 1998: 220–1). It would be a mistake, however, to regard art movements as identical with other forms of social movement. Their expressive nature gives them distinctive characteristics: often, although not always, opposed to the commodity aesthetic of the mainstream society and its advertising and visual overload, as forming a kind of “counter-culture” within the wider society, as often possessing “tribe” like characteristics and being frequently casual in their network structure, relatively short-lived and fluid in membership while sharing lifestyle practices and something of a common identity (Melucci 1989). Expressive concerns dominate, as might be expected; art movements are often small scale when compared with, say, the labour movement or feminism and are elective and transitory in many cases. They might in many cases be better compared with religious sects than with traditional social movements, or in the view of Kevin Hetherington, described by the now largely abandoned concept of the Bund, which was introduced in the 1920s by the German sociologist Herman Schmalenbach as an

Art movements as social movements


intermediate category between the better known categories of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft: a Bund was seen as a small-scale, transitory, and elective social grouping based on a shared emotional commitment to a particular set of values and beliefs, often, though not exclusively, focused around a charismatic leader. Similar to Weber’s conceptualization of a charismatic community or Gemeinde, a Bund offers its adherents a form of expressive organization through which a way of life can be sought among a group of fellow supporters, from whose emotional support a sense of solidarity and group identification can be found. (Hetherington 1998: 17) While this definition would certainly fit some art movements – Surrealism in particular – in characteristic sociological ways it overlooks the actual art works produced and the fact that artistic movements and communities are not only social organizations but also creative ones, expressing their solidarity not only through personal affinities, but principally through the search for the expressive forms – colour, images, symbols, themes, styles – that are embodied in the resulting art works themselves. The characteristics that Hetherington lists as defining a Bund fit well with the notion of art movements and overlap considerably with their empirical characteristics: elective, unstable, affectual, small in scale and based generally on face-to-face interaction, maintained through active, reflexive monitoring of group solidarity by those involved, the social bonding involved is intense (but because art movements are based on elective affiliation it is also weak), self-enclosed with their own codes of practices and symbols that form the basis for identification and are both emotional communities and moral ones (Hetherington 1998: 98). It is significant indeed that Hetherington builds his own theory of expressive social movements (although he does not like the latter term) on the work of Bakhtin on carnival (Bakhtin 1984) and on theatre theory and in particular the work of Antoine Artaud (1977). Unlike many other forms of social movements, art movements are noninstrumental: they do not in many cases aim to change society by direct means, rather through the subverting of its conventional codes and takenfor-granted perceptions of what is thought to be “reality”. While art movements in no way contradict the conclusions of mainstream social movements theory, they do both show up its limitations when applied to movements that are largely expressive and symbolic in nature, and enrich it, by demonstrating that there are many forms that social and cultural protest can take, not all of which share the organizational features of the major social movements; which overlap with but are not identical to “moral protest” movements and which attempt to manifest another vocabulary of socio-cultural critique beyond the conventional categories of political language.


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Relocating art in social change In his study of peace building, Jean Paul Lederach suggests that a key to any conflict resolution is “the provision of space for the creative act to emerge” (Lederach 2005: 38), seeing in creativity a process that moves from what exists towards something new and unexpected and suggesting that this is the essential role of the artist. In his model, the artist has something of the role of the prophet – keeping alive the imagination and endlessly generating alternative futures – and it is for this reason that the artist is feared in any totalitarian society. Speaking of the relationship between politics and aesthetics, the French philosopher of culture, Jacques Rancière, in describing the content and intent of his 1981 book Nights of Labour and of his later work Disagreement comments that [I]’ve never imagined my work developing from politics to aesthetics, especially as it always sought to blur boundaries. What I wanted to show when I wrote Nights of Labor was that a so-called political and social movement was also an intellectual and aesthetic one, a way of reconfiguring the frameworks of the visible and the thinkable. In the same way, in Disagreement I tried to show how politics is an aesthetic matter, a reconfiguration of the way we share out or divide places and times, speech and silence, the visible and the invisible. (Rancière and Hallward 2009: 103) This is a view shared by the artist and film maker Artur Zmijewski, who sees art as an effective tool in cultural and political struggles, which are in practice often the same thing: [A]rt is a very effective instrument of pursuing cultural interests. It’s a cultural battleground, a field of struggles that go far beyond the purely artistic dimension. These struggles – for the change of the status quo in politics, science, religion, customs, technology, and so on – have common ground with art. I think we’re having to do here with a fluid exchange of arguments and fighting strategies. And so, for instance, the ‘induced field strategy’ is often present in art. It’s a strategy from the field of politics – a daring action ‘induces the field’ causing a stir among the until-now passive players, a turmoil, and making it possible to pursue various ‘scenarios’ depending on how things develop. The strategy activates and visualizes the force field of power and makes it susceptible to change. In art, it is rather the map of views that is aroused and becomes susceptible to change. Art, including literature, film, theatre and the visual arts, also has the ability to establish various lines of conflict within the field it controls. (Matt and Zmijewski 2009: 124)

Art movements as social movements


Zmijewski goes on to argue that art tests the social boundaries, although not always consciously or intentionally: [A]rt, to me, is something like a blind force of social evolution. It produces mistakes, behavioural procedures, contexts, fantasies, scenarios that at first you don’t know what to do with. They are the ‘disorders’ that the social body experiences. Sometimes a proposition made by art is accepted – and the given way of conduct is naturalized. (Matt and Zmijewski 2009: 125) But this naturalization is not without its dangers: as Zmijewski suggests, the art world has become itself a global corporation, and despite the common view that it is art that criticizes capitalism, in fact capitalism tends to assimilate and control cultural practices, quickly turning them into products that can be sold for profit. Far from being alarmed at the transgressive practices of art, it learns its own transgressive practices from it, and through naturalization tames: “Perhaps art produces cultural models of ineffectiveness and helps to shift the entire responsibility for social problems on politics?” (Matt and Zmijewski 2009: 125). While art movements may indeed be initially subversive of the wider social order, there is no guarantee that they will remain that way: all too soon they, like any revolutionary or religious movement, face not only the dangers of routinization but also of co-optation and commodification. The radical movement of yesterday becomes today the subject of barely affordable coffee table art books and block-buster exhibitions at major metropolitan art galleries: the art world consumes the art and society moves on much as before. Or perhaps not: vision has been changed, the body seen in a fresh light, new combinations of colour become possible, new modes of fashion, architecture, public art and everyday objects emerge, not to be rolled back again.

Art, social theory and social transformation The philosopher of art Susanne Langer has long argued that art is a cultural universal, and that this fact is highly significant socially, since it is frequently in the vanguard of cultural advance and is the embodiment of what she sees as being the most significant human faculty, namely imagination. In her words: [I]magination is probably the oldest mental trait that is typically human – older than discursive reason; it is probably the common source of dream, reason, religion, and all true general observation. It is this primitive human power – imagination – that engenders the arts and is in turn directly affected by their products. (Langer 1964: 81)


Revisioning art and society

This in turn generates new structures of feeling: [T]he influence of art on life gives us an indication of why a period of efflorescence in the arts is apt to lead a cultural advance: it formulates a new way of feeling, and that is the beginning of a cultural age. (Langer 1964: 83) Speaking of the distinction between the actual and the desirable, the art critic John Berger (1985) argues that “All art is an attempt to define and make unnatural this distinction”, and goes on to state that [F]or a long time it was thought that art was the imitation and celebration of nature. The confusion arose because the concept of nature itself was a projection of the desired. Now that we have cleansed our view of nature, we see that art is an expression of our sense of the inadequacy of the given–which we are not obliged to accept with gratitude. Art mediates between our good fortune and our disappointment. Sometimes it mounts to a pitch of horror. Sometimes it gives permanent value and meaning to the ephemeral. Sometimes it describes the desired … Theories about the artist’s inspiration are all projections back on to the artist of the effect which his work has upon us. The only inspiration which exists is the intimation of our own potential. Inspiration is the mirror image of history: by means of it we can see our past, while turning our backs upon it. (Berger 1985: 186–7) If we can now see clearly that art movements are genuine examples of social movements, and indeed inform and inspire many of the more conventional examples, we also see intimations of the ways in which they have profound wider sociological and cultural significance. Clearly they entertain us, inspire our visits to galleries and museums, define the contours of eras and civilizations and provide sources for our fashions, decors and accessories. But we can argue that their significance goes far beyond this and in terms of social theory has profound implications for at least four areas of social and cultural theory. The first of these is the study of what have been termed “Anti-Systemic Movements”, for example in the book of that title by Giovanni Arrighi, Terence Hopkins and Immanuel Wallerstein (Arrighi et al. 1989). In that book, the three authors take a highly statist and economistic approach in examining what they term the “social relations of accumulation” and appear to assume that only movements of the same order, although anti-capitalist (and capitalism clearly represents the whole of the “system” as envisaged by them), have any chance of success in overturning this order. As a consequence they specifically exclude the possibility of most of the so called “New Social Movements” from having any transformative

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potential at all. Speaking of examples as diverse at the women’s movement, the scientific community, Islamic revivalism and worker’s movements they argue that “It is far from evident that such communities of consciousness can even persist, much less grow, within the structurally developing inter-and intrastate framework” (Arrighi et al. 1989: 46). While clearly art movements, rather like religious movements, indeed do not oppose capitalism on its own grounds, as we have seen above, they create new structures of feeling and expand the imagination in unforeseen ways. While these structures are often quickly co-opted and assimilated by capitalism, they also act to undermine its rationale and breed alternatives of many and unexpected types, “communities of consciousness” indeed that take root and grow in the interstices of a decaying economic system. This process is now well documented in a large and flourishing literature and liberally illustrated in the huge grassroots anti-globalization, anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) and pro-localization movements, the whole current preoccupation with sustainability, the (economically induced) effects of climate change and the environmental movement internationally (for three good examples see McKibben 2007; Bakshi 2009; Kovel 2002). Art, while neglected by social movements theorists, is clearly one of these sources of alternative, new forms of imagination and consciousness and a source of creativity and healing often entirely outside of the market, and art movements almost inevitably constitute paradigm instances of ‘anti-systemic movements’. A second feature of art movements is that, despite the heat and excitement they generate amongst the denizens of the art world, they are rarely if ever violent movements. Indeed cultural movements rarely are, in contradistinction to so many of the social, ideological, political and even religious movements that now occupy so much of the social landscape. For this reason they have been incorporated into the growing study of non-violent social movements and even of non-violent societies, where issues of culture, imagery, self-sufficiency and the creation of new forms of consciousness, concepts of the body and forms of expression take centre-stage (Zunes et al. 1999; Pim 2010). This is an important lesson: social and cultural transformation can be pursued without recourse to violent methods and its consequent effects can be deeper and long lasting, leading in fact to the very shaping of civilizations. It is for this reason (and our third concluding factor) that in their study of what they term “profound change” Peter Senge and his collaborators argue that [I]n the end, we concluded that understanding presence and the possibility of larger fields for change can only come from many perspectives – from the emerging science of living systems, from the creative arts, from profound organizational change experiences and from direct contact with the generative capacities of nature. Virtually all indigenous and native cultures have regarded nature or the universe or Mother Earth as


Revisioning art and society the ultimate teacher. At few points in history has the need to rediscover this teacher been greater. (Senge et al. 2005: 14–15)

Certainly it has been one of the primary roles of the arts to keep alive the senses of wonder, playfulness, imagination and discovery of the deeply satisfying pleasures of non-instrumental engagement with matter (clay, paint or canvas), in a world in which technology and virtual reality has pushed such concerns to the edge of mainstream social consciousness, and to constantly remind us of the diversity and plurality of the social and natural worlds and hence of the need for multiple and evolving means of perceiving and representing this diversity. As we noted on p. 57, the poet Jalal-ud-Din Rumi long ago noted that the imagination and the image are central to human creativity: “the world of phantasy is broader than the world of concepts and of sensibilia. For all concepts are born in phantasy” (Arberry 1994: 202). Finally, one of the most neglected themes in social theory has been the implications of Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s work on what he calls “antinecessitarian social theory” (Unger 2001). This is an important concept with many possible implications – in Unger’s own work on the critique of existing economic systems and in the pursuit of what he terms “radical democracy”– but with many possible additional applications. In Unger’s own work he does not discuss art at all and barely mentions culture, but the implications of his theory can indeed be applied in these fields. Art in fact cries out to be incorporated, for in art movements we see clear examples of “non-necessary” activities, or at least not necessary from the point of view that confuses or conflates the economic system with the whole of society. This is an error made not only by proponents of “market fundamentalism”, (basically the idea that the economy occupies all of the space formerly also occupied by other modes of social and cultural being), but also by critics of this position. Einstein famously pointed out that no problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it. The struggle with the existing and crisis ridden economic system likewise cannot be entirely preoccupied with the economic, but must delve to deeper levels of human consciousness, creativity and imagination. Art provides one of the means by which this can be done. This of course puts a large burden on the shoulders of artists: both to avoid assimilation into the consumption nexus of the so called art world, and to take up the challenge of producing work that really does address current problems and touches and stimulates the deep well-springs of the imagination in their viewers as well as in themselves. The renewal of art becomes a precondition for it to play a constructive role in the necessary and coming social, climatic, economic and spiritual transformations that are the inevitable future of our planet and its inhabitants, both human and non-human. For art to recognize its transformative potential is to add another and very powerful arrow to the quiver of peaceful

Art movements as social movements


weapons needed to reclaim our globe from the destructive forces that currently rule it and to recreate a civilization in which the real deep needs of the planet and its occupants are truly met. In doing so, this imposes not closure, but the opening of creative gates the long term outcomes of which are at the moment beyond our imaginations, but which we can be assured will reconfigure life as, in the words of the poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore, the festival that it was intended to be, not beyond work, but in which work is itself the means of creative self-shaping and planet making.

Chapter 8

The migration of the image Art and the politics and sociology of space

In many standard introductory sociology texts (and to a lesser extent in anthropology ones), somewhere near the end comes a chapter on “social change”. It seems that, while sociologists obviously recognize that change happens, they are not at all clear about its precise qualities or the mechanisms that propel it. Classical social theory (rather than specifically sociological theory) is of course full of attempts to define social change: in one sense Marxism is nothing else but a systematic model for doing so. But in most of these models two problems always seem to remain: the first being that the actual mechanisms of change are obscure – a problem that sociologists share with historians. Is it ideas? Great men? Climate driving destiny? Or more recently, as in the best-selling work of Jared Diamond, it is a combination of ecological blindness and path-dependency that leads civilizations to collapse from their former greatness (Diamond 2005). The second absence is the discussion of specifically cultural factors. Mainstream historians, or sociologists for that matter, rarely consider the possible power of images as vehicles of change. Art historians do so of course, but almost always within the limited discourse (and consequently audience) of their professional discipline. And even when they do try to relate art to wider social changes they are often restricted by another set of theoretical problems – what is artistic influence? Can the rise of modernism in Asian societies be seen as merely copying, rather than genuine autonomous discovery (Taylor and Ly 2012)? And so forth. But potentially art history has enormous implications for studies of social change, provided that the possibility that images not only travel, but carry with them meanings and influence, is taken seriously as part of sociology. Applications of this are legion, but here we will take one example: the formulation of ideas of regions, understood not only as geographical entities of some sort, but as culturally and politically constructed zones, in which it is precisely those cultural characteristics that give a region its identity. Such an analysis can be carried out almost anywhere globally, but here I will focus on one such large and heterogeneous region, noted, amongst many other things, for its vibrant art: Asia.

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A huge amount of ink has been spilt, and continues to be, debating the identity of “Asia”, and for that matter, the other spatial divisions that humans impose on the globe. Is it a geographical construct, a culture area, a figment of the colonial imagination or some combination of all of these? This can easily become a rather tired and repetitive question, almost inevitably answered according to a pre-set menu of options. And clearly the issue is not a static one: as new geo-political actors join the fray, as globalization erodes old boundaries, as new concepts of what used to be called “area studies” wax and wane (for instance with the appearance of the currently popular concept of “Asia-Pacific”) and as new strategic and trade blocs (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] now being one of the oldest, along with its South Asian would-be counterpart) appear and disappear, ever changing notions of what constitutes “Asia” are bound to appear. Indeed, until quite recently Japan did not consider itself to be part of any such thing, but preferred to align its identity with the Western industrial democracies rather than what it looked disdainfully upon as the underdeveloped parts of South and Southeast Asia. Are continents then a myth, as Lewis and Wigen (1997) have persuasively argued? But in all this debate it is often forgotten that, in thinking about how what we now conventionally consider to be specific geo-cultural areas were and are formed, and about how ideas about social formations change, migrate, mutate and are transmitted, it is as much images as it is concepts that are involved in communication about and between civilizations and cultures. It is equally necessary to consider both the social mechanisms (groups, networks, modes of communication and influence) through which both ideas and images are transmitted across and within borders and to consider the somewhat obscure relationship between ideas and images. While intellectual historians and historians of ideas consider the relationship between ideas and how they influence other ideas, and while art historians consider the communication and patterns of influence flowing between images over time and over spatial boundaries, it is also necessary to create a dialogue between the two modes of conceiving and representing the world. Accordingly, this chapter will attempt to address the otherwise rather tired question of the identity of “Asia” from a fresh perspective along two axes and with a coda. The two axes are, respectively, first, the contribution that an approach to the identity of the purported space conventionally known as Asia through an examination of the art of that space can make, and second, exploring the ways in which images have in fact been the bearers of ideas, ideas that indeed could not have been transmitted in any other way. The coda is a discussion of the implications of this approach for social theory in general and will propose that the seeds of a radically fresh approach to social theorizing can be discovered here. In doing so, art itself can be situated at the heart of both that social theorizing and of debates on the politics of space, in particular the colonial and even pre-colonial


Revisioning art and society

division of the world into the geographical categories that we now take mostly for granted.

Does Asia exist? An approach from art Debate continues, apparently endlessly, on the subject of the identity of Asia, with workshops and books continuing to appear, usually arguing either for a concept of Asian “cultural integrity” (Santi Pracha Dhamma Institute1991) or for the notion that the diversity of the region in fact conceals an underlying unity (Kikuchi 2008). Much of this debate appears to be either politically driven (the desire to emulate the achievement of the European Union [EU], to defuse regional tensions over territory or resources or to argue for a pan-Asian identity), or reflects the fact that regional popular culture (Japanese comics and animated movies, Korean soap operas, Hong Kong films, Taiwanese pop music, Tokyo fashions, Thai food and so forth), now constitute a substantial portion of the entertainment and consumption behaviour of a very sizeable proportion of the region’s population. Clearly, what is at work here are not only various ideologies, but also historical layering: patterns of unity or diversity that may have been obtained during the peak of the Khmer empire in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries are not necessarily obtained equally if at all in the early twenty-first century of pop culture and Pop Art. But at the same time there may well be continuities, and part of the argument that follows will indeed be that, although patterns of unity, or at least of dialogue and inter-communication stretching from the very early past, do exist, these have been overlaid with further layers of intra-regional conflicts, colonialisms, industrialization, patterns of modernism and modernization and the pervasive impact of globalization. How, then, given this stratigraphy of events, epochs and influences, can any unity be discerned? The answer, I will argue, can be found in art and its permeation of regional consciousness and sensuous expression, carried often by that other great uniting and culturally socializing force, religion. The Malaysian writer and journalist Karim Raslan (Raslan 2002) has himself argued the case for such a position. In introducing the catalogue to the art exhibition ASEAN Masterworks (1997), Raslan suggests that the apparent diversity of Southeast Asia is in fact underlaid with a surprising unity of the visual arts and with the motifs that occur in them. This unity is at the very least a “weak” unity as opposed to the idea of identity (or “strong unity” or equivalence), and in his view is made up of several elements: common themes often derived from the contemporary religious culture or from the lives of the peasantry and the townspeople, the emergence of a shared Southeast Asian aesthetic language, the Chinese and Indian, Buddhist and Hindu influences that have deeply shaped the cultures, art and architecture of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Java and Burma reflected historically in the great complexes of Borobudor, Angkor and Pagan,

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together with the influence of non-representational Islam on architecture, the art of calligraphy and the modern emergence of abstract painting amongst Malaysian, Brunei and Indonesian artists. Historically, indeed, the roots go deep and do not always imply religious conversion: Moghul (Muslim) miniature painting had substantial influence on the court painting of both the Burmese Konbaung and the Thai Chakri dynasties, both of which nevertheless remained Buddhist. The introduction of the Western art tradition, especially oil painting, new forms of art education based on Western models and the stylistic and thematic concerns of Western painting and sculpture, while they certainly disrupted, displaced or radically modified existing patterns of artisanship, paradoxically also created new forms of artistic and cultural unity. Many of these circulated around the concept of modernity (Clark 1998; Mitter 2007), and resulted in recognizably similar, or certainly parallel, styles, techniques and themes in India, Japan and Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, and despite the intrusion of the West, as Raslan (2002: 224) puts it, “Devotional art of one kind or another suffuses Southeast Asian art whether we are in Luang Prabang, Manila or Jogjakarta”. He points out that, until very recently, most art of the region had a didactic role (Thai mural paintings, Philippine Catholic inspired art), was socially conscious or represented the position of, amongst many others, the Indonesian ideologue Sudjojono and other independent artists whose Manikebu, or Cultural Manifesto, specifically argues for the role of culture in improving the living conditions of human beings: “For us culture means a struggle to perfect the conditions of human life” (quoted in Soemantri 1999: 58). This is not, of course, to argue for the identical nature of diverse forms of Southeast Asian art or for its derivative nature. Rather, it is to point out that the art of the region draws on often ancient historical and religious sources, on a common visual language inspired by the discovery of Western art and its techniques, on contemporary responses to the current social and political circumstances of the region and to new forms of political unity or co-operation imposed or encouraged by the creation of ASEAN as a regional politico-economic framework, by local responses to globalization that by no means take the form of mimicking “international” cultural forms and by the often ignored role of art education (for good visual surveys of modern Southeast Asian art see Sabapathy 1996 and Singapore Art Museum 2000). To take just one example of contemporary art education: not only do Asian art students flock to the West, but the art schools of Singapore (and in particular the LaSalle College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Arts) are now filled not only with Singaporeans but with Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai students, a few from South Asia and even a smattering of Westerners. And with them flow new motifs, techniques, alternative art histories, images. In the highly visually literate world of the twenty-first century, saturated with advertising, TV, film, YouTube, Facebook and a host of other media, the


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image is powerful and is the means through which ideas spread rapidly and democratically. This has always been the case: its implications have just not been fully explored. Hitherto discussions of regional or local identity, and indeed of the identity of “Asia” as a whole, have been largely cognitive or sociological. They have focused, that is to say, largely on the conventional social science categories of ethnicity, nationalism and citizenship, an excellent example being a collection of essays that, despite the phrase “the politics of representation” appearing in the title, gives not the slightest attention to the most obvious form in which representation occurs: the visual (Kahn 1998). But what if we do? How might our view both of the region (Asia), and of the nature of social theorizing, change if we incorporate the visual as an integral part of our construction of models of societies and cultures? Here, I will attempt to provide some answers to those questions.

Visuality, history and theory The construction of identity invariably has two dimensions – that subjectively created from within, and that imposed from without. In practice, a complex dialectic exists between the two. It is doubtful, for example, that the geo-cultural area now conventionally known as Asia was ever conceptualized as such by its own inhabitants until the relatively recent past. Rather it has been the geopolitics of colonialism and its intellectual formations and structures – such as the notion of “area studies” imposed from without – that have stimulated internal and subjective responses: suddenly one may think of oneself as “Asian”. As we also know, even the sub-regional identification with a specific nation, or even the knowledge that such constructed entities exist and that one is somehow part of them, is an acquired and imposed identity that may sit ill with one’s subjectively perceived identity based on trans-border notions of tribe, ethnicity or religion. The constructed nature of the “nation” has of course been brilliantly examined, especially in its Southeast Asian manifestations, by Benedict Anderson in his now classic discussion of the creation of these “imagined communities” (Anderson 1993) and in its spatial formation and visual representation through mapping by Thongchai Winichakul (1994). And of course the construction or modification of the image of the nation continues to evolve, Japan, for example, having struggled with its national identity in relation on the one hand to the West (representing the modernity to be emulated) and on the other to “Asia” – the negative ‘Other’ against which Japan’s developmental successes stand out. The result, as Stefan Tanaka argues, has been a curious dialogue between (Western) Orientalism and Japan’s own self-Orientalizing, a complicity that has shifted as Japan has become a recipient of globalizing forces and trends and as it has become an aggressive exporter of its technology and of its popular culture (Tanaka 1993; Iwabuchi 2002; Ching 1996).

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The map is of course one important form of the visual representation of the “realm”, and one that indeed often crosses the boundary between utilitarian object and art (and many historical maps have become “collectable” and very valuable as aesthetic objects in their own right). But to discuss the role of art in the formation of identity a preliminary clarification, and a very important one, needs to be made. The relationship between the map, mapping, power, control, surveillance and authority (and indeed of other forms of artistic production and what might now be termed “performance”, such as the tea ceremony) is significant (for Japanese examples see Yonemoto 2003; Gerhart 1999). Equally, the idea that what is now understood to be “art” as “autonomously knowable things of universal beauty”, produced by the artist – the individual genius or possessor of special insight and technique who generates unique art objects that can be appreciated outside of the context of their production (as opposed to the mere craftsman) – arguably arose in Europe around the time of the Enlightenment and has now become a hegemonic discourse (Pitelka 2008: 2). Against this view, the contributors to a significant recent collection of essays (Mrazak and Pitelka 2008), of which the essay cited above is the introduction, argue that the meaning of art objects is to be found not in some “metaphysical essence” or the old argument of “art for art’s sake”, but precisely in the historical and social context in which they were produced, an argument that furthermore dissolves the distinction between “art” and “craft”, many craft products having at least as much aesthetic and social value as the emanations of “art”. In their attempts to establish this position, many of the contributors draw heavily on the pioneering work of the anthropologist of art Alfred Gell, who maintained that an object is art not on the basis of what it is, but on the basis of what it does (Gell 1998): the “resistance” that an art object can impose on our everyday drifting consciousness by challenging us and captivating us visually, that objects are made to act upon the world and upon persons who inhabit it, and that objects themselves can have active “biographies” as they circulate, become wealth, commodities, antiques, objects of ancestral significance, objects of worship or contemplation and so on. The same object may of course have all or some of these significances during its lifetime, hence the arguments that so frequently break out over the display in museums of objects (for example totem poles or masks) that are actually not “art” in the Western sense, but sacred objects from the point of view of the cultures that have produced and originally used them. But this resistance to discussing the function or even the agency of art objects, so characteristic of art history and art criticism in the West, has been less able to be sustained in the Asian context, where the relationship between art and practice becomes central, especially in the context of religious art or art used in religious contexts (utensils, ritual objects, costumes, mandalas, the architecture of religious structures and so forth). A huge literature exists in Asian studies on such themes as temple architecture and the personification


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of the image of a deity in popular Hinduism in which a statue is not only seen, but is thought to reciprocally see the devotee and which may be bathed, dressed and otherwise treated as a living being; not simply as an “object”, but as a being which undergo shifts in meaning and interpretation once it is removed to a museum from its original temple context in which “iconographic correctness, completeness, ritual animation and divine presence” are the criteria of religio-aesthetic appropriateness (Davis 1997: 23). Likewise in Southeast Asia, affect is secondary to the social purpose of both religious and everyday objects in determining the correct aesthetic response (O’Connor 1983). But we should distinguish two issues here: the issue of determining the true status of art objects that exercise Mrazek and Pitelka and their contributors when separated from the preoccupations and assumptions of Western art history on the one hand (which points to the fundamental functionality of art in the Asian context), and on the other the ways in which this “functional” art has become the vehicle for ideas, conceptions of the body and the human person and modes of social organization and cultural practice, in which images in other words serve as the mechanism of social and religious change, of historical transformations and of new concepts of identity. The two issues are of course closely related, but are not identical. The point at which they meet is in the mechanisms of the transmission of images, of which there are a number: missionary activity, trade, war, looting, colonial acquisitions and the mania for collecting and the creation of museums that seems to have afflicted both the Victorian West and the elites of newly decolonized Asian societies (Kusno 2000). In their displacement from their original context, two things may happen: negatively, they may become “decultured” and terminate their lives of agency on the shelves of an ethnographic museum, or positively they may become the means through which new world views are transmitted and discovered: new forms of painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, music and ritual performance. The cultural, and a great deal of the political, history of Asia is the history of these transmissions and influences and their subsequent impact on religious conversion and practice, on subjectivities, ideas of gender and power and new social hierarchies or ideologies of egalitarian social organization. This is true also to some extent of the West, both in the significance of Christian art on ways of seeing the world or of relating to it (the icons of the Greek and Russian Orthodox tradition being a case in point) and in the influence of the East and of Africa on the West artistically (paradigm cases being Picasso and Braque’s discovery of African sculpture and masks in the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero in Paris and the revolutionary impact of this on their painting and the origins of Cubism, and the influence of Japanese woodblock prints on Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Bonnard and many of the French Impressionists). Art objects carry much more than just “meaning”. They also represent physical and spatial ideals, images of the body, modes of perceiving and

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representing nature, as can be seen clearly if one compares say Ming dynasty Chinese landscapes paintings with seventeenth or eighteenth century Dutch ones, or even Japanese landscape paintings with their contemporary or historical Chinese models. Speaking of the work of one of the master Japanese painters of the thirteenth century, Bunsei, Joan Stanley-Baker remarks that one of the most lyrical extant works of the period is West Lake by Bunsei, a mature statement of the Shubun Yuan based ‘mind-landscape’ ideal. Like Tenyu and Shubun before him, Bunsei worked with Yuan and Ming works in the Xia Gui style, keeping the Southern Song and Yuan notions of scale, but rearranging elements from diverse sources in a Japanese formal and spatial relationship. As good Chinese models were scarce and spanned some 250 years, and as the Shogun often requested Chinese styles from Southern Song to contemporary Ming, it became common practice among Muromachi painters to produce highly eclectic works incorporating not only vignettes from various Chinese sources, but also the structural changes engendered through time. (Stanley-Baker 2003: 129) Significantly, exactly the same process was occurring with texts, ritual objects and art works of a Buddhist nature brought back to Japan, such that Buddhism itself must be seen not as a fixed body of religious teachings, “but as a set of religious practices anchored to an active, transportable body of material culture. Even texts become art works with a particularly powerful materiality” (Pitelka 2008: 8). As Cynthea Bogel well illustrates: [A]lthough recent studies have begun to address the role of visual culture in Buddhist practice and the strategies of reception that shape the meaning of art and practice alike, neither the scholarship on Esoteric Buddhism and its history nor the copious literature on East Asian Buddhist art emphasizes visuality and materiality as a vital component of Buddhist transmission. (Bogel 2008: 145) The form of art now seen as quintessentially Japanese, and as having profound effects on Japanese aesthetics, concepts of the self, calligraphy, tea, flower-arranging, archery and other practices, notably Zen art, is thus itself an import, transformed from its Chinese original to suit the native soil of Japan. Much the same can be said of the art of Bali, much of the painting and lacquer work of Vietnam, the Chinese domestic and religious architecture of Southeast Asia, the Indian temple architecture of Malaysia and Singapore and many other examples. In fact, in Bogel’s detailed analysis of a small and remote event in SinoJapanese history lies a whole theory of the relationship between art and


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social change. Here I will quote her own summary, speaking of the bringing back to Japan of Buddhist texts and artefacts by the Buddhist monk Kukai: [D]uring his lifetime Kukai successfully established systematized Esoteric teachings in Japan as the Shingon school. To what can we attribute his success? The mandala, texts, and ritual items that he imported are significant visual and material elements in Mikkyo praxis and its transmission. Visual culture offers a concrete veracity that ideas and philosophies cannot convey. Paintings, statues, and other objects may be copied or generate visually related representations that refer to the “original” in ways that ideas or doctrines cannot. Unlike the questioning and occasional skepticism that greeted Kukai’s teachings or the messages of the imported Mikkyo texts, the objects themselves were accepted more readily. The reasons for this have to do with the different ways in which visual culture is received from texts. Texts reify doctrine and philosophy, which have relatively little visual or functional embellishment. (Bogel 2008: 150) Although here she is speaking of a specific instance, this idea can be generalized to apply to the transmission of cultures in general, a fact that has significant theoretical implications to which I will shortly turn. Indeed, Terry Eagleton has argued that certain religious objects occupy a special aesthetic status – what he terms an “ideologico-aesthetic” status hovering between the empirical and the theoretical (Eagleton 1990: 95) and we seem to have a case of that here. Such art is not only often religious in inspiration and in turn becomes the vehicle for the transmission of both the religion per se and the ideas of embodiment that it encodes (Law 1995; Schipper 1993), it is also generally political. As Ashley Thomson shows in her analysis of Angkor Wat (Thomson 2008), that monumental site has had, and continues to have, diverse functions: historically as the means for the monarchy to disseminate its particular religious and political world view and to cement its power, and in contemporary Cambodia as a site of memory and as the paramount image of Cambodian identity (quite literally – the image of the monument appears on the Cambodian national flag). Art, then, proves to be far from a decorative afterthought to Asian history: it proves instead to be the vehicle for religious expansion and change, a powerful political tool, a means of accessing images of the body and nature and a unique route to subjectivities unfiltered through the medium of language, although even that, in the medium of its texts and scripts, can be turned easily into art. In speaking of “Asia” from an aesthetic perspective, then, we can begin to see it not as a region of rigid cultural boundaries, but as a zone of diffusion. This diffusion has its sources: India and China certainly and later the West. But even the sources have their sources and influences: the impact of Greek art on

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northern India and central Asian art, the impact of Islam and Judaism in western China, of Catholic Christianity in the Philippines and of Orthodox Christianity in Kerala and elsewhere in western India and that of Christianity of course, which, as with its sister religion Islam, has its roots in Judaism. There is in other words no beginning and to seek for one is to court geographical and cultural essentialism. But what one can do, following the lead of initiatives in anthropology that seek methodologically, is to study not places but networks, not sources but flows (Marcus 1995) and to perhaps read backwards into history the lessons that can be learnt from the anthropology of globalization and trans-nationalism (Kearney 1995). In practice this breaks down into several discrete projects. These include the attempt to discover the cultural integrity and if not the unity at least the degree of cultural communication between the parts of the vast zone now known as Asia (Chaudhuri 1990), to trace actual cultural and religious flows – for example the migration and transformations of Buddhism from its Indian homeland to China and onwards to Tibet, Korea, Japan and southwards to what are now Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the substantial pockets of the religion and its associated arts and architectures in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Other projects consist of the exploration of the colonial and ‘area studies’ construction of world regions, continents and nations and the investigation of the ways in which colonialism itself and its associated missionary endeavours is implicated in the “invention” of religions such as Hinduism out of many diverse sources, none of which originally bore that name (Balagangadhara 1994), or in which state power brought into existence a national religion that was likewise originally just a collection of local practices, as in the case of state Shinto in Japan. In the contemporary context of globalization and the international flows of popular culture and of transnational capitalism it is less the overtly political (as in crude colonialism) as it is the spread and insinuation of consumption, commoditization and the entertainment cultures of Hollywood and Bollywood that are defining local identities to a considerable degree. These have, it must be remembered, constant dialogue with memory, history, myth and images of the real or imagined past, themselves refracted in many cases through the televisual media in the form of the historical or costume drama. A large part of the issue of the definition of geo-cultural units then is the time frame. If the perspective is from the earliest historical epochs – (i.e. from the time when texts and inscriptions become available for scrutiny) the probability is that certainly Southeast Asia was a collection of what O.W. Wolters calls “small territorial units, several of which a man of prowess could sometimes bring under his personal influence by attracting supporters and developing alliances” (Wolters 1999: 21) and that centralized polities came later. In this context, his interpretation of the so called “Indianization” of Southeast Asia is that


Revisioning art and society [R]ather than assuming that ‘Indian’ influences introducing an entirely new chapter in the region’s history, I prefer to see the operation of specific ‘Hindu’ and therefore religious rather than political conceptions that brought ancient and persisting indigenous beliefs into sharper focus. (Wolters 1999: 21)

Probably many of these religious ideas and the iconography that accompanied them were carried along early trade routes, for as A.G. Frank has demonstrated, Asia was globalized long before Europe was in terms of trade networks and economic linkages (Frank 1998). Intra-regional relations were evidently strong from a very early period: the Malay rulers of the Sriwijaya Empire exercised some kind of control over the Malay peninsula and much of what is now Indonesia from the seventh to at least the eleventh century, and its successor the Majapahit in the fourteenth century, was comprised of Java, Sumatra and other parts of the Indonesian archipelago. Meanwhile, the kings of Angkor during the eleventh and twelfth centuries oversaw the Chao Phraya basin, parts of the northern Malay peninsula and the parts of southern Vietnam known as Champa. Other political alliances and “empires” appear also to have existed in the pre-Spanish Philippines, centred on the Thai state of Ayudhya and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and not dissimilar entities existed in India, China and Japan before the latter’s unification in the fifteenth century (Wolters 1999: 27–40). Not only art attended these flows and influences, but also language: Sanskrit, for example, was used in inscriptions by the Khmers into the fourteenth century and by the Chams a full century later. The two are closely related through the medium of inscriptions and the mélange of styles of sculpture that existed in early Southeast Asia, showing an amalgam of Indian, Javanese, Khmer, Cham and local styles show that “hybridity” is not a new concept. The art historian H.G. Quaritch-Wales has indeed argued that the art history of the region is the best way to study comparative religion and the spread of religious influences, and in the absence of direct anthropological evidence from the earlier periods, in some cases the only way (Quaritch-Wales 1961). It is then really only in the period of European contact and colonialism that the concern with defining regions appears, as a way of delimiting spheres of influence and of cataloguing and classifying “possessions”. The impact of colonialism on culture has been extensively investigated (for just two examples see Said 1993 and Thomas 1994) and one of the outcomes of this has been the patterning of scholarship and of university departments – the creation of “area studies”, journals and publishing programmes and the corresponding appearance of texts uncritically assuming a natural geographical division called “Asia” (e.g. Basham 1974) or engaged in a curious form of self-Orientalizing as a kind of intellectual precursor to more recent “Asian values” debates (e.g.Nakamura 1981). Post-colonial theory and the “subaltern” debates, especially in South Asia (how easily we now use the

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conventional terminology! But then that terminology is now used indigenously as much as it is imposed from without) has been of course a major attempt to break free of those earlier categories, although it might now be argued that in a globalized situation its utility is becoming less obvious. If, then, we return to our theoretical theme of this essay – the significance of the image in socio-cultural transmission and its implications for broader social theory, what can we now say about the concept of “Asia” on the one hand and the nature of social theory on the other?

The return of the image We have established, I hope, that in the transmission of culture images play a paramount role. These images are closely tied to the spread of religion, to patterns of trade and to attempts to establish new forms of political authority. This is not of course to imply that nothing arises indigenously: clearly it does, both in the form of the originating images and artistic forms (Indian sculpture say, or Chinese landscape painting) and in local traditions of craftsmanship, textiles, architecture, pottery and other media that intersect with and modify and are modified by the imported styles, as we see for example in the reaction of Japanese painting to the introduction of Western techniques after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Ideas themselves are often transmitted through images: hence the centrality of iconography to the analysis of religious expansion and conversion. What we now need to do is to turn to a closer analysis of the relationship between image and society and to develop a model of how the image functions as the vehicle of social and psychological change and its relationship to notions of identity. Here, I will provide a map of what I think the central linkages to be, and elaborate briefly on each one. The first is that visuality structures notions of space, territory and identity. Two cases of this were noted on p. 124: the attempt to create an image of the realm, the better not simply to map it for geographical purposes, but to control it in both Tokugawa Japan and in Siam. In the latter case, the identification of the Thai nation was predicated on the ability to define the borders of the political entity. The “geo-body” of the nation needed to be defined, mapped and enclosed spatially so that what Winichakul (1994: 12) calls “We-Self vs. Others” can be created and sustained in the face of challenges (in the Siamese case both from the encroachment of colonial powers and from the incursions of the neighbouring Cambodians and Burmese). While Winichakul focuses on mapping as constitutive of the nation, a similar case can validly be made for painting and especially landscape painting as an exercise in the representation of the specificities and aura of the national territory and its distinct ecology: landscape and politics are deeply complicit (Andrews 1999; Thomas 1999). Visuality, then, structures concepts, be they of space, a political unit, a landscape, an ecology or of boundaries.


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Images, then, are the vehicle for the spread and transmission of ideas, world views, conceptions of the body, emotions, propaganda, politically or religiously desirable representations (think of USSR style Socialist Realism, the art of the Maoist period in China, medieval Catholic art or the poster art of contemporary Cuba), fashion and bodily presentation, and hence are a major vehicle for the subversion of existing subjectivities and identities and their replacement by new ones or the subtle transformation of the old ones. Any member of the Taliban, Burmese general or North Korean cadre concerned to keep Western culture out, art banned or under strict state control and the media either non-existent or highly edited, has known this fact for a long time. The notion of a “civilization” is largely based, in fact, on the classification of its art, architecture, music and cuisine. A corollary of this is that images – in shaping conceptions of space, community, region or even of the whole Earth– are major vehicles of globalization, as they are widely disseminated through international media, but also and dialectically are the vehicles for localization. When globalization threatens, artisanal sensibilities and production (“folk art”, crafts, “folk religion”) are often stimulated. Space, being politicized and never socially empty as Henri Lefebvre noted long ago (Lefebvre 1991), connects directly in debates about the identity of Asia, to the “Asian Values” projects that have exercised a number of Asian governments and their pet intellectuals in the recent past – in Singapore for example. This discourse, generally tendentious, self-serving and easily critically deconstructed (for example Clammer 1993), however, is significant because it invariably masks a politically motivated attempt to undermine any concept of universal human rights by arguing for the cultural (in fact almost invariably political) specificity of individual Asian societies (Jacobsen and Bruun 2000). While I will not attempt to rehearse all the arguments here for or against the concept of ‘Asian Values’, it is not often noted how extensive visuality enters into this, not only through the medium of the propaganda used to advance the idea but by the very reification of the concept of Asia itself. The very mapping constructed by the colonial powers suddenly becomes the basis of assertions of Asian uniqueness, even as, paradoxically, a universal conception of human rights is used to defend and advance minority interests within many of those states (Okinawans or Ainu people in Japan for example) when the state itself pushes for cultural particularism. It is often those very same propaganda or “traditional” images that become the source of cultural nationalisms, new concepts of citizenship and even of post-nationalism, the conceptual arguments for any of these positions always being advanced through the mechanism of images projecting conceptions of, for example, multi-racialism, international proletarian solidarity, anti-imperialism or multi-culturalism (again Cuba provides a very good contemporary case study: see Block 2001; Cushing 2003). Of course the capitalist societies do the same, but there it is called advertising, not propaganda.

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Harder to measure, but quite apparent, is the effect of images on subjectivity. Again as every advertising executive knows, it is rarely factual information about a product that sells it, but rather how the image of that product connects to the potential consumer’s masculinity, femininity or other attributes. In the same way, exposure to a new religious system can radically change subjectivity, and will indeed do so if conversion to that new “reality” (actually itself largely an image-system) occurs, especially if that conversion is not simply (actually it never is) the changing of a set of beliefs, but a “conversion to modernity”. Such a ‘conversion’ may carry with it the fundamental reordering of notions as varied as images of the devil, the use of ritual implements, forms of dress and ornamentation and even the question of whether art is acceptable at all, it being notorious that whereas Catholic Christians rather like it and embellish their churches with a great deal of painting and sculpture, Protestants on the whole shy away from it (Van der Veer 1996; Viswanathan 1998).That art, as with religion, can be a paramount vehicle of modernity, is now well documented (Mitter 2007 for the Indian case). A good case can be made that social theory in general is highly cognitive and cerebral and has until recently, and then only among a small minority, devoted serious attention to the emotions, embodiment, the sensuous or the erotic. While the body has now entered sociology in quite a big way, even now it has rarely been connected to the expression of the body through art on the one hand, and the representation of the body through art on the other (for an exception see Boyne 1991). As the anthropologist Mary Douglas phrased it several decades ago: [T]he body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious. The body is a complex structure. The functions of its different parts and their relations afford a source of symbols for other complex structures. We cannot possibly interpret rituals concerning excreta, breast milk, saliva, and the rest unless we are prepared to see in the body a symbol of society, and to see the powers and dangers credited to social structure reproduced in small on the human body. (Douglas 1966: 115) The symbols of which Douglas speaks are most often represented through artistic media. Sadly, though, the field that should most fully investigate this in a comparative way, notably visual anthropology, remains in theoretical disarray, and its off-shoot, ethnographic film, even more so (MacDougall 1998). But this does not exhaust the issue. Rarely has the sensuous in general been incorporated systematically into social theory. The marginalization within the profession of one of the few anthropologists who has tried, notably Paul Stoller, indicates the continuing one-dimensionality of much


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social theory that, paradoxically, it being in principle the study of human beings in their social relationships, actually leaves out those very things that animate those relationships – the affective, the aesthetic and the erotic. Stoller’s notion of “sensuous scholarship” goes some way to remedying this enormous absence, but the lessons that he points out have yet to be systematically assimilated even into anthropology, let alone into social theory in general (Stoller 1989, 1997). There are, in fact, fundamental but unexplored linkages between the sociology of the body, art, social theory and the analysis of Asian societies, a process that has only been sketched out in its barest outlines (e.g. by the contributors to Zito and Barlow 1994), although interesting such analyses have been pushed further in the study of Asian film than they have for other visual media, suggesting potentially interesting and unexplored links between film theory and art theory (e.g. Chow 1995). The same might be said about the links between the literature on the self that burgeoned in sociology and cultural studies in the 1980s and 1990s at the same time that the body was being finally acknowledged in the social sciences and the role and nature of visuality and art, again a field that has only been scratched on its surface in relation to Asian social theory (e.g. Ames et al. 1998). We should also remember that the definition of a cultural/geo-political region, be it Asia or anywhere else, is not a fixed and immutable thing, and not something that derives only from the past. This is true of concepts for social analysis in general. In the case of Asia, we not only see attempts to define over-arching Asian values, but also moves towards a higher degree of political and economic integration (ASEAN for example), talk of security pacts in the region often currently circulating around the issue of de-nuclearization and attempts to define an East Asian community as a conscious effort, but one based on what are presumed to be existing commonalities. In the view of Fernando Nakpil Zialcita (2008), these include common linguistic families, adaptation to similar ecosystems, participation in what he terms “corridors of cultural exchange” (Zialcita 2008: 51) or interactions with each other over the course of centuries, commonalities of architecture, at least some shared values, religious linkages and in recent years not only the to some extent unifying effects of modernity, but very specifically the regional spread of forms of popular culture – films, comics, fashions and cuisines in particular. Here, we have not the attempt to define an Asian community, but to create one. I have argued elsewhere in a number of contexts (Clammer 1995, 2000c, 2009b) that the attempt to define or constitute Asian social theory should not simply be either a reactive or defensive measure against the seeming hegemony of Western social theory (as with much postcolonial theory for example), nor an autarkic attempt to simply “indigenize” or nativize it. The former still speaks in the terms laid out by the hegemonic version; the second abandons all attempts at achieving any universality or general

The migration of the image


relevance. Rather, it is a process that necessarily exists in close dialogue with Western theory, from which it not only learns but can influence in turn. The challenge of Japanese society for social theory is precisely that it is an advanced capitalist society with high levels of technological, industrial and artistic development that nevertheless operates on very different sociological principles and with a very different cultural logic from its Western counterparts. Art, of course, is part of this dialogue and as we have seen has been the vehicle for profound religious shifts, a primary source of modernity in Asian societies as local art forms came into contact with Western styles and techniques and a profound mechanism for dialogue between cultures at a non-conceptual level, something that occurred for example after the Pacific War between North American and Japanese art (Winther-Tamaki 2001). Social theory represents a significant dimension of what Charles Taylor has called “modern social imaginaries” (Taylor 2009), and not only does it shape contemporary social consciousness (for example the current domination of the economic, but its slow displacement or certainly modification by emerging ecological thinking), but also embodies utopias: visions not only of what society is, but equally or even more significantly, of what it should be like. It is often forgotten and rarely if ever acknowledged in the literature on social movements, that art movements are also social movements. The effects of the Dada and Surrealist movements resonated through early to midtwentieth century culture, art, psychology, poetry, politics and the influence of the Bauhaus which only existed as a discrete institution in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin from 1919–33. It continues to reverberate through art, design, architecture, thinking about the relationship of art to crafts and art education down to the present day (and by the way had a profound influence on modern Indian art through the medium of the Bauhaus exhibition that Rabindranath Tagore brought to Calcutta in 1922). In so far as Asian social theory might indeed be rooted in the tactile and the sensuous, its links to the art produced in those same societies is significant and in need of much further exploration. Studies of visuality in relation to other cultures, and especially in terms of the relationship between the so called metropolitan countries and their colonies and client states, have largely been framed in terms of representations. It is significant that a substantial part of Edward Said’s now classic volume Orientalism (Said 1985) is devoted to art and literature as being the main bearers of these representations. In the subsequent work of Michel Foucault, especially in the section in his Les mots et les choses where he analyses Velazquez’s enigmatic painting Las Meninas (Foucault 1966: 3–16) and of the art historian Louis Marin (Marin 1980) and those who have closely followed them such as Craig Owens, almost the entire emphasis is on representational systems as apparatuses of power (Owens 1994:91). While this is true up to a point (indeed up to a large point), it is far from being the whole of the story. Representations are also a means of resistance,


Revisioning art and society

either in the form of an art of protest (Satha-Anand 1999) or in the subversion of the intended meaning by those viewers to whom the images are directed – something now well attested in television studies, for example. The emphasis on power to the exclusion of the other dimensions of visuality, while it makes those who advance this position appear politically committed and “advanced”, in fact does a disservice both to the facts and to the implications of such an exclusively power-based approach to social theory as a whole, which is impoverished rather than enriched as a result (Clammer 2005). A recent volume with the promising title of Art and Social Theory (Harrington 2004) proves, rather disappointingly, to be not about the impact of art on social theory, but simply of sociological theory on art history. Valuable as such an exercise is in its own right, as it might fruitfully impact the somewhat hermetic field of art history, it does little to answer the questions posed in this essay. Yet art addresses and embodies issues fundamental to social theory: the structuring and representation of desire, a socially legitimate way of showing fantasy, the unconscious and the archaic and is the point of genesis of new signifiers. The painter and writer Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger has summarized these functions very well: [A]rtists continually introduce into culture all kinds of Trojan horses from the margins of their consciousness; in that way the limits of the Symbolic are transgressed all the time by art. It is quite possible that many work-products carry subjective traces of their creators, but the specificity of works of art is that their materiality cannot be detached from ideas, perceptions, emotions, consciousness, cultural meaning and that being interpreted and reinterpreted is their cultural destiny. This is one of the reasons why works of art are symbologenic. (Ettinger 1992: 196) Sociology has been long mired in over-abstract, non-sensuous and oversocialized concepts of “society”. This in large part derives from its overcognitive, cerebral and non-embodied nature and from its methodology, which is supposed, quite wrongly, to mimic that of what social scientists believe (often also wrongly) to be the methodology of the natural sciences. To critique such a view, however, is not to abolish sociology or society, but to re-conceptualize and re-embody them (Clammer 2009a). The basis for such a view is the argument phrased by Martin Fuchs in terms of “the non-identity of the social with itself” (Fuchs 2004: 41): society not as an entity, but as a process in a state of continuous self-becoming in which imaginaries (in the context of this essay as embodied in the arts) are the mechanism of social regeneration and which restore both agency to the individual and require an interactive conception of social construction and reproduction (Clammer 2009a: 337).

The migration of the image


Visuality/theory/Asia Is it necessary to bring these three terms together? I would argue that it is: the definition of Asia requires reference to its art; art itself always exists in a cultural, political, social, historical, geographical and usually religious context. To understand both Asia and art requires theory, and placing the two in fruitful juxtaposition raises fundamental questions for social theory. Understanding the mechanisms of cultural exchange in the past can become the basis for new models of cultural exchange in the future. There are pasts beyond both colonialism and capitalism, and recalling them and the full sense of autonomous selves that they embody requires the symbolic and the imaginary as well as the rational, and addresses the wounds of those pasts as well as their glories. Indeed, the two are almost always inseparable: it was not the kings of Angkor who built those amazing temples, it was the peasants and the artisans. As Ashis Nandy rightly points out, dialogue of civilizations in this new century requires certain conditions – equal rights to interpretation on the part of those cultures, the need to jettison nineteenth century notions of comparing cultures in order to rank them in some order of superiority, the willingness to own up to the pathologies of participant’s cultures and the goal not of a unified world, but of a “pluricultural universe where each culture can hope to live in dignity with its own distinctiveness” (Nandy 1998:147–8). To do this requires an appropriate methodology, an excellent but widely ignored model for which is contained in the work of the anthropologist Eric Schwimmer and the profound differences between his work and the rationality based theory of Jurgen Habermas (Clammer 2008). For Schwimmer, a number of “rationalities” (Schwimmer 2004: 262–3), or perhaps a better word is ontologies, can and do exist within the same political space (his primary example is the Maori people of New Zealand), and the hiddenness or secrecy of many of these indigenous ontologies protects them from the depredations of the hegemonic system. Despite a century and a half of European colonization, the Maori people’s ontology survived and coexists with the parallel ontologies of the colonizers – or even in part colonizes them, as with native Christianity and its syncretic tendencies. The problem for the colonized subject is to manage identity while situated in relation to at least two mutually incompatible ontolgies. Schwimmer answers this through his notion of “semiospheres” (Schwimmer 2004: 262–3) and a close examination of how they actually interact and to some degree penetrate each other, in which subtle transformations take place while other areas of the many layered cultures intact are left intact, and in which the mechanisms of inter-penetration are not cognitive but art, religion and ideas about medicine. The result is not so much “hybridity” – the patching together of the dissimilar – but negotiation between semiospheres, a negotiation and communication taking place largely at the symbolic level rather than at the cognitive level (Schwimmer 2004).


Revisioning art and society

The contemporary situation sees one where it is art in its popular forms that is a principle mechanism of cultural interaction and dialogue in Asia, sparking once again a debate about Asian unity and inter-cultural communication. While mainstream art has been less implicated in these cultural flows than popular media, the framework has to a great extent changed: “Asia” is now situated in the context of global culture, not just of intraregional relationships. But it must also be remembered that, for all the celebratory welcoming of globalization by many public intellectuals in the region, the same processes also trigger cultural nationalism, in which art again plays a major role. As Craig Reynolds documents in his study of cultural nationalism in Thailand, it is one of Thailand’s leading art magazines, Art and Culture, that has taken a nationalistic and provocative stand on the issue of protecting what it sees as being traditional Thai culture from the depredations of globalization and foreigners and campaigned for the return to Thailand of antiques taken out of the country by international antique dealer networks (Reynolds 1998). This dialectic of globalization and localization requires a new transnational anthropology of the region to grasp its dynamics and protean character (Yamashita 2003). It may now be necessary to speak less of borders and regions than of “transcultures”, transborder imaginaries, routes and flows, multiple modernities and deterritorialization (Chan and Ma 2002), but then a case can be made that in Asia this was always the case. It is perhaps also time to replace the older language of ‘Othering’, difference, norms, values, and the whole sociological vocabulary that has emerged from Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, structuralism and the functionalist anthropologists, with a much more fluid and strategic understanding of culture and society in which transfer, innovation, borrowing and assimilating are continuous and natural sociological processes and in which images play a central and crucial role. At the same time, it is necessary to situate the whole debate within the framework of globalization and its commodifying engine and helmsman – global capital – from which even the image is not immune. Here art continues to have a central role. For if Max Weber saw the outcome of the socio-economic processes of modernity, bureaucratization and capitalism as the disenchantment of the world, it may be the role of art, in its generation of images transcending ideology, to be the engine of agency, imagination and the re-enchantment of the world.

Part II

Cases in point

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Chapter 9

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation The Bauhaus in Asia

The Bauhaus, founded in the small German city of Weimar in 1919, was undoubtedly one of the most famous schools of art and design (and later of architecture) in the whole of Europe. Its highly innovative work and curriculum have become synonymous with artistic modernism, and its legacy lives on today not only in the designs that it inspired, but through the lasting influence on art history of the distinguished galaxy of artists who taught there during its brief history. Today, that legacy persists in the veritable library of books on the work and impact of the Bauhaus, the enshrinement of its achievements in dedicated museums in Berlin and Weimar, the large number of gallery exhibitions that continue to showcase its work worldwide and in the art university that now occupies the original Bauhaus buildings and which continues to keep its name and influence alive. The impact of the Bauhaus in Europe and North America in respect of architecture, art and design is very well documented and is the subject of a large and continuing literature. Controversy, however, still surrounds the position of the Bauhaus in the history of twentieth-century architecture and art, and it has its detractors as well as its avid supporters. After its initial but incredibly fertile first period in Weimar (1919–25), its subsequent migration to Dessau during the years 1925–32 and its final brief incarnation in Berlin (1932–3) before its forced closure by the National Socialists, the “history” of the Bauhaus is a kind of virtual one, one of diaspora as its teachers and students were scattered by the cataclysmic events of the late 1930s and 1940s. The record of this largely westwards dispersal is quite well known – the migration of Walter Gropius to the US, the burgeoning career of Mies van der Rohe, also in the US, the return to Switzerland of Paul Klee and the hiring of Josef and Anni Albers by the highly innovative Black Mountain College to teach art and textiles respectively (Kunstebaude 1968; Farmer and Weiss 1971; Lowe Art Museum 1974; Hochman 1997: 265–74). Laslo Moholy-Nagy established a design school in Chicago which he specifically named the “New Bauhaus”, although like its original namesake it did not survive for long under that name. In many ways it was through the Black Mountain College that the legacy of the Bauhaus was most communicated


Cases in point

in North America. As Mary Emma Harris, the documenter of this process puts it: [T]hough not its namesake or ideological heir, Black Mountain was in many respects the spiritual heir of the Bauhaus. They shared a common experimental and anti-academic spirit, a belief in the social responsibility of education and the arts and an organization that involved both faculty and students in the decision making process. The college’s role as a center for the transmission of Bauhaus teaching in the United States has generally not been recognized, both because it did not try to emulate the Bauhaus and because of its rural setting and the appearance of the creative work of Black Mountain students has been so dissimilar to that of the Bauhaus. Furthermore, the influence of Albers’ teaching has largely come to be identified with Yale because of the university’s eminence and through the publication of Interaction of Color. (Harris 2002: 245) But if the major legacy of the Bauhaus in the US was in architecture, its impact elsewhere in the Americas was more on painting, especially in Brazil and Argentina (Sullivan 2000: 212, 288, 293). Yet elsewhere in the world, while the name of the Bauhaus is well known, its impact both conceptually and empirically and its role in promoting a particular and very influential brand of modernism, has been little explored. Here, I will sketch some aspects of this influence, which outside of Europe and the Americas runs in some rather unexpected directions and will, I hope, open up a wider debate about the role and nature of socially engaged art and architecture, especially in non-Western settings. Specifically, the two sites that I have chosen for this exercise are India and Japan, both of which reveal very different responses to the form of modernism represented by the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus in Asia It is not evident that any Indian students ever studied at the Bauhaus (none appear in the extant lists of students and it would have been a relatively unlikely choice for the members of a still colonized country in the 1920s and 1930s for which English was the major non-local language), although as we will see in a moment the Bauhaus was known in India primarily through its painters rather than its architects. A number of Japanese, however, did study at the Bauhaus – the couple Yamawaki Michiko in weaving and Yamawaki Iwao in architecture and design are known to have been there in the early 1930s and the name of one Ohno Tanae also appears in the roster of students (Wingler 1969: 615–32) and its characteristic architectural styles have had significant influence on a number of prominent Japanese architects, for example Isozaki Arata. The influence continues: in August 2002 the

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


prominent Japanese architecture and design magazine X-Knowledge Home, under the title of “Art and Technology: The New Vision”, ran as its main feature a spread on the Bauhaus. This included articles on its history, profiles of Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Hannes Meyer, an article on the spread of the Bauhaus idea to the architecture schools at Harvard University and the Illinois Institute of Technology in the States and to the department of design at Nihon University and at the Kuwasawa Design School in Japan and a Japanese translation of an interview with Walter Gropius by John Peter, originally published in the latter’s The Oral History of Modern Architecture (Peter 1994). Similarly, from April to July 2008, a major exhibition was held at the gallery of the prestigious Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music on the theme of “Bauhaus Experience Dessau”, and was very well attended. Gropius himself visited Japan in 1954 and wrote admiringly about the experience (Gropius 1960). He noted the modularization of traditional Japanese architecture, especially in domestic buildings which represented a still-living culture which in the past had already found the answer to many of our modern requirements of simplicity, of outdoorindoor relation, of modular coordination and, at the same time, variety of expression, and had thereby attained a common form-language uniting all individual efforts; all this based, of course on handicrafts, which we know are losing their foothold in our modern world and which eventually must be replaced by industrial methods and tools. (Gropius 1960: 203) This approach, in summary, he found confirmed “My own trend of thought, as exemplified in the Bauhaus, was here startlingly confirmed” (Gropius 1960: 205). Other links between Bauhaus-inspired modernism and Japan were created by the visit to the country in 1930 of the Austrian architect Richard Neutra, who in the same year as his triumphant lecture tour of Japan where he was treated as a celebrity, spent three months as a visiting teacher/critic at the Bauhaus in Dessau, invited there by Mies van der Rohe on the basis of another lecture that Neutra had delivered in Berlin. Neutra discovered in Japan a complex set of linkages to the emergent forms of Western modernist architecture – his principal hosts Kameki and Nobu Tsuchiura he had met at Taliesin and were much influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright (no friend of the Bauhaus!), and one of his most enthusiastic admirers in Japan was the young architect Maekawa Kunio who had studied with Le Corbusier in Paris and was to become a major bridge between Japanese architectural modernism and its European varieties (Hines 1994: 93). The year 1930 was indeed a remarkably fruitful one for the Bauhaus, it being also the year of the Werkbund exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, orchestrated by Gropius and with the collaboration of three of his


Cases in point

old Weimar colleagues – Bayer (textiles), Breuer (furniture) and MoholyNagy (lighting) – an exhibition very favourably received by the French public, media and architectural press (Benevolo 1977: 487). Neutra found in Japan both that much of the modernist architecture could well have come from the drawing board of Gropius (for example Yamada Mamaru’s celebrated Tokyo Electrical Testing Office for the then Traffic Ministry [1929]), and, as Gropius also discovered a quarter of a century later, that Japanese traditional architecture – its lightness, sense of space, simplicity, quality of finishing and modularization – matched his own goals: “I had been striving for all that, and I was no longer alone” (Hines 1994: 94). With the advent of debates about post-modernity in Japan in the 1980s, an interesting thesis emerged that Japan was the original post-modern society, in the sense that the characteristics attributed by Western theorists to postmodernity – pastiche, lack of master narratives, the centrality of culture and so forth – had always been characteristic of Japan (Miyoshi and Harootunian 1989; Clammer 1995). If this debate is extended backwards, as it were, to the question of modernity, the issue becomes interestingly complex. For many Japanese architects of the 1920s–1940s, the influence of Western modernism was decisive stylistically at the same time as, on the one hand, they were negotiating their own tradition (the elements of traditional Japanese architecture so approvingly noted by Neutra in 1930 and Gropius in 1954), while also responding to the changing socio-economic and political environment of Japan – the rapid and intensive industrialization and accompanying urbanization on the one hand and the consequent emergence of a large urban proletariat, and on the other intellectual and political attempts to oppose modernity, seen as a Western import destructive of traditional Japanese values and culture. This perception generated in turn attempts to replace it with a nativist and indigenous system based on Shinto, emperor worship and what were seen as the basically rural, even feudal, values and social structure of pre-modern Japan, in which individualism was devalued and the social collectivity given priority (Jansen 1985), a debate that culminated during the Second World War years with discussions of Kindai no chokoku or “overcoming modernity”. This discussion was premised both on the belief that Western modernity represented decadence and on the idea that Japan had achieved development without passing through the characteristic stages of Western social/political/economic “progress”, such that Japanese capitalism for example, while sharing some of the formal features of its Western counterparts, is in fact a different model operating on different principles and on a very distinctive social basis (Arnason 1988). We see in Japan, then, a situation in which Bauhaus-inspired modernism was both very attractive to Japanese architects, marrying as it did the attractions of the foreign (particularly the German foreign, widely admired in the Japan of the 1920s and 1930s), the sense that here was an architecture compatible with traditional Japanese ideas of simplicity and modularization

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


and a sense that the Bauhaus model was one that brought together art and technology in a unique synthesis. What was probably most absent from Japanese architectural thinking was the social dimension of the Bauhaus and in particular its expression in such projects as workers’ housing, expressed in the Weissenhof project co-ordinated by Mies van der Rohe in Stuttgart, which included a house by Gropius, the latter’s Torten project in Dessau (1926), the Dammerstock district of Karlsruhe (1928) and the Siemensstadt district of Berlin (1930). Social housing of this kind in Japan was largely a post-war phenomenon (the Danchi or large scale new town projects of the 1960s–1990s and public housing blocks built in often affluent but depopulated parts of the major cities to maintain a resident population and a residential tax base in those areas), the major exception being company housing – blocks of flats or dormitories built by companies to house their own married or single workers respectively. The actual impact of the Bauhaus on Japanese town planning, then, has been minimal as anyone acquainted with the apparent visual chaos, lack of zoning and highly irregular street plans of most Japanese cities will be well aware. But then in Japan there is a fairly clear demarcation between public space and private space. The public is a zone of uncertainty with which the individual has very little intimate social contact, and as such is liminal and beyond any specific individual’s personal responsibility. The private, however, is the space to be protected and nurtured. This dichotomy explains the apparently puzzling contradiction between the visual messiness of Japanese cities and the extraordinary attention to detail and quality at the small scale in design, craftsmanship and finish. The philosophy of the Bauhaus in so many ways corresponds to that of Japanese aesthetics – the work of art as a unity, the absence of any significant distinction between the artist and the craftsman and the notion that the basis of excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting and design was in craftwork. These principles were expressed in Gropius’ inaugural manifesto for the Bauhaus of April 1919 – the ideas of vielgliedrige Gestalt (the unity of a building in the harmony of its parts) and of Steigerung des Handwerkers (the artist as the craftsman in his highest form) – which not so much influenced Japanese ideas as resonated with them. The issue for the Japanese was not the validity, or in a sense revolutionary, impact that these ideas had in Europe, but rather the technical problem of how to translate these into a form of modern architecture culturally suitable for Japan. To see the outcome of this, any architecturally literate visitor to Tokyo should visit the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum of Architecture that contains reconstructed examples of both traditional and modernist Japanese architecture, the latter including shops, a bath-house, a bar, a photo studio and residential housing from the 1920s to the 1950s. Indeed, Gropius’ philosophy grasped directly the problem of the machine – that mechanization must be made to serve and so the drawbacks of the machine must be averted in order to secure its real advantages and its


Cases in point

empirical dominance in an age of industrialization. Standardization and aesthetics need not be incompatible and the Bauhaus philosophy was structured by the “Guiding principle … that artistic design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life” (Gay 2001: 101). But what of India? In the case of Japan, the impact of the Bauhaus was mainly through architecture, but in an indirect sense: less through imitation as through a recognition of a style that was already in some sense “Japanese” and as the carrier of a modernity fervently desired by some, the years of the Weimar and Dessau Bauhaus corresponding in Japan to the discovery and adopting of jazz, coffee consumed in cafes, Western fashions, Tango, the suburban railway train and numerous other trappings of Western modernity, often adapted however to Japanese tastes, physiques and culture (Seidensticker 1983; Tobin 1992). But in the visual arts the influence seems to have been rather slighter in its impact on Japanese culture than these rather more popular culture imports. Western style (mainly oil) painting or Yoga was well established in Japan by the 1920s, although contested by the still vibrant tradition of Nihonga or painting in the Japanese style, and information about avant-garde painting was available through Japanese literary and art magazines, from artists who had visited Europe or even from the rare example of a Japanese painter who actually settled there. The exemplary case was that of Fujita Tsuguharu, who lived and worked in France in the 1920s and 1930s and was acquainted with Picasso and other leading Parisian artists of the time. But the impact of the specifically Bauhaus tradition was muted, in part because of the time that it takes for artistic influences to spread (rather slower than architectural or technical ones), the fact that contemporary German painting was associated with Expressionism, which first became known in Japan in an exhibition in 1914, and because relatively few Japanese artists (unlike musicians) seem to have gone to Germany for training. But in India this situation is reversed – it is in architecture that little influence is felt, but it is in painting where the greatest impact occurred. Again, there are sociological and political background factors at play here. India was then still a British colony and major architectural commissions went primarily to British architects; India is a large and diverse society with many indigenous local architectural styles and building techniques and with great dependence on locally derived materials – wood, stone, mud, pigments and thatch – and in terms of architectural education and cultural and linguistic orientation Indians tended still to look to Britain or at least to the English speaking world, rather than to Germany with which there were few economic, political or historical links at that time. The climate of India also favours local styles rather than imported international styles. But in painting the situation was rather different. India in the 1920s had a flourishing artistic community (not including the huge folk art tradition), significant art schools

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


in the major metropolitan centres (especially Calcutta, Bombay, Lahore, Delhi and Madras) and lively internal debates within the art community about the validity of Orientalism in art, the significance of or need for modernity in what was seen as a backward and under-developed country and the sheer excitement of exposure to new artistic developments in a technically skilled and often open-minded artistic community not at all adverse to adopting interesting ideas from the outside. If this was the general context, for the Bauhaus to have any impact in India there had to be a catalyst. This appeared in the form of the distinguished Bengali poet, play writer, novelist and self-taught painter Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in literature (in 1913). Rabindranath was a member of a rich and highly culturally accomplished land-owning clan: two of his nephews Abanindranath and Gaganendranath were distinguished painters counted now amongst the masters of early modern art in India. The latter was the first to introduce Cubism into Indian art and the former was initially trained in Western art techniques. While searching for more authentic Indian models in traditional Mughal and Rajput painting, Abanindranath came into contact with the Japanese cultural entrepreneur Okakura Kakuzo, and through him with the painters Yokoyama Taikan and Hishida Shunro. Both of these artists went to India and had a profound influence on Abanindranath and through him his pupils, especially Nandalal Bose, who himself went on to become one of the most prominent Indian painters of the early twentieth century and a major teacher at the art school set up by Rabindranath at his experimental university at Shantiniketan in west Bengal, through which he in turn influenced a whole generation of Indian painters (Bharucha 2010). Rabindranath Tagore was immensely popular in Germany, where his works and particular his poetry were widely read in translation and where his play The Post Office was performed in Berlin (with Tagore himself in the audience) in 1921. On that visit (he came on other occasions, including a visit in 1930 when he met and had a subsequently published dialogue with Albert Einstein), he also visited Weimar and was immensely impressed with the Bauhaus, perhaps seeing in it something of the spirit (including that of close relationships between the teachers and students) that he was attempting to inculcate at his own newly founded university at Shantiniketan, inaugurated in December 1918. With his own relatively newly discovered passion for painting, and at a time when the architectural work of the Bauhaus was still embryonic, he was attracted primarily to the Bauhaus painters, and he was especially impressed with the work of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and was able to persuade the Bauhaus authorities to send an exhibition of the works of the Bauhaus painters to India, something that was duly accomplished. In the following year, 1922, a major exhibition of paintings and crafts from the Bauhaus opened in Calcutta, one of the most vibrant and innovative centres of painting in India at the time.


Cases in point

It is widely felt that the 1922 exhibition marked the beginning of the avant-garde, the first phase of modernism in India, a period that lasted essentially until Indian independence in 1947. The Indian art historian Partha Mitter argues that, while global modernism as an economic and political phenomenon had already reached India through the medium of colonialism and its attendant Westernization, aesthetic modernism really entered via the Bauhaus exhibition in 1922: in the 1920s, in a further paradigm shift, the radical formalist language of modernism offered Indian artists such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy a new weapon of anti-colonial resistance. In their intellectual battle with colonialism, they found ready allies among the Western avant-garde critics of urban industrial capitalism, leading them to engage for the first time with global aesthetic issues. (Mitter 2007: 10) But if the original Bauhaus fought its aesthetic and political battles in the context of economic instability and the rise of German fascism and in, and in relation to, a largely urban context, Indian responses to and appropriation of modernism took place in a colonial environment in which famine, peasant unrest and a rising tide of nationalism informed by European left-wing movements radicalized artists. The paradox is that the idolization of rural India as the true site of cultural and national authenticity took place through the medium of a largely urbanized intelligentsia and artistic community centred on the two most cosmopolitan and globalized India cities of the 1920s – Bombay and Calcutta and especially the latter. Drawing on Benedict Anderson’s influential concept of the “imagined community” (Anderson 1993), Mitter, in his study of modernist art in India, proposes that [T]o explain this community’s critical engagement with modern ideas, I propose here the concept of the ‘virtual cosmopolis’. The hybrid city of the imagination engendered elective affinities between the elites of the centre and the periphery on the level of intellect and creativity. (Mitter 2007: 12) This situation was made easier by Indian access to dominant global languages and in particular English, the availability of print media and a vibrant indigenous intellectual culture in Bengal and not a sense of antimodernism in the search for the soul of India in its countryside, but a willingness to accept technology while denying both its dominant role in culture and the inevitability of only one form of modernism. The indigenous –what Mitter (2007: 29) calls “primitivism” –was thus less an engagement with urban culture, as in the West (the influence of African art on

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


Cubism for instance) than a tool of anti-colonial struggle. The Bauhaus exhibition of 1922 was not the only source of modernism in Indian art. In the same year, for example, the Bengali nationalist and intellectual Benoy Sarkar had sent from Berlin a manifesto to a leading Calcutta journal arguing that the modernist “aesthetics of autonomy” (Mitter 2007: 16) was parallel to the nationalist quest for self-rule or autonomy and that the Orientalism of the Bengal School of painting and its basis in the alleged spirituality of India was just a form of myth making incompatible with the struggle for political freedom. But that Bauhaus exhibition was clearly a fundamental influence, and its effects continued long after the show itself was over.

The Bauhaus in India As a result of Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to the Weimar Bauhaus in the previous year, the fourteenth annual exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, which opened in Calcutta on 23 December 1922, showed 250 paintings and other works including two watercolours by Kandinsky, nine watercolours by Klee, works by Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Georg Muche, Gerhardt Marcks, Lothar Schreyer, Margit Tery-Adler, Sophie Korner and 49 “practice works” demonstrating the teaching process at the Bauhaus. Other Western artists were also shown, including the English Vorticist Wyndham Lewis and a number of prominent Indian artists also participated and the show was particularly significant for being the first public showing of Gaganendranath Tagore’s Cubist paintings and of the “primitivist” paintings of Sunayani Devi, sister of Abanindranath and Gaganendranath and niece of Rabindranath Tagore. The show had a substantial impact – indeed Mitter hails it as the death knell of academic art in India, perhaps an exaggeration as many forms of representational and Orientalist art continued to be produced (and still are). But it certainly introduced the Indian art community to works hitherto only known through printed sources or rare reproductions, and the author of the catalogue, Stella Kramrisch, an Austrian-Jewish art historian who Rabindranath Tagore had recruited to teach art history at the new art department (the Kala Bhavan) at Shantiniketan on a visit to Oxford in 1919, in particular praised Kandinsky (as did the local press) for his paintings without a representational subject matter, for showing that European art did not have to be naturalistic and for infusing the work with his inner experience and sense of spirituality. Abstraction, she argued, was emancipation, and as such congruent with both struggles against academic art and implicitly with a wider struggle for freedom. The theoretical problem that the show posed was a significant one: at a period when modernism was only just beginning to make inroads in Europe, how was this avant-garde to be read and assimilated in a colonial society far removed from the sources of that modernism?


Cases in point

For Rabindranath Tagore, part of the answer lay in the search for an Indian spirituality that would provide an alternative to the materialism of colonialism. It was partly for this reason that he was so attracted to the work of Kandinsky, and there is evidence that the evolution of Kandinsky’s spiritual thinking paralleled and in some way fuelled his movement from representation to abstraction in his art (Pan 2001). Others in his circle, including Mondrian, Malevich and Theo van Doesburg were deeply influenced by Indian philosophical and religious thinking, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the work of the modern mystic J. Krishnamurti. As Mitter summarizes the situation: [I]t was precisely the questioning of the ideological certainty of modernity articulated by primitivism that gave Indian artists the leverage to fashion their own identity. This was less easy with academic naturalism, the art most unequivocally identified with the triumphant Western empires. Because of the radical alternative to Western materialist rationalism proposed by Western artists such as Kandinsky, colonial artists felt an instinctive kinship with them. This questioning of ‘Western’ rationality across the world for diverse reasons prompts us to probe more deeply the global issues of cultural crossovers in our time. The particular formal aspects of the art of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Doesburg or Malevich had little impact on the Indian primitivists. Their artistic priorities were very different. Yet, as Kramrisch pointed out in the Bauhaus exhibition catalogue, the Bengali artists saw themselves making a common cause with them as anti-naturalists against academic art, as much as they shared their questioning of Western industrial capitalism. (Mitter 2007: 35) Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Kandinsky 1911) expressed these views from the Bauhaus end of the equation very clearly, where the mediation between his art and that of India was seen as being formed by the bridge of Theosophy, then something of a contemporary phenomenon and spiritual fad in Europe and amongst some Europeans in India. To cite Mitter again: “Because of its protean nature, with shifting meanings and significance, primitivism as a form of critical modernity offered rich and different possibilities to Indian artists” (Mitter 2007: 35). Mitter goes on to cite Rabindranath Tagore and his experiments in artistic and environmental education at Shantiniketan, Amrita Sher-Gil’s tragic vision of rural India and the attempted synthesis of art and politics by Jamini Roy as alternative visions of Indian identity in response to the modernization imposed by colonialism and the expanding industrialization of Indian society and economy. We see here, then, a complex flow of inter-mingling cultural and political agendas, including the interesting question of how the Bauhaus was “read” outside of its own original cultural context. For Japanese architects, the

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


Bauhaus seems to have been primarily a confirmation of their own cultural expectations, while providing an internationally prominent vehicle of modernity to be appropriated locally. However, for Indians, concerned more with the art than with the architecture of the Bauhaus, the non-representational possibilities embodied in the work of the Bauhaus artists and in their experiments with colour, provided a vehicle for the simultaneous critique of the academic painting associated with the colonial art schools and for the critique of colonialism itself through an undermining of its typical modes of representation. This was a means of incorporating the Indian desire for spirituality into art, a legitimation of the unity of art and craft and a provision of the cultural basis for a non-materialistic and anti-industrial form of what we might now term “development”. While it is not clear if Tagore actually met Gropius during his 1921 visit to Weimar, he certainly admired the latter’s notion of the integrated life as the basis for an artistic education and Gropius himself must have been aware of the attractions of Indian spirituality sweeping Germany as a solution to the moral crises of the Weimar Republic and of which Tagore himself was regarded as the greatest living embodiment. Tagore’s paintings were also displayed in major exhibitions in Berlin, Munich and Dresden as well as in Copenhagen, Geneva and as far away as Moscow, despite the fact that in the new USSR Tagore’s work was seen as Expressionist, a style not then in official favour. Tagore himself seems to have responded less to Gropius’s vision of the reform of industrial design than to the ideas of Johannes Itten, himself inspired by Eastern philosophy. In a letter to Otto Meyer dated 7 December 1921, the painter Oskar Schlemmer himself acknowledged that there were two strands in the makeup of the Weimar Bauhaus – one committed to the idea of progress and the reform of industrial design, the other drawing its inspiration from Eastern spirituality and expressed in the activities of Itten, Kandinsky and to a certain extent even Paul Klee.

Visions of modernism The tracing of the influence of the Bauhaus in Asia throws up many deeply interesting questions. These include the vectors of artistic influence and their impact outside of their original context, and indeed, from an art historical point of view the significance of such influence. The British art historian W.G. Archer, who dismissed Gaganendranath Tagore as “un cubist manqué” (Archer 1959: 112), as opposed to those who might see his work as not so much derivative as the appropriation and reinterpretation of an emerging Western art form (even as Braque and Picasso had themselves drawn on African traditional carvings seen by them in what is now the Musée de l’Homme in Paris), has raised this question in a critical form as it applies to Indian art. Rarely, however, is the same criticism made of Japanese painting in the post-Meiji restoration period (1868–1912), when Western art and in


Cases in point

particular the discovery of oil painting was having a major impact on Japanese art; a difference to be explained, perhaps in part, by the emotional bonds between Britain and its former South Asian colonies, bonds for the most part lacking between Britain and Japan, whose historical connection is quite different. Another clear difference is that, whereas Japanese modernist art was the appropriation of Western techniques often applied to Japanese subjects, Indian modernism, with its rejection of the historicist narrative of the art of imperialism and its local imitators, was a critique of colonialism expressed through the valorization of peasant culture, the exaltation of the local and quotidian as opposed to an urban, capitalist, hierarchical and individualized conception of modernization. In Japan, modernism, and its successor post-modernism, seems to have provided a confirmation of what were believed to be already existing cultural traits, while providing a new visual vocabulary for expressing them in a modernist and hence internationalist form. However, in India, modernism provided a new, flexible and radical aesthetic language which allowed Indian artists to critique colonialism and its developmental implications (many of which have paradoxically been adopted by the contemporary Indian state), while situating themselves in a larger context of global modernity. Tagore, himself a truly global figure, played a major role as a consequence, not only in the cultural life of Bengal, but as the key mediator between India and Western modernity as represented by the Bauhaus. His 1921 visit to Weimar had huge implications for the impact of artistic modernity in India, consequences that are still working their way out in the artistic and design life of India (unlike in Japan, for example, which Tagore visited in 1916 and again in 1924 where he met Okakura Kakuzo and prominent Japanese artists). Tagore himself on his first visit seems to have been mostly influenced by Japanese painting techniques which he incorporated into his own art, and on his second was mostly preoccupied with lecturing the Japanese on what he (rightly) saw as being the encroaching militarization and fascism beginning to pervade Japanese society and politics. He certainly does not appear to have attempted to introduce them to the Bauhaus and its ideas, although his own view of art underwent a radical shift between his two visits as a result of his exposure to the Bauhaus in 1921. In reflecting on the role of the Bauhaus in attempting to create a harmony of the arts in which a common code of aesthetics could be applied equally to architecture, painting, sculpture, textiles, furniture and metalware, the Indian artist and art critic Pran Nath Mago points out that unlike the Indian “primitivists”, the Bauhaus did not reject either the machine or mass production, but rather sought a new design concept relevant to the emergent means of production in the 1920s, one related to the seminal idea of the “artist-craftsman” (Mago 2001: 3). He goes on to suggest that in the Indian context, the integration of arts and crafts has always been a prominent characteristic of the cultural scene, and hence the role of the Bauhaus was

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


less to introduce the idea of a unifying aesthetic than as the vehicle of a new form of integration, one which linked India to a universalizing discourse. The vernacular as a source of inspiration is prominent in India because those sources are so close to all contemporary practices, including architecture as exemplified in the work of the Indian architect Charles Correa and expressed in works of his such as the Jawahar Kala Kendra. This is an arts centre in Jaipur in which “The architecture is derived from a geometric depiction of the cosmic order” (Lim and Beng 1998: 67), the result being a remarkable blend of the traditional and a Bauhaus style Cubist modernism that works well in its landscape and climate. The notion of the “traditional” is of course open to interrogation here. As we now well know, it too is invented and represents a strategic device for, amongst other things, marking of identities. It is as such an imaginary, and in the Indian context was in large part the construct of the cultural vanguard, amongst whom artists, especially in Bengal, played a key role. Although inherently a conservative category, it is also a device of resistance and opposition. We see in the Indian case a fascinating dialectic at work between competing notions of “tradition” – those of Tagore, of Gandhi, whose ideas of craft work and the role of art in the independence struggle differed substantially from those of Tagore (Parel 2006: 157–73) – that of the internationally known art historian and aesthetician A.K. Coomaraswamy and that of the practicing artists, and the impact of modernism, also adopted as an oppositional category both to academic painting and to the colonialism which it represented and from which it largely derived. As we have seen, largely under the impact of the Bauhaus exhibition of 1922, Rabindranath Tagore moved in the direction of a non-representational art drawing on local themes and Jamini Roy adopted a characteristic formalism that paradoxically saw “primitivism”, or the Indian folk tradition, as the way beyond both the historicism and Orientalism of the Bengal school of painters and as a way of appropriating modernism as a critical device in opposition to colonial academicism. As Geeta Kapur puts it: [R]ather than the canonical, it is the romantic designation of culture that gains ground in India. It is in a sense the more projective, utopian dimension. It is in line with the modern – the romantic tradition is a direct antecedent of the modern in Europe. And it allows non-systematic or intuitive interpretation of traditions with two quite opposite options: the option of finding elective affinities at the level of feeling; but also of triggering more anarchic disjunctions, of loosening and then upturning the forms of tradition. (Kapur 2002: 16) Significantly, this utopian dimension, which for Gandhi took the form of an indigenous socialism based on the self-sufficiency and integrity of peasant


Cases in point

communities, for many cosmopolitan Indians took the form of a more international and Marxist form of socialism. Whereas Kapur suggests that “In envisaging socialist internationalism, modernism plays a mediating role” (Kapur 2002:19), we might rather suggest that “In envisaging modernism, socialism plays a mediating role”. The socialism and radical politics of the Bauhaus and in particular its student body after the move to Dessau should not be underestimated as part of its impact – being in fact the political implications of its radicalism and utopianism in design and art and its necessarily oppositional stance towards the growing reactionary and fascist character of German politics towards the end of the Weimar Republic. Modernity potentially linked Indian artists not only to the creative avantgarde, but also to a much wider internationalism of liberatory ambitions. Again, in Geeta Kapur’s words: [I]n India the progressive element in the programme of the metropolitan (or simply urban) artists is once again mediated via nationalist aspirations, or the promise in existential and political terms for self-determination. Taken in the direction of modernization, this leads the cultural aspirations of what now comes to be called, in liberationist terminology, a Third World polity towards a more comprehensive, more radical, more sympathetic international formation. Calling themselves Progressives, several generations of Indian artists, including writers, seek to represent the people’s voice – even if this be a rhetorical (or perhaps more correctly, emblematic) stand. (Kapur 2002: 18) Indeed, even those who have been previously interpreted as representing simply a form of nationalism, such as Abanindranath Tagore, may in the light of this be re-visualized as engaged in a complex encounter with both the pre-modern or “traditional” aspects of Indian society and culture, and with colonialism as the larger political context in which they of necessity worked. In Abanindranath’s case this led, if one follows Debashish Banerji’s argument, to an alternate modernism manifested through painting, one expressly Indian, but as authentic as any of the other forms of competing modernism (Banerji 2010). Modernism and an internationalism outside of the colonial stand, then, in a complex relationship to each other. In India this took the form of resistance to imperialism, to academic and inauthentic art and for many, particularly those inspired by Gandhi and later by Nehru, the search for a form of socialism that would suit the Indian soil. Modernism provided one of the vehicles by which this might be achieved, at least in the cultural sphere. In Japan the equation was somewhat different: a complex and perpetually renegotiated relationship with the West – not with its political domination (colonialism, although this was rightly feared), but with its

Modernism, the colonial and the negotiation of representation


technology, its philosophy and its religions (and specifically Christianity), seen against the background of Japan’s huge cultural debt to China: the source of Buddhism, the Japanese written script, much of its art and architecture and a great deal of its political culture and ethics. The embracing of modernism in the 1920s (in architecture, painting, jazz, coffee, fashions, dance) and the anti-modernist projects of the 1940s can be seen as on-going moves in this permanent cultural dance. If in the 1920s Japan was finally separating itself from Chinese cultural hegemony, by the 1940s the cause was seen to be liberation from Western intellectual hegemony, something taken seriously enough to be seen as a just cause for war. This cultural dance is far from over and is still reflected in debates about the internationalization of Japanese society, policies towards immigration, the role of foreign languages in Japanese education and, in the art world, distinctions between those artists who paint in the traditional Japanese style and those who have adopted a modernist international style (and the same may be said of architects). The political, social and philosophical backgrounds of the two cases are thus very different (for the Japanese case and its responses to modernity see Blocker and Starling 2001). What perhaps unites them, or did so in the 1920s, was the attempt to appropriate modernism, a process in which the Bauhaus played a seminal role. So, too, did an interesting relationship between Japan and India via the works of Okakura, whose notions of Eastern spirituality were transmitted through Rabindranath Tagore and through the work and visits to India of the leading artist Yokoyama Taikan, who also met Tagore on the latter’s 1916 visit to Japan. Mix these elements with the discovery of Kandinsky’s writings on spirituality in art, the rediscovery of Indian folk art as a resource and inspiration for the contemporary art of the 1920s and the appropriation of Bauhaus modernism as a tool to critique colonialism rather than as an identification with European domination, and we see what a heady mixture of elements, interpretations and political strategies were at play in the Indian art of the period (Clark 1998: 81). This recognition of the multiplicity of factors at work also helps us to move beyond the simple and simplistic arguments of the “anxiety of influence” (Bloom 1997) to use Harold Bloom’s celebrated phrase, or the “Picasso manqué” charge levelled against Gaganendranath Tagore’s excursions into Cubism. As John Clark puts it in relation to Japan, “What appears derivative from a Euramerican perspective, privileging the formal solutions to new problems of art discourse from outside, has its quite originating avant-garde function within that Japanese context” (Clark 1998: 225). In suggesting that conflict over the position of the avant-garde in Asian countries is often in fact an ideological dispute about who has the authority to choose what best suits a local artistic-political situation, Clark goes on to argue that [T]his conflict also ignores the relativising function of the avant-garde, both to the previously transferred discourses, and as members of an


Cases in point interstitial, cross-cultural and trans-national group of artists who share ideas and knowledge between themselves. Thus the introduction of German Expressionist prints in Japan in 1914, or Bauhaus works in India in 1922, should be seen as the functioning of the avant-garde as a trans-cultural group in communicating among themselves, as well as to the art cultures in which they were locally placed. In the case of the Japanese artists who briefly played an active if minor part in the European avant-garde in the 1920s [for example Murayama Tomoyoshi], it is not possible to characterize their work as derivative when they were actors in an international movement where cultural origin provided only a context of origination, not of authentication. (Clark 1998: 225)

The Bauhaus has thus never remained within its own geographical originating boundaries, both because of the influence that it exerted through its own originality in art, design, textiles, furniture and architecture, and even more sociologically significantly, through the diaspora of its faculty and students. This began with Gropius’ own defection to re-enter private practice, and expanded through ever widening circles of migration – Kandinsky briefly back to Russia, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe to the US, Josef and Anni Albers to Black Mountain College, Moholy-Nagy to Chicago, Hannes Meyer to Mexico City, Klee in his last years to Switzerland. Paradoxically, although architecture was added only late to the curriculum of the Bauhaus and even then at the insistence of the students, it is largely through architecture that the Bauhaus is known in the Western world – largely through the work of Gropius and Mies van der Rohe and their students and associates. In Japan this, too, was the case and it is through its architectural and design innovations that the Bauhaus is most remembered and applauded. In India however, with its very different climate, culture and political context, it was through painting that the Bauhaus entered the artistic consciousness of the sub-continent, not only for its stylistic and technical innovations, but as the vehicle for a critical and even utopian modernism that could challenge both the hegemony of academic and Orientalist art. As the bearer of a transnational avant-garde as much political as it was artistic, it was as such the basis of a non-Eurocentric but genuinely cosmopolitan alternative to the hierarchies of oppression and domination that had long bound India and were at that moment rising once again to a tragic crescendo in Europe.

Chapter 10

Art in the colonial encounter Cultural imperialism, symbolic resistance and the creation of modern Korean art

It is usually assumed that relationships between nations are largely managed through political and economic channels, and to a lesser extent through tourism. But in practice many other levels of relationship exist – mutual religious influences, the spread of fashions and cuisines, shared popular cultures, friendships and sport, to name a few of the major ones. These modes of relationship in turn are shaped, influenced and even distorted by history – histories of colonialism for example, memories of past historical traumas, imperial patterns of education imposed on the colonized and the spread and use of languages, English in India, French in Vietnam, Spanish throughout most of Latin America, that continue to shape subjectivities long after any formal domination has ceased. One of the least explored modes of such relationship is art, visual art in particular, although music, and the spread of popular music specifically, has attracted more widespread attention (Hesmondhalgh 1998). It has been mostly the negative aspects of such culture contact that has attracted scholarly attention, especially in the form of the theory of cultural imperialism, often deriving from the work of Edward Said and his celebrated theory of Orientalism (Said 1985, 1993), which firmly located culture at the heart of the relationships and mutual representations of the colonizers and the colonized, although in Said’s case it is literature rather than the visual arts that form the basis of his argument. In the years since Said’s seminal Orientalism was published (originally in 1978), however, a more nuanced and complex view of the relationship between culture and colonialism and the many ambiguities that they embody has been slowly emerging, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the relationship between Japan and its former colony of Korea. This case is of particular comparative interest as it represents not a case of Western domination of an Asian or African country, but the colonization of one Asian country by another. Although the lifespan of the Japanese empire was short and its geographical spread limited (to Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan, parts of Micronesia and its brief and ultimately disastrous incursion into Southeast Asia during the Second World War), its subsequent rise to economic power has created long term impacts on, and penetration into,


Cases in point

those former colonies, not only through industrial, technological and consumer mechanisms, but also very much through culture. This penetration has had paradoxical effects. As is well known, for at least a decade and certainly since the 2002 jointly Japan–Korea hosted FIFA World Cup and the enormous popularity of the Korean romantic movie Winter Sonata (Kyoul yonga in Korean or Fuyu no sonata in Japanese), Japan has been swept by a “Korea Boom”. Korean movies now fill considerable shelf space in local Japanese video rental stores, Korean-made anime occupy considerable air-time on Japanese television and bookstores stock numerous magazine titles on Korean movies, film stars and “K-Pop” music and posters and pin-up photographs of (mostly male) Korean actors are widely available. Enrolment in Korean language classes has greatly increased in Japan, Korean food is popular and Korean restaurants regularly packed and Seoul is routinely full of Japanese tourists taking advantage of the closeness of the neighbouring country and the lower prices of consumer goods there (on the World Cup and its long term impact see Whang 2003). An increasing number of Korean authors are now translated and read in Japan and the phenomenal rise of Korea from economic and physical ruin after the Korean War to within the top 12 world economies has fuelled intense interest in Japan and even fears of competition from its immensely hardworking work force (some Japanese corporations are now even hiring young Korean managers arguing that they are better trained, more motivated and harder working than their Japanese local counterparts). In Korea itself a more nuanced attitude prevails, as memories of colonialism are still alive amongst the older generation and are reinforced constantly through the teaching of history in schools. Nevertheless, Japanese is widely spoken amongst Koreans likely to come into contact with Japanese tourists, especially in shops, restaurants (many of which now have Japanese language menus), amongst taxi drivers and certainly amongst hotel front-desk staff, and since the post-World Cup diplomatic thaw more Japanese popular culture is available and Japan is a popular tourist and even educational destination for young Koreans less influenced by historical memories. It is not uncommon now in Japan to see public signs (in railway stations and on trains for example) in Korean and Chinese as well as in Japanese and English. It is clear that the media and cultural exchanges have played major roles in orchestrating this more positive relationship between the two neighbouring countries, and in this chapter I will explore alternative forms of international dialogue, not at the economic and political levels, but through visual culture, and in particular art, a largely unexplored dimension (as opposed that is to popular culture, especially anime and film) of the communication between these often antagonistic but historically and culturally related societies. This in turn will suggest new methodologies for exploring colonial and post-colonial relationships through art and a more nuanced reading of the ways in which, while political conflict can persist at some levels, at the

Art in the colonial encounter


same time cultural contacts and dialogue can flourish simultaneously at others, and suggest ways in which visuality builds bridges where more logo-centric approaches undermine them. Two interesting examples of a nucleus of this approach already exist in the literature, although neither fully draws out the theoretical implications of its own position. The first is Bert Winther-Tamaki’s Art in the Encounter of Nations (Winther-Tamaki 2001), which explores the inter-relationship of Japanese and US art in the early post-war years, and in particular Japanese responses to Abstract Expressionism, especially in the work of the painters Okada Kenzo and Hasegawa Saburo who moved to the States. It also investigates US artists’ response to Japanese calligraphy, especially in the work of Mark Tobey and Franz Kline, Japanese potters’ discovery of the sculptural possibilities of clay and the sculpture and landscape gardening of a major mediating figure: the Japanese-American Isamu Noguchi (WintherTamaki 2001). From the Japanese side, Winther-Tamaki’s main theoretical conclusion is that the radical innovations in both calligraphy and pottery in the post-war period were occasioned not by any kinds of indigenous evolution, but as responses to the threat of Euro-American modernity. In many ways this is a strange argument: Japanese artists had been exposed to such modernity since at least the early Meiji period (commencing in 1868), and had adapted to it both stylistically and in terms of technique (the adoption of oil painting being a prime example). Politically it is true that Japanese intellectuals had struggled with the problem of “overcoming” Western modernity during the immediate pre-war years and during the war itself, culminating in the celebrated concept of kindai no chokoku “overcoming the modern”, that perceived the problem as not so much the geographical expansion of the Western powers, but more significantly of their epistemological hegemony (Hiromatsu 1989; Clammer 2001: 78–94). But this problem was not a new one and certainly not a specifically post-war one, in which the trauma of defeat and the massive problems of reconstruction, the loss of the traditional “Other” in the form of Korea and China and the new and unprecedented opportunities for travel, cultural exploration and exposure to international artistic movements without fear of political criticism or attracting the attentions of the thought-police, created spaces in which new and rapid artistic innovation could take place. See, for example, the catalogue of the 1965–7 travelling exhibition of new Japanese painting and sculpture that toured major US galleries during those two years (Museum of Modern Art 1966). The simultaneous loss of the cultural ‘Other’, the at least temporary de-legitimation of Nihonga, or traditional Japanese style painting, in the wake of defeat and the sudden liberating exposure to foreign and in particular North American artistic movements and innovations proved profoundly liberating. But whereas it is easy to give primacy to the latter factor, the first one has received less attention. This lacunae has now fortunately and fluently


Cases in point

been remedied by another recent text – E. Taylor Atkins’ detailed study of Korean culture, and in particular musical culture, during the Japanese colonial period (Atkins 2010), in which the complex ambiguities of the colonial relationship are explored in a nuanced and careful way. Little, however, is said about the visual arts, and this gap I hope in part to remedy in this chapter. Atkins’ book examines in detail the cultural relationships between Japan and Korea from the annexation of Korea as a Japanese colony in 1910 until the defeat of Japan in 1945 and the collapse of its empire. He suggests rightly that the “Korea Wave” (Kanryu in Japanese, Hallyu in Korean) sweeping Japan in the 1990s was the second such boom, and that the common view of Japanese cultural policy in colonial Korea as “cultural genocide” is overstated. In fact a much more nuanced and complex cultural relationship between the two countries existed. For many officials, scholars, artists, collectors and members of the Japanese public, Korean culture held a considerable appeal, both for its own sake (Korean pottery and ceramics have long been held in very high regard in Japan, for example, and Korean carpenters and craftsmen were responsible for the building of some of Japan’s most notable shrines and temples) and because, colonial access to Korea gave Japanese an opportunity to meditate intensively on their own historical and modern identity … The Japanese gaze on Koreana articulated anti-modern ambivalence, offering concrete images of pre-modern ‘others’ with whom the modern ‘self ’’ could be readily contrasted. Contradiction and nostalgia were thus defining aspects of Japanese colonial discourse. (Atkins 2010: 3) Here, amongst other sources, he builds on the work of the anthropologist of colonialism Nicholas Thomas (1994), who has argued persuasively that colonialism should not be primarily interpreted as an economic and political process driven by ideas of racism and progress, but rather as a cultural process, a “self-fashioning” on the part of the colonizers and often critical in spirit, as indeed proves to be true of much of the anthropology produced internationally during the days of high colonialism (Asad 1973). Atkins’ emphasis, however, is on the Japanese cultural “gaze” towards Korea, but not the other way around. In fact, Koreans had been coming to Japan for decades (indeed for centuries if one includes the earlier generations of craftspeople) and Fukuzawa Yukichi, probably Japan’s most prominent public intellectual of the Meiji period (1868–1912) was responsible for bringing a number of progressive Koreans critical of the reactionary and Chinese dominated Choson regime to Japan to study the Meiji model of modernization (Atkins 2010: 18–19). The prominent aesthete and art critic Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889–1961) was also a trenchant critic of Japanese

Art in the colonial encounter


policies in Korea and reminded the contemporary Japanese that traditional Japanese art and architecture were heavily indebted to the Koreans. The “cultural rule” (bunka seiji) that Japan attempted to impose on Korea, following the shock administered to the Japanese authorities by the March 1919 uprising against the imposition of Japanese colonial policies and its perceived suppression of Korean language and culture, manifested itself in a new multi-volume history of Korea, numerous ethnographic monographs, anthologies of Korea folklore, heritage preservation laws to prevent underground trafficking in antiquities, the organization of the Yi royal family’s art treasures into a national museum and the organization of an art exhibition, amongst other efforts (Atkins 2010: 48–9). This was a process in which “Koreana offered aesthetic pleasure, spiritual sustenance, and moral admonishment to reflective Japanese for whom modernity was at best a mixed blessing” (Atkins 2010: 51). Central to this argument is a not fully expanded conception of modernity. As was mentioned on p. 144, Japanese intellectuals, prominent amongst whom were the philosophers of the so called Kyoto School of philosophy, were struggling to define the Japanese response to the form of modernity embraced enthusiastically by some during the Meiji and Taisho periods, including many artists. The perception, however, that this form of modernity was essentially Westernization in disguise was threatening to what might be termed an early version of the “Asian values” debates that swept much of Southeast Asia in the 1980s and later – a debate always framed in terms of Asian values/Westernization (with the latter being variously defined as decadence, technology, political hegemony, cultural imperialism or individualism: see for example Clammer 1993; Sheridan 1999, or amongst the even more classical literature Dumont 1986). This debate permeated many levels of Japanese society, not least its artistic community, where the issue became at least in part the tension between those favouring Yoga or Western style (largely oil) painting, and those remaining adherents of Nihonga or traditional Japanese style painting, even in its modernized form as practised by such artists as Yokoyama Taikan, Hishida Shunso, Saigo Kogetsu or Shimomura Kanzan (Weston 2004). One of the mechanisms through which this tension was mediated was through the organizing of both private and state sponsored art exhibitions. This was a tradition that went back to at least 1877, when the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce organized the first of its exhibitions to promote Japanese products, including painting, textiles and ceramics, and later organized in 1882 the first state exhibition of painting alone, the Naikoku kaiga kyoshinkai, or Domestic Painting Competitive Exposition, a tradition that, with variations, has continued down to the present day. The state indeed played a central role in the promotion of art, albeit for largely nationalistic reasons. This policy was carried over to the colonies: principally to Korea, but also to a lesser extent to Taiwan. Here let me quote Atkins on this subject:


Cases in point [I]n addition to its self-appointed roles as custodian of Korean heritage and protector of the dharma, the Government-General also acted as patron of the arts. As in the metropole, where the most prestigious art show was the state-sponsored Imperial Art Exhibition (Teikoku bijutsu tenrankai, or Teiten), an official Korean Art Exhibition (Choson misul chollamhoe, or Sonjon) became the principle venue for visual artists in the colony (many of whom were Japanese settlers) from 1922 to 1944. This annual exhibit which the art historian Hyeshin Kim calls the ‘jewel in the crown of the Cultural Policy’, was one of the most conspicuous assertions of GGC authority over cultural life, an effort to divert attention from independence efforts, to oversee the content of publically viewed art, and to reward compliant artists whose work resonated with colonial prerogatives. Its intent also was to compete with the Koreaninitiated exhibits (hyopchon) sponsored by the Calligraphy and Painting Association (Sohwa hyophoe) between 1921 and 1936. (Atkins 2010: 122)

As a colonial policy, this makes sense. But did it work in the ways intended? If the assumption is that it was simply a means of socio-cultural control, the answer might be yes, but artistically? Then the answer might be a rather qualified no, a more subtle issue to which we will now turn. In her analysis of representations of women in the national art exhibitions during the colonial period, Hyeshin Kim (2003) stresses several important characteristics of these shows. The first is the depiction of “submissive figures in traditional dress” and the generally lonely and impoverished character of the colonial landscape. The second is that all members of the first generation of modern Korean artists studied in Japanese art schools or as apprentices to established Japanese artists in the metropolitan country. The third is that, stylistically, this colonial art education was liberating for Korean artists, who through these means were exposed to the latest European Post-Impressionist styles then being taught in Japanese art schools (Portal 2000: 169–70). While, from the colonial administration’s point of view, the Sonjon exhibitions were an important indicator both of the progress of Korean art under Japanese tutelage as compared with the ossification of the old Yi era, and of the modernizing influence of Japan through its enlightened educational system, the actual situation contains rather more ambiguities than appear at first sight. While Korean folk arts were admired for their simplicity and natural beauty (not altogether without ideological motives as this simplicity was supposed to arise from the lack of artifice and aesthetic self-awareness which were supposed to characterize Korean craftspeople), allegedly representing the pre-modernity and hence the nostalgic appreciation of the more sophisticated Japanese such as the previously mentioned Yanagi, the so called fine arts were a different matter. For a variety of reasons, colonial and totalitarian regimes have always feared the arts and sought to subject them to strict

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state control, something as true of the colonizing Japanese as it was of imperialist and fascist governments throughout the period of modernity. But exactly how and why in the Japanese-Korean case needs unpacking in more detail, and this we will now proceed to attempt to do.

Modern art in the colonial gaze The training of indigenous artists within a colony has always been a highly politicized issue and one fraught with symbolic ambiguities. This was very apparent in India, for example, under British rule, where art schools were founded in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Lahore and private academies also came into existence, including the celebrated Kala Bhavan at the Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan in rural Bengal, founded by the poet, painter and public intellectual (and first Asian winner of the Nobel Prize in literature), Rabindranath Tagore (Mitter 2007). The problem, from the point of view of the British authorities, was that in encouraging local art education they were also creating hotbeds of nationalism and anti-colonialism, albeit expressed through symbolic means. This situation the Japanese avoided by ensuring that the education of modern artists (as opposed to craftspeople) was carried out in Japan, Japan itself being the recipient of many of the latest tendencies in European art, especially in painting and sculpture. Korean artists or art students were consequently placed in an ambiguous and contradictory situation: trained in the latest Western techniques, they were none the less expected to exhibit in the Sonjon shows in Korea not in the imperial or Bunten (Ministry of Education organized annual art shows in Tokyo) exhibitions, and were likewise expected to represent in their paintings the simplicity and primitiveness of Korean life and society. While, indeed, this allowed the colonized, including colonized women, to be “seen” as Hyeshin Kim (2003) puts it, they were seen in a stereotyped way that had to conform to Japanese expectations of the representation of their colonial subjects. This contrasts strongly with India, where an artistic discourse of primitivism was used to construct an anti-colonial utopia based on the depiction of village life and traditional religious activities. The championing of folk art by such major painters as Jamini Roy, who incorporated such motifs into his own work, was thus a political act: a statement of artistic integrity that was also a symbolic blow against the industrializing and commercializing tendencies of colonialism in India (Mitter 2007: 112–22). This situation the Japanese were not prepared to allow. Not only was modern art education concentrated in the metropolis (Korean traditional arts were taught at Keijo Imperial University – the forerunner of today’s Seoul National University – and at a number of, significantly, technical colleges), but by making the Sonjon exhibitions the main route to professional advancement, effectively the nature and content of Korean modern art was tightly controlled. The first Korean to study modern Western art at Tokyo


Cases in point

Art University, Ko Uidong, returned to Korea after graduation and with a group of traditional Korean artists founded the Korean Painters and Writers Association (Choson sohwa hyophoe chollamhoe or Hyopchon) exhibition. However, within a year strong political pressure was put on the Hyopchon artists, a significant group in what Hyeshin Kim calls the “sparsely populated Korean art world” (Kim 2003: 143) to defect to the Sonjon, the exhibition that conferred cultural legitimacy in the colonial context and favours and advancement from the (Japanese) cultural authorities. Indeed, all the judges were Japanese, some with no connection to the art world, with the sole exception of Yi Wanyong, a pro-Japanese government official and the Korean signator to the annexation agreement between Korea and Japan. Only as late as 1937 were Korean artists whose work had been consistently shown in the Sonjon permitted to become “judging assistants” and only three ever attained to even this modest title (Kim 2003: 144). The Japanese cultural authorities thus maintained a monopoly on access to the main public outlet for Korean art, through the carrot of enticing Korean artists with the status and recognition conferred by becoming a “recommended” or “participating” artist in the Sonjon and the stick of excluding any art that did not conform to the expected Sonjon style. This policy effectively created a cadre of pro-Japanese artists amongst native Koreans who benefited from the cultural policy, while salting the shows with the work of Japanese artists (for example Asakawa Noritaka) resident in Korea. Critical representations of Japanese rule were consequently very effectively banished. But beneath this apparatus of cultural control other more subtle forces were at work, some never identified in scholarly investigations so far and which need further illumination. One instance of this can be seen in the life and work of the artist Chun Kyung-ja. Born Chun Ok-ja in 1924 in rural Korea, after graduation from Gwangju Public Women’s High School and against the advice of her father, who wanted her to study medicine, and against the strong opposition of her Japanese home-room teacher, she succeeded in entering the Tokyo Women’s College of Art in 1941. Despite the wartime conditions, she graduated in 1944 and returned to Korea and married and after independence in 1946 returned to her old school as a teacher, moving after some successful exhibitions to a post at Chosun University and from there in 1954 to the well known Hongik art university. In 1963 and again in 1965 she had individual shows in Tokyo and around that time began a lifetime of travelling in Europe, the Caribbean, India, Southeast Asia and Latin America. In 1998, at the age of 76, she moved to New York where she has since resided (Seoul Museum of Art 2004). Her early art school education in Japan provided the basis for a successful teaching and exhibiting career at home and extensive travel, images of which she brought back and incorporated into her painting in Korea, together with her celebrated paintings of snakes and her frequent depictions of women. Here we see an instance of colonial foundations leading to a successful post-colonial

Art in the colonial encounter


career, including Chun’s returning to Japan to paint scenes from her former place of education. Other artists following a similar route include Kim Whanki (1913–74), born in Korea and educated in Japan, who later worked in both Paris and New York, and, in neighbouring Taiwan, Chen Chin, who also studied at the Tokyo Women’s University of Art, where she studied Japanese style painting and exhibited in both the Teiten or Imperial Art Exhibition and the Bunten (Ministry of Education exhibition) as well as in the Taiwan Art Exhibition, the local equivalent to the Sonjon in Korea. On her return to Taiwan she painted a number of subjects, including the Taiwanese aborigines, seen by the Japanese as symbolic of Taiwan (Fukuoka Asian Art Museum 2007: 23). Other much younger Korean and Taiwanese artists such as Cho Duckhyun (born 1957) and Wu Tienchang (born 1956) continue to comment in their paintings, collages and installations on the conditions and consequences of Japanese colonialism (Fukuoka Asian Art Museum 2007: 74–5). Indeed, while formal colonialism may be over, its long-term effects – on education, geo-political divisions, militarization and US military occupation and gender relations – linger, and may be reinforced by the contemporary pressures of globalization: issues that have attracted the attention of such artists as Suh Do Ho, born in Korea in 1962 but educated in art schools in the US (Kim 2009) or his contemporary, the performance artist Kimsooja (Baas and Jacob 2004: 212–19). Others, such as the influential artist and art theorist Lee U-fan, were active in the 1960s in promoting artistic interchange between Korea and Japan, not only by promoting exhibitions, but perhaps even more importantly by establishing aesthetic links between Korean artistic trends (in particular the so called Korean Monochromatic school of painting) and Japanese contemporary art, such that Korean art came to have a significant influence on emerging Japanese styles and especially the Monoha style. We consequently see an interesting and complex route of cultural transmission: from the West to Japan in terms of modernism in styles and techniques of painting, sculpture and print-making, and from Japan to Korea by way of the metropolitan colonial art schools. Then the subsequent migration of many of those artists to the West, bringing with them both Korean and Japanese themes filtered through Western ideas of modernism, and in turn, as with Lee U-fan, subsequently influencing Japanese contemporary art. Meanwhile, the influence of Korean folk arts on Japan, especially in the field of ceramics, has continued to be strong. What Japanese art schools thought they were transmitting to their benighted colonies as the latest form of modernism was in fact filtered through the Japanese experience of assimilating Western art. In Korea, symbolic resistance to Japan could be accomplished either by the practice of traditional arts or by practising Western art. What the Japanese thought of as the Sonjon style was in reality Western style painting in a complex cultural disguise. For the Japanese, nostalgic longings could be satisfied either by contemplating the primitive Korean ‘Other’ as Atkins


Cases in point

(2010) suggests, or through the practice of Nihonga. The paradoxical embrace of Western artistic modernity through the adoption of oil painting by some sectors of the Japanese artistic community, and its simultaneous rejection by others by means of their cleaving to Nihonga, suggests that the central issue, artistic as well as political, was for Japan the question of modernism and its negotiation. In India, modernism was embraced as a critique of colonialism – as a reaction to the academic and Orientalist painting being taught in the colonial art schools as the accepted style – while in Japan it was perceived as a hydra, a many headed creature benevolent and creative in some aspects, dangerously destructive of traditional cultures in others. By exporting modernity to Korea, Japan was both undermining the supposed characteristics of its traditional ‘Other’ and sowing the seeds of rebellion, since once Korean artists had modernity, they no longer needed Japan: its sources in Europe were then open to them. It was largely through institutional means that the Japanese attempted to keep the lid on this dangerously boiling pot, and especially through the mechanism of the Sonjon; for, once having let the genii out of the bottle, it is hard to get it to go back in.

Modernity and its vicissitudes In many texts of art history, modernism is assumed, implicitly if not explicitly, to be a product of the West (e.g. Read 1997; Bothe and Fohl 1999). This assumption is shared by a great deal of the sociological literature too, the outcome being a very Euro-centric view of very significant issues such as the emergence of modern individualism and concepts of self and identity, even or especially when aspects of visual culture are taken into account (for example Jay 1992). In fact, rather like capitalism or colonialism, the term should really be read in the plural rather than the singular, for whatever the ultimate place of origin, a persuasive argument can be made that there are actually many modernisms. Japan has a paradoxical role in the global history, or rather histories, of modernism, even as it does in its contemporary relationship to globalization (Clammer 1998, 1999). In Herbert Read’s (Read 1997) widely read history of modern painting only four Asian artists are illustrated, none in colour, out of well over 300 illustrations (Inoue Youichi, Arakawa, Zao Wou-ki and Kenzo Okada), and only two others are mentioned by name (the contemporary artists Ono Yoko and the Korean video artist Nam June Paik). And these are all, significantly, Japanese, Chinese or Koreans. No Indians or Africans appear at all, and very few Latin Americans despite the evidence of a vibrant art world in South and Central America and in parts of the Caribbean, especially Cuba (Sullivan 2000). As John Clark argues and illustrates at length (Clark 1998), there is indeed a modern Asian art, and it should not be read as simply derivative from Western modernism, although certainly what he calls “occluded spaces where cultural transfer, assimilation and transformation have actually taken

Art in the colonial encounter


place” (Clark 1998: 12) exist. Artistically, and no doubt in other ways too, (in technology, fashion and institutions) Japan is what might be called a first order “occluded space”, one in which transfer, assimilation and certainly transformation of Western techniques and styles did occur as one of the significant cultural dimensions of Meiji and Taisho modernization. Korea in this model is a second order space: one which received its initial (modern) artistic inspiration from the West by way of Japan. Once it was possible to by-pass Japan entirely after liberation in 1945, it was possible to go directly to the sources in Paris, New York and elsewhere, as many contemporary Korean artists indeed did and continue to do. But to say this is not to suggest that the art itself was second order or simply derivative: in fact in Korea, as in Japan, inspiration was derived from these freshly discovered artistic possibilities and tendencies, and blended with the native sensibilities, in particular the vibrant craft and traditional arts traditions. The results were often startlingly effective, as in Japan with the painting of artists such as Yokoyama Taikan, Yorozu Tetsugoro or Tsuchida Bakusen, a category of painting that Clark calls “Neo-traditional” (Clark 1998). For these reasons Clark argues that, like it or not, Japan cannot but be central to the study of modern Asian art: [J]apan will always be a member of the basic comparative set of variations in understanding modern Asian art because it has the longest and to date by far the most visibly documented series of modern artworks in Asia. Japan is an unavoidable comparator even if the empirical emphasis were to be elsewhere, say on China or India. (Clark 1998: 13) While modernity as usually understood in the arts may indeed have originated in Europe and Asian modernisms derived from it, those modernisms subsequently took their own trajectories. While these included assimilation of techniques and even virtual copying of Western themes and images, Asian modernisms took root in very different cultural and political contexts, as is apparent from India, Thailand and, of course, from both Japan and Korea. The impact, of course, flowed both ways, with many prominent Western artists borrowing in particular from Japanese art – Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Whistler, Van Gogh and the Nabis being amongst the best known – and with Japanese aesthetics having considerable impact on Art Nouveau, on European pottery and on architecture, particularly the work of the Austrian Richard Neutra and the German architect and founder-director of the enormously influential Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius (National Museum of Modern Art 1968). This impact also occasioned resistance, which in Japan often took the form of the stimulation of Nihonga and the continuing institutional division between Japanese style and Western style painters, although at the same time the advent of the latter’s techniques and themes


Cases in point

has had substantial influence on the former. The role of the art schools in assimilating, promoting and consolidating new trends has been of major importance, as a number of scholars (Clark 1998 :158–64; Weston 2004; Kaneko 1992) have noted, although none of them have explored the colonialist implications of these institutions for the advent of modernist art in Korea or Taiwan. But behind this modernity lies another factor that has rarely appeared in art historical discourse in its connection to colonialism – notably the role of religion, and in this context the place of Buddhism and Christianity. Both, of course, have appeared as major themes in the history of art itself, but hardly at all in the sociology of that art. As Victoria Weston ably documents: [B]uddhist art offered a compelling attraction for the painters: it was Japan’s analogue to the art of Catholicism and its centrality to European art history. Japanese Buddhism’s long history of sumptuous painting and ritual objects, rich in color, design, texture and effect, was a heritage Japanese painters could turn to with pride. (Weston 2004: 146) Certainly, but what of the socio-political context of this? Here again we become embroiled in ambiguities. In the inter-war years, Japanese scholars were active in promoting Buddhist studies as part of, in Jackie Stone’s words “an expression of Japan’s envisioned global role” (Stone 1990: 217). These studies, moreover, in many ways paralleled the assimilation of artistic modernism, for [A]t least three distinguishing characteristics of Japanese Buddhist studies may be found during this period. First, the new field of Buddhology emerged as an academic discipline independent of the Buddhist clergy and traditional sectarian Buddhist studies. Secondly, there was a complete absorption of modern Western scholastic methods, including philological and historical studies, textual analysis, and the interpretation of Buddhism in the light of such new disciplines as psychology, sociology, archaeology and comparative religion. Third, there was a massive effort at integration and systematization, including the collating, editing, and translation of texts. (Stone 1990: 217–18) But, significantly, while Japanese nationalist scholars now saw Japan as the self-appointed disseminator of Buddhism to the rest of the world (a role now indeed still taken on by some of the shin shukyo or “New Religions” in Japan), they drew in their historical and philological researches on India, China, Tibet, Central and Southeast Asia, everywhere except Korea, in fact the historical source of much of Japan’s Buddhism and its temple

Art in the colonial encounter


architecture. This has not passed un-noticed in the long Korean historical memory: in 1995, when to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the normalization of relations between the two countries, Japan issued a postage stamp with a design by Serizawa Keisuke based on Korean motifs, Korea issued, with some irony, a stamp showing the late sixth century Bodhisattva Maitreya. This was the first object to be enshrined as an official Japanese national treasure and is in the Koryu-ji temple in Kyoto, but it is of course Korean and sits in a temple almost certainly founded by an immigrant Korean clan. While leading Taisho era Buddhist scholars and activists such as Watanabe Kaigyoku were busy tracing Buddhist influence on the West (in such figures as Schopenhauer, Wagner, Goethe and Nietzsche) and promoting it as a means to both establish Japan’s unique identity and legitimize its leadership in Asia, it went un-noticed that Japanese art of the same period was not only indebted to the West, but also deeply influenced by the Buddhist art of Korea. But at the same time a countervailing influence was at work – very significantly in Korea and in a more subtle but nevertheless important way in Japan – notably the impact of Christianity (Kang 1987). This is a complex story and while the Japanese colonial authorities had to tolerate missionaries in Korea since they were largely of US origin and diplomatic considerations were involved, the evidence is that they certainly did not like them, seeing them as a source of Korean proto-nationalism, of creating a new sense of cosmopolitan identity amongst their colonial subjects, and, most annoyingly, creating an alternative to the Buddhist inspired pan-Asian cultural domination that Japan was seeking. Since Christianity had, and has, such a tiny following in Japan itself, a Korean Christian identity could not mesh in any way with a Japanese one. Any sense of nostalgia for a simpler version of their selves that, according to E. Taylor Atkins (2010), the Japanese sought in Korea, was obviously undermined and eroded by the rise of Christianity in Korea, something furthermore politically dangerous since its sources were outside of Japanese influence and the long-term international alliances, cultural, spiritual and political, that it might engender were quite unpredictable. Korean artists were not slow to exploit these ambiguities and an important strand of Korea art from the colonial period to the present has been Christian art or art drawing on Christian themes; themes that, while not being overtly political (and hence in the colonial period read as being anti-Japanese), certainly could reflect Korean suffering and a sense of a forthcoming redemption that had nothing to do with Japanese benevolence, but would come from quite different and more transcendental realms. Significant Korean Christian artists today include Kim Se Jung and Hong Chong Myung, and interestingly their work is often included in collections with the small community of Japanese Christian artists at work today such as Asano Takeji, Kosaka Keiji, Francis Nakayama or Kawakami Yoshie (Takanaka et al. 1980). Non-recognition of this factor has led many art historians of the art of the colonial period to read the pathos of much of the painting of that


Cases in point

period as reflecting either the representations desired by the Japanese judges of the major art shows or the sadness of the dominated, whereas in fact it frequently is a coded form of Christianity, a refraction if you like of Christian beliefs through colonized art expected to be read through the prism of Japanese political aesthetics. It is often forgotten, too, that many artists were not selected for showing in the annual Sonjon shows. For those who could not show in the alternative and Korean managed Hyopchon shows for whatever reasons, other means of dissemination and exhibition had to be found, via the few private art galleries, churches, private homes and similar means. As it was politically impossible to form a systematic Salon des Refusés on the lines of French artists who formed an independent exhibition for those rejected by the official salons in Korea, other more subtle means of showing what was actually ideologically subversive art had to be found. This could be done either through remaining outside of the Sonjon system altogether or for most of the time, or by incorporating into the paintings themselves motifs that actually undermined the hegemony of the Japanese colonial art system; Christian themes being one way to do this, a means that could not be explicitly denied without bringing down the wrath of the foreign missionary community and their powerful American and European backers. It is often forgotten that this was true in Japan too: many artists were not selected for showing or did not submit work to the Bunten or Imperial art shows, including early Fauvists such as Yoruzu Tetsugoro, or chose to go abroad (usually to Paris) and stayed there, such as Saeki Yuzo who died in France in 1928.

Art and the nuances of cultural imperialism Let me now try to draw the argument together by reflecting it off a number of theoretical themes, consideration of which may greatly advance the ways in which we see the connections between art and society, especially in colonial situations. Art is easily implicated in the project of colonialism, through metropolitan art education, institutionalized and politically controlled art exhibitions, the exclusion or banning of the non-co-operative and through the internalization by colonized artists of the aesthetics and political project of the colonizers. Others however resist, even if that resistance takes a symbolic form, as in Indonesia under the Dutch and in India during the British colonial period. The loss of indigenous integrity is certainly not the only course, for as Clark puts it by opposing amnesia and revealing its structure for a particular set of reasons related to censored history, the elided representation of gender, or the anger and disenchantment of the dispossessed, art may appear more amenable to cross-cultural reception and interpretation within Asia. (Clark 1998: 287)

Art in the colonial encounter


As I have argued in Chapter 8, the image is powerful and it is one of the significant ways in which cross-cultural transmission occurs, including especially the transmission of religion. Images are not just that: they are loaded with meaning and reflect and shape images of the self, the body, landscape, emotions and many other aspects of our existential condition. Subjectivities are shaped through the image as scholars of Orientalism well know, they create social imaginaries and utopias, and may act as a kind of symbolic Trojan Horse, smuggling into a situation of apparent political hegemony alternative conceptions of reality, something sensed by the authorities and their censors who will try by institutional means, legal mechanisms (Young 2005) or extra legal means (as in Stalin’s relentless persecution of writers and poets such as Osip Mandelstam) to control, channel or suppress such initiatives. In the case in point, we certainly see a classic case of cultural imperialism. But what that case also shows is that such situations are fraught with ambiguities and multiple complexities. Modern art may have indeed reached Korea by way of Japan, but Japan had itself received it from the West, and was itself caught up in its own hermeneutical issues and cultural politics as it assimilated and adjusted to this art. At the time of the annexation of Korea in 1910, modern Japan was itself only 40 years old if one dates the advent of sustained modernity from the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and to the shortlived Taisho era to which many cultural innovations can be traced and which succeeded it but only lasted from 1912 until 1926. This was a period of remarkable social, political, religious, economic and technological change, in which the visual arts were embedded and which had to struggle not only with new stylistic and technique developments, encountering for the first time a whole art history almost completely unknown to Japan, and in which the artist was located as a social being wrestling with new forms of self definition in a rapidly changing socio-economic context. It is for this reason that Natrajan argues for an understanding of culture rooted in political economy in addressing the influential work of the globalization and cultural imperialism scholar John Tomlinson (1991). As Natrajan puts it ‘Tomlinson’s understanding of culture as “context for meaning production” rather than “meaning production in context” seems to fatally isolate narratives of meaning from their political economy, and enabling a veiling of the coercion that is ever-present within globalization’ (Natrajan 2003: 227). Postcolonial theory interestingly is rarely invoked in discussing the Korea/Japan relationship historically, but would seem to add a major dimension to the analysis of cultural interaction between the two countries and the continuing place of the large Korean minority within Japanese society and the new relationships between the countries mediated by consumption, sport and popular culture. Colonialism can be seen as an early form of globalization, and as such subject to the same kinds of arguments and analyses now applied to the latter. But the role of culture in globalization, let alone religion, is rarely


Cases in point

given much prominence (Clammer 2009c). Culture as an element within globalization and its variants including colonialism and cultural imperialism, while sited within the political economy of those movements also has its own dynamics. As the literature scholar Biyot Tripathy succinctly and perhaps controversially puts it [C]ulture is not governed by power relationships; its dynamics are entirely different from political imperialism. But even when a nation is colonizing another, the colonized may carnivalize the colonizer’s culture products and drive them out of use or create new products of their own. Cultures are gregarious. They are not virgins, but promiscuous. That is the way they have grown, by absorbing, mixing, creating, and carnivalizing. (Tripathy 2005: 301–2) While I think that Tripathy is underestimating the role of power, he does have a point, one illustrated by his own work in India where much of that power was absorbed, diluted, transformed and reflected back in many cultural media, including the one that he focuses on, notably folk literature. Post-colonial studies, in their analysis of the cultural dimensions of colonialism, have focused mainly on literature. Clearly however there is a major space too for the visual arts, as this essay illustrates. Part of the problem here has nothing to do with art. It has to do with the separated discourses of scholars: post-colonial studies, subaltern studies, cultural imperialism, globalization, political economy, critical theory and modernity: discourses that refer to the same objective realities but which often talk past each other with little fertile intercommunication. As this study shows, however, it is necessary to get them to speak to each other, the discourse of modernity in the arts actually meaning little if it is separated from political economy, and political economy needing framing in the context historically of colonialism and currently of globalization. A recent scholarly collection on the issue of colonial modernity in Korea (Gi-Wook and Robinson 1999) shows this clearly. Although the collection contains no essay on the visual arts (the “cultural” dimensions of colonialism being addressed only through two papers on broadcasting and two on modern Korean literature), it moves substantially away from the earlier approach of stressing the atrocities and exploitative nature of Japanese rule to the exclusion of any other dimension of the colonial relationship, and of emphasizing only the economic and political aspects of foreign rule. In fact the collection shows that Japan was a “colonial modernizer” in which economic interests, a cultural policy, the introduction of new legal practices, ethnography, industrial policy and other factors combined in an attempt, conscious or otherwise, to bring about a distinctive form of modernity, different from that of the West, and in many ways different from the forms of modernity towards which Japan itself was striving. Far from suppressing

Art in the colonial encounter


modernity then, Japanese colonialism hastened it in complex ways, filtering Western cultural modernity through a Japanese prism before introducing it into the colonies, where it encountered both native traditions and incipient nationalism. Where the nation itself was absent alternative identities arose to replace it, many of these being expressed precisely through art and other cultural forms (for a parallel instance from India see Banerji 2010). Speaking of the case of radio, which included traditional music and contemporary Korean pop songs and indeed had a major role in revitalizing these moribund forms, Michael Robinson remarks that [I]t is a gross oversimplification to assert that Japanese radio was just another in a series of coercive, modern technologies imported to Korea to further Japanese political control and, ultimately, assimilation … Radio, like other Japanese ‘investments’ in Korea, became part of a dynamic system of new cultural forms, technologies, and habits that transformed cultural life in Korea … These had tremendous power and shaped, while Japanizing, the structure of an emerging Korean modernity. (Robinson 1999: 69) But as other papers in the collection also point out, for Korean intellectuals and cultural producers this created a dilemma, and their solution to this was, as with many artists of the colonial period in India, to seek cultural authenticity in the rural, with the peasant and rural crafts and arts constituting the expression of that authenticity. Paradoxically then, the views of many Korean intellectuals and those of Japanese colonial ethnologists tended to coincide. For many artists the way out of this dilemma was through modern art: one which in expressing Korean themes and scenes was not Japanese, but in some sense universal. Frequently missing then from debates in colonial/postcolonial studies is art history and art sociology. The study of the relationship between Korean and Japanese art worlds in the colonial period has rightly emphasized the role of the government orchestrated exhibitions and the role of the art schools, the latter providing not only a socialization medium for Korean art students studying in Japan, but which were themselves the main points of assimilation of Western artistic modernism and were sites of intense cultural politics both within and without the immediate art world. Yet when the phrase “the art world” is used today, it is taken to refer to the whole complex of galleries, dealers, auction houses, magazines and art fairs that now make up the social and economic structure of artistic production and consumption (for example Thornton 2008). This situation did not pertain in the colonial context, certainly not in Korea. The whole sociological basis of the art world was consequently very different and shades of this still continue to haunt the art worlds of both countries, and in particular the role of artist’s associations which still largely control who can exhibit and where, restricting


Cases in point

the hanging of works usually only to their own members and having privileged access to the major galleries and public museums. So in some ways the old Bunten/Sonjon institutional framing of art still exists, but modified greatly of course today by the large number of private dealers and galleries and competing art publications. Korea now is very visible internationally through the Gwangju Biennales and other major art shows, and some would argue that Seoul is now a major art centre, one well ahead of possible rivals such as Bangkok or Hong Kong in terms of institutional infrastructure and the volume and quality of artistic production, and well able to compete with Tokyo. If this is not yet quite a case of the empire striking back, it certainly shows the post-colonial and post-war visibility of Korean art regionally and internationally. The conclusion must be that approaching colonialism and post-colonialism through the visual arts suggests fresh dimensions of post-colonial theory and that while the general theory of cultural imperialism still applies, it needs to be reframed in a much more nuanced way alert to the ambiguities of international relations, incorporating a much broader range of cultural phenomena within its purview. As this chapter has demonstrated, there are sub-terranean factors at work here. While many cultural imperialism scholars are deeply critical of Christian missionary activity, here we have seen aspects of its positive role in creating new subjectivities and institutions in a colony that was largely resistant to colonial control or penetration, and which gave rise to new cultural forms of implicit resistance, in this case painting by Korean Christian artists. The case in point also argues for a comparative theory of both modernity and globalization and of the forms of capitalism or quasi-capitalism that drove them historically and continue to do so, and for taking seriously the role of culture and methods of cultural socialization (in this case art schools) as well as the political economy aspects, while recognizing fully that the two levels are deeply implicated in each other. A similar argument might also be made for museums as well as for expositions in both Korea and Japan (which, unlike many of their contemporary manifestations, usually included art works as well as commercial, technological and industrial exhibits). Hong Kal has indeed recently argued that it was precisely through museums, expositions and architecture that the nation was made imaginable to its putative members in both colonial and postcolonial Korea: in short, that visual culture was and continues to be a highly political issue in that country, for its colonizers, for their victims and for the post-colonial governments that have ruled during the post-war/postcolonial period down to the present (Kal 2011). We see, then exposed in the study of Japan–Korea art relationships, a whole nested set of issues and responses. If studies to date have focused principally on the negative aspects of this relationship – basically the cultural imperialism approach – here we have seen that the relationship was complex and fraught with numerous ambiguities. Art and art education were certainly

Art in the colonial encounter


means by which the Japanese attempted to control Korea through the so called “Cultural Policy”, and to some extent this did indeed succeed, particularly for those artists whose main outlet and form of professional visibility and advancement was the Sonjon. But that is only half the picture, for alongside it existed a whole subtle medium of resistance, by-passing, reinterpreting and transcending the co-opting mechanisms of cultural domination, through religious art, through remaining outside of the imperial art exhibitions, by emigration permanent or temporary, through humour and satire, by choice of subject and by drawing on the ever fresh stream of folk or traditional culture. While in Germany at the same time the influential Bauhaus movement was struggling to overcome the distinction between the artist and the craftsman, in many senses this was spontaneously happening in Korea. And herein lies the final paradox: that while the Japanese preserved and promoted the traditional Korean arts and looked with nostalgia on their products, it was actually from these foundations that a genuinely Korean form of modern art arose, as Korean modern artists not only assimilated the West, but as folk artists did too. As the modernists and the traditionalists in turn entered into dialogue with one another, a genuinely indigenous and autonomous contemporary art was born.

Chapter 11

Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture Historical amnesia, popular culture and contemporary art in Japan

Japan is an interesting case with which to conclude this study of the complex relationships between art, society, modernity, colonialism and the global. A former colonial power itself, known for its heavy-handed administration of Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and parts of Micronesia and for its brief and abortive incursion into Southeast Asia in the course of the Pacific War, it is now the world’s third largest economy (and until very recently the second largest) with a self-image of being a peaceful, high-technology and socially successful society. In many ways this image is correct: Japan is indeed highly industrialized, highly urbanized, with very high levels of education and effectively universal literacy, peace-loving (with a war-renouncing constitution), pervaded by mass media, with very low levels of crime and a generally high standard of living for the great majority of its population. In technological terms, Japanese products – cameras, cars, video games, televisions, computers and even foods, fashions and films – are exported and known world wide. Accompanying this economic and technological colonization of much of the rest of the world, and particularly the rest of Asia, has been the export in huge volumes of Japanese popular culture, particularly in its well known manifestations of anime (animated or cartoon films) and manga (illustrated comics) and of produce (books, costumes, toys and so forth) associated with these cultural products. The contemporary academic study of Japanese popular culture in its visual manifestations has itself focused overwhelmingly on these twin, and related, phenomena of anime and manga. Even a recent essay in a fairly authoritative scholarly collection that purports to address the issue of contemporary Japanese visual culture and announces itself as such (Norris 2010), in fact only deals with those two highly emphasized manifestations to the exclusion of all other dimensions of visual culture. Much the same can be said of other recent large scale surveys of Japanese culture and society, for example those edited by Jennifer Robertson which contain essays on music and cuisine, but nothing on art (Robertson 2005), or the even more recent one edited by Victoria and Theodore Bestor (Bestor and Bestor 2011) which, while it includes the obligatory essay on anime and manga, does at least have

Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture


the virtue of including chapters on film and architecture, but again absolutely nothing on contemporary art, despite the vitality of the art sector in Japanese society, its visibility in numerous and increasing museums and galleries and its role in the broader cultural and economic life of Japan. This rather myopic perspective has been reinforced even in those introductory textbooks on Japanese culture and society that do attempt a comprehensive view. In his systematic and widely regarded An Introduction to Japanese Society, Yoshio Sugimoto (Sugimoto 1997 and later editions), who includes an entire chapter on forms of popular culture including television and radio, magazines, pachinko, karaoke, local festivals and folk culture, the new religions and even communes (hardly a very popular form of “popular” culture), singles out manga as a significant cultural form. But he then comes very close to saying something more interesting when he identifies, following Shunsuke Tsurumi (1967), the category of “marginal art”, defined as the “intersection between everyday life and artistic expression” and materialized in such diverse forms as New Year cards, room decoration and even interaction in communal baths (sento) and onsen (or hot springs) and other “amateur” activities or contemporary manifestations of folk art (Sugimoto 1997: 234–5). But the subject of art itself eludes him as it does almost all other commentators on contemporary Japanese society, as does similarly the meaning of contemporary visual culture(s) in Japan, including manga and anime. Yet these forms raise many, and in some cases disquieting, questions: are they really all that interesting compared with other things happening in Japanese culture today? Or are they essentially empty and nihilistic productions revealing the moral emptiness and alienation of much of Japanese society? Or perhaps subversive of the capitalist excesses of this hyper-consumption oriented society? Or inchoate attempts to define, as so much art does, a cultural and/or spiritual alternative to the cultural mainstream? These questions point to the deep cultural grammar of a leading “post-development” society: one that has already for most of its citizens achieved affluence, stability, high levels of security and, perhaps, boredom; lives centred around consumption and the deep alienation revealed by the proliferation of the so called “New Religions” (shin shukyo) and their deviant offspring, the most prominent of which has proved to be the Aum Shinrikyo cult, amongst in fact many other contenders, most fortunately not given to violence and murder as ways of advancing their apocalyptic aims. Japanese studies as a whole is strangely myopic, given the enormous range of interesting issues that the society generates and their comparative significance for culture and social theory (Clammer 1995). Many themes are endlessly revisited while others, of equal or greater significance, are largely or totally ignored. To date, the subject of the sociology of Japanese art is almost invisible. Such attention as does accrue to the study of modern or contemporary art is almost totally the province of a small cohort of art historians. But even a little investigation shows that popular culture and


Cases in point

contemporary art are closely connected and indeed that the latter is an important part of the former. This chapter will attempt to bring some of these connections to the surface and will likewise attempt to show that a wider conception of contemporary Japanese visual culture is in fact a privileged route to the understanding of much wider processes in the culture as a whole and even its impact on the wider world. While no one would wish to deny the significance of anime and manga as manifestations of contemporary culture with indeed a global reach, they certainly do not exhaust the range of subjects in Japanese visual culture, which include not only art in its conventional sense, but also fashion, design, interior decoration, architecture, landscape architecture – in particular garden design – and many aspects of food culture, including the aesthetics of presentation (Mitsukuni and Tsune 1989). Here, however, the emphasis will be on art, and specifically painting, in its most modern and contemporary manifestations, with some reference to its close cousin: design. The core thesis of this chapter is that contemporary art is both a significant part of contemporary Japanese culture and also has a wide significance for the interpretation of Japanese society and beyond, to the issue of Japan’s cultural impact on the rest of Asia and maybe the rest of the world. Does this in fact constitute not only a new form of Japanese cultural nationalism, but also of cultural imperialism – the “soft power” approach to diplomacy now being so much talked about in international relations circles? The focus will not be on the sociology of art (its social organization, artistic associations, the role of museums, galleries, critics and the media, art education, artistic career paths etc.), but rather on the interpretation of the art itself as a signal and symptom of wider and deeper socio-cultural and even spiritual processes at work in the society.

Japan as a utopian project It has not perhaps been so widely noted that, whereas in Western social and literary thought the concept and invention of utopias looms large, this is not so to nearly the same extent in Asia. Where utopian projects have appeared it is usually in the form of grandiose political projects based in fact on Western models, usually Marxist as Susan Buck-Morss has demonstrated, and with Marxism the constructivist or Socialist Realist art that tends to accompany left-wing dictatorships in East or West (Buck-Morss 2000). When not in this form, or its abortive offspring such as the “Buddhist socialism” of early independence Burma or the bizarre excesses of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, they have on occasion appeared as mass quasi-religious movements. Examples of these include the Taiping rebellion that laid waste huge swathes of China in the late nineteenth century, back-to-thevillage movements as expressed for example in Gandhian thought and practice, contemporary Japanese communes such as the Yamagishi Movement,

Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture


or indeed new religious movements, again as evidenced in Japan by such examples as the Shoroku Shinto Yamatoyama movement and other Shinto based Shin Shukyo peace and, increasingly, ecology movements (Kisala 1999; International Shinto Foundation 1995). There do indeed seem to be interesting cultural differences between China and Japan in this respect, for while China has produced literary utopias, for example in the work of the poet, essayist, art collector and travel writer Zhang Dai (b.1597) who wrote a number of essays on constructing utopias, or what he termed “paradises of the mind” during a period of radical political upheavals (in particular the 1644 overthrow of the Ming Dynasty by the invading Manchus), Japan appears to have produced few notable works in this genre. It might be argued, rather, that, as in Indian art with the attempted recovery of integral Indian culture and the pristine village community in the art of such painters as the celebrated and much imitated Jamini Roy (Mitter 2007), the true location of utopian expressions lies in the visual arts which, with their nonconceptual language, have immediate appeal to the non-literate and nonliterary as much as to their literate counterparts. Indeed, even in Edo period Japan, the extensive popular literature of the era was highly illustrated and the heyday of the ukiyo-e or woodblock print coincides with, and to a great extent represents the burgeoning of, chonin or townspeople culture that came to its peak in the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth centuries with the parallel flourishing of theatre and in particular the plebian kabuki. I have argued elsewhere (Clammer 2014) that a close reading of the literature and practices of many of the contemporary ‘New Religions’ of Japan reveals an interesting form of post-nationalism: of Japan not as the political centre of the world, but as the spiritual centre. In this vision Japan appears as a kind of promised land and the Japanese as the chosen people: the source of new or refurbished spiritual values, of ecological thinking and cultural practices, of peace and of an aesthetic approach to life that addresses in fresh ways the problems of the current globalized and conflict-ridden world. While this vision is not necessarily readily communicated to the outside world (where it would naturally be immediately read as a revival in “spiritual” clothes of a long standing nationalism), it surfaces in many aspects of modern and contemporary Japanese culture and interfaces in many unexpected ways with themes of nostalgia, memory and the construction of new Japanese imaginaries in the context of a society that strives to maintain its cultural integrity while simultaneously globalizing: a difficult feat to maintain. Yumiko Iida indeed proposes that the current era is witnessing what she calls the aestheticization of Japanese politics, and perhaps also of the wider society, although she again sees this in the context of a new form of nationalism (Iida 2002), a paradigm which I would argue is to a great extent outmoded, or at least needs significant updating and modification. Instead, we see a potentially fascinating link between popular culture, religion and Japanese identity. The Japanese ‘New Religions’, still treated with some


Cases in point

suspicion and reserve at home despite their large collective memberships, have had considerable success abroad, and not only amongst overseas Japanese communities, but have appealed to a much larger social and ethnic base, as witnessed by the international expansion of Soka Gakkai as a major example. At the same time, Japanese popular culture in its many familiar manifestations has become a major export from Japan and for many the main attractor for visiting the country, while also immensely widely consumed at home. Is pop culture then the evangelical vanguard of Japan’s global expansion? If it is, then the messages that it contains and the codes with which it expresses them need close consideration. To this, via the medium of contemporary art, we will now turn.

Interpreting contemporary art Japanese art, in the Meiji and Taisho periods at least, might be seen not as a critique of the incipient modernism that was engulfing Japan, but rather as an embracing of it. The possible exception to this was (and still is) the persistence of Nihonga or Japanese style painting reflecting the traditional aesthetics of the pre-modern era and its close links with issues of Japanese identity, as the country for the first time was forced to confront the reality of the West and of the outside world in general after its centuries of exclusion and isolation (Weston 2004; Takashina 1990; Ueda 1990). With the advent of post-modernity and the age of globalization, the context in which Japanese art now operates has changed substantially and with it the identity politics that animate cultural debate. Contemporary art needs in fact to be read in conjunction with studies of popular culture, television and other visual media, since it shares the same temporal framework and has been produced and consumed in relation to the same economic, political and social shifts that have equally influenced other aspects of recent Japanese culture. In her examination of the acclaimed “cyberpunk” film Akira by the director Otomo Katsuhiro, Isolde Standish (Standish 1998) prefaces her essay with a quotation from the television scholar Fiske, to the effect that [C]ontemporary urban style is empowering to the subordinate for it asserts their right to manipulate the signifiers of the dominant ideology in a way that frees them from that ideological practice and opens them up to the sub-cultural and oppositional uses. (Fiske 1991: 253) This position of course assumes two things: that there is a hegemonic dominant ideology and that viewers, in this case of television, do have the agency and autonomy to subvert that medium while nevertheless consuming it. Rightly, Standish points out, to understand what she calls “the creation of

Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture


meaning” (Standish 1998: 69), it is necessary to explore the systems of codes and practices utilized not only by the creators (a commercial film studio in this case) and by the spectators, but also to map the socio-economic position of those viewers – in the case of Akira predominantly adolescent males – in Japanese society. This suggestion in fact provides a model for examining almost any cultural production, including art. For she points out, following a model earlier developed by Allen and Gomery (1985), that most cultural productions are inter-textual. So equally in the case of art, as with film, the viewer inevitably draws on non-art inter-texts from other systems of representations (in the case of Akira from the manga series that preceded the making of the film version, and from the bosozoku or motorcycle and car gangs very visible and audible in 1970s and 1980s Japan) and their yanki or punk counterparts. The context of interpretation, then, involves knowledge both of the social position of the intended viewers and of the cultural repertoire that those viewers have access to and share. Akira itself embodies an aesthetic of destruction, movement and urban decay and a portrayal of the outsider, free from social norms and constraints, something it shares with many other manga. But as Standish herself admits, her reading of the enormous success of the film as providing a compensatory function for the working class youths who identify with the bosozoku sub-culture does not sit too well with its also evident appeal to youths from high status occupational groups, for whom she suggests it provided (as with the middle class salary men who avidly consumed earlier films in the nagare-mono category) an imaginative escape from their over-secure lives through the nostalgic representation of the outsider. This points to a methodological danger common to many varieties of popular culture study – the simple functionalist explanation – something that the very complex inter-textuality of most genres should immediately warn against. This is true not only of aspects of visual culture, but equally of print culture. In rightly pointing out that popular culture involves far more than simply manga, but includes popular literature and magazines in huge numbers in highly literate Japan, Laura Miller nevertheless falls back on the tired explanation that “Two forms of cultural production in particular, nonfiction books and magazines, have played a powerful role in the socialization of individuals into productive workers, national subjects and gendered reproducers” (Miller 2005: 314). This view she later herself modifies by admitting that, in fact, the print media exhibit complex and contradictory patterns of domination and resistance, and the display and exercise of cultural authority, as do almost all forms of cultural production. Having made this plea for complexity in explanation, what of contemporary art itself ? To begin with we must note that contemporary art in Japan covers a wide spectrum from quite conventional but often technically accomplished forms of painting (often in a neo-Nihonga style), pottery, sculpture, drawing and print-making (the latter a very developed art form in


Cases in point

Japan), commercial art, installations, assemblages, performances and “site specific” art through the large constructions and of now internationally known artists such as Murakami Takeshi and on into manga derived Pop Art and the often minimalist productions that the critic and curator Midori Matsui calls “Micropop” (Matsui 2007).This diversity needs to be born in mind when attempting any kind of interpretation or general theory of Japanese popular art. The notion of Micropop has emerged in Matsui’s view as the third wave of contemporary Japanese art, the first wave emerging in the 1990s and including Sugimoto Hiroshi, Miyajima Tatsuo and Morimura Yasumasa, who attempted to represent a particularly Japanese sensibility through the use of Minimalist or Situationalist methods. The second wave included such figures as Murakami Takeshi, Nara Yoshitomo, Sone Yutaka and Ozawa Tsuyoshi, who drew on domestic cultural products (including manga) to celebrate them, critically engage them or distort them in ways that undermined in subtle ways the culture of kawaii or “cuteness” so prevalent in contemporary Japan (for good pictorial surveys see Yamaguchi 2007 and Takahashi Collection 2008). The third wave, diverse as it is, represents in her view a new tendency: “Micropop can be simply defined as an art that invents, independent of any explicit ideology, a unique aesthetic or code of behavior by rearranging small fragments accumulated through diverse communicative processes” (Matsui 2007: 29). Often using minimal resources and techniques such as drawing, Micropop has five main characteristics: playful intervention in urban or suburban situations, the embrace of a childlike or adolescent imagination, free association, an attempt to reveal incommensurable dimensions of life and the mind and the reuse of popular, almost hackneyed, informational media, such as TV shows, by composing a critical meta-narrative about the artist’s own relation to his or her culture or by turning it into a medium of spontaneous action that disrupts conscious decision making. (Matsui 2007: 31) It is for this latter reason in particular that Matsui considers third wave contemporary art to be a form of micropolitics: a new form of transformative practice that has emerged from growing up in the “risk society” of postbubble Japan: the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of 1995, the gas attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult on the Tokyo rush hour subway, political drift, deepening economic recession and, for the first time in recent history, widening unemployment. This “provisional” art, utilizing cheap materials and drawing on the banal and the everyday, Matsui relates to a range of recent French social theory including Gilles Deleauze and Felix Guattari’s theory of minor literature, Michel de Certeau’s analysis of the practices of everyday life and Jean-Francois Lyotard’s characterization of the post-modern as

Rethinking the sociology of Japanese visual culture


involving not a resorting to meta-narratives, but rather tactical application of knowledge in a local situation in which “moves” become “playable” by drawing on insight into the rules of the game that determine the parameters of that situation: a strategic rather than a structural model in other words. So called “minor production” – which, although she does not draw upon it at all, would also include other forms of “outsider art” including “naïve art” or Art Brut (see Peiry 2001 and for Japanese examples and discussion see Nemunoki 2005 and Bijutsu Techo 2009) – represents in Matsui’s view a form of radical art that works by displacing conventional meaning. It is not only an art of “making do” by the young, marginalized and relatively poor, but is in de Certeau’s view a method of “poaching” on the oppressive conditions of the majority culture: it is a response to the productivist economy in which even the marginalized are implicated (de Certeau 1984: xvii). But whereas for Deleuze and Guattari (1986) and others who have taken a similar position (very noteworthy amongst whom is Iain Chambers 1994), migration, the immigrant and the marginalized are the principle subjects and exponents of this new creativity imposed by the conditions of globalization and displacement, spatial and cultural, in Japan this is hardly the case. While third wave contemporary artists are without doubt responding to the new social conditions of post-bubble Japan and are subject to the relative globalization that Japan has experienced (Clammer 2000d), they are not migrants or by international standards either displaced or marginalized. Rather, they are in a sense cultural entrepreneurs who, while socially and economically on the edge of both the mainstream economy/society and the art world, are able to articulate an identity that both draws on that larger culture while creatively distorting and parodying it, operating to a great extent within the codes established by that wider context. What is certainly true, however, is that, as Matsui (2007) notes in relation to the art of Nara Yoshitomo, now one of the best known of Japanese contemporary artists who frequently portrays children, a sense of vulnerability pervades much of the second and third wave art; but then so does a sense of decadence, a slight distortion and eroticization of images, especially of young or adolescent females – the rorikon (or “Lolita complex”) found both in many manga and in the work of artists such as Kunikata Mahomi, Kato Mika, the artist known simply as “Mr”, Aida Makoto (who often includes mutilation), Arima Kaoru or Takano Aya. Significantly, however, Matsui reads this as a search for identity, not as a playing with the macabre for its own sake (or indeed drawing on a visual culture of demons, ghosts and horror going back to the Edo period), and even as a spiritual quest in secularized Japan: [W]hereas current trends in Japanese manga increasingly undermine any spiritual orientation, due to the advanced commercialization of the Japanese comics industry, Arima and Takano are genuine inheritors of


Cases in point the promising ‘minor’ cultural production that emerged in the 1960s in response to the cultural crisis and rise of youth culture. (Matsui 2007: 51)

This view, then, locates Micropop art as a response to the over organized yet risk-ridden contemporary age, in which relatively “invisible” practitioners can assert their own creativity by making the objective conditions of their socio-economic life the basis of their own inventiveness. But what of first and second wave contemporary art, that still coexists and flourishes alongside the third wave Micropop art? One of the major spokespersons for this art is the actively self-publicizing painter and creator of fibreglass sculptures or creations artist Murakami Takeshi, who has succeeded in positioning himself in the global art market. On his own work and the work of his immediate contemporaries he comments with reference to his own successful US exhibition “Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture”, designed to showcase otaku culture (the subculture of the manga, anime and technologically fixated, mainly male, nerd-like younger generation), that this was my opportunity to tell people about the country that gave birth to the Pokemon [animated pocket monster TV anime] show their children watch. Japan has wandered a long path since the atomic bomb and defeat in the war to arrive at this culture. The atomic bomb has created a trauma in the Japanese psyche. Japan has become America’s puppet, unable to make autonomous decisions about war or the state. But in exchange for autonomy, the Americans have given us peace. I wanted the West to know the singular, indisputable fact that otaku subculture necessarily is art in Japan. (Murakami 2006: 233–4, quoted in Yamaguchi 2007: 9) This, of course, is an entirely self-serving and highly contentious comment and needs serious deconstruction, as do many of the essays in the book issued to precede and accompany the exhibition (Murakami 2005) and issued by a respectable university press. It is indeed the case that a number of contemporary Japanese artists whose work does derive from the otaku culture of manga, computer games, video and electronic technologies have become prominent, but this is partly only because of the visibility of those same aspects of Japanese popular culture internationally. Examples would include Aida Makoto, Fukuchi Hideomi, Yamaguchi Ai, Tenmyouya Hisashi and Okazaki Takashi. Others utilize the technology to produce video art, photography, performances or mixed media productions (Odani Motohiko, Maywa Denki, Tanaka Ichiro). The strange conflation of the erotic, cute, grotesque and the violent that characterizes much of this art is of course self-reinforcing: the artists that

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Yumi Yamaguchi (2007) selects for inclusion in her anthology all fit into these pre-selected categories, to the exclusion of the huge range of other contemporary artists who do not produce in this “manga mode”. This includes the many highly talented contemporary nihonga painters, the socially and politically motivated such as the sadly neglected Furusawa Jun, himself marginalized by the dominance in public international discourse of the ‘manga mode’, the community of highly accomplished print makers and those who have continued to produce outstanding work, often with many continuities with other aspects of Japanese culture, who struggle to achieve international visibility (for an example of some who did in the preceding generation see Museum of Modern Art 1966 [MOMA] and SchaarschmidtRichter 2000). The otaku sub-culture is indeed a major and prominent one, but to confuse it either with the totality of Japanese contemporary culture or with Japanese contemporary art is a serious error. This has been made possible, however, by the international attention that some aspects of easily assimilated although not necessarily understood forms of Japanese visual culture have attracted on the one hand, and the shameful silences of scholarship on Japan that has fed this craze while neglecting huge other areas of the culture of equal and, in the long term, probably much more long-lasting aspects of cultural production.

Art in social context The preoccupation with post-modernism that swept Japan in the 1980s and 1990s was reflected equally in commentaries on art. In a survey article of post-modernism in Japanese art, the historian of Asian art John Clark notes (Clark 1995) that no single form dominated the art of that period – decorative styles, new classicisms, Minimalism, installation and Gigantism, techno-effects and de-contextualized images – and others all contested the field. At the same time, he notes that the institutional structure of the art world was changing. Art education (and especially design) was rapidly expanding (a 33 per cent increase in graduates from the art departments of universities and art schools between 1975 and 1989) and was naturally impacting the “production” end of the spectrum. In the middle, the “distribution” points were changing and expanding as commercial art galleries proliferated, as more and more regional and local as well as national art galleries and museums sought to expand their holdings, especially in the “bubble” years, as indeed did major corporations, and as audiences for modern and contemporary art swelled. At the same time, more young artists were staying outside of the artistic groups that largely control access to exhibitions in the major public galleries such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Fine Arts Museum and operating as unaffiliated producers related more to the worlds of commerce, media advertising and popular culture than to the traditional art world. Much contemporary art has indeed emerged from a


Cases in point

situation of what the critic Minemura Toshiaki calls the “dislocation” (Danso kara no shutsugen) of social, economic and cultural structures in high-growth Japan (Minemura 1990: 2), a grappling that, while it has led many contemporary nihonga painters to stay close to nature, has led most of those artists now considered prominent in contemporary work and who began to emerge in the late 1980s to turn their backs on nature (Halbriech et al. 1989). What, then, is the interplay between art and history/society in this situation? It is, Clark suggests in another publication (Clark 1998: 283), precisely the absence of history, or what he calls in the specifically Japanese case “historical amnesia”, that allows a decontextualized art to flourish, in which its main referents are not outside of art – as is the case with a great deal of Asian modernist art with its social, anti-colonial and political themes (for the Indian case for example see Mitter 2007) and very certainly in Latin America (Sullivan 2000) – but with other themes internal to the culture, and in this case to its popular cultural manifestations. The skill of “reading” a great deal of contemporary Japanese art consequently derives not from a knowledge of art history or even of Japanese history, but with a knowledge of the other icons of popular culture – consumption trends, images from Hello Kitty to Mickey Mouse (the latter thoroughly assimilated into Japanese contemporary art through the work of Murakami Takeshi and his “Mr DOB” character), current tarento and the content of contemporary TV shows and music. Murakami indeed has introduced a new aesthetic concept into popular art – what he calls “Superflat” – the flattened and compressed form of both much traditional Japanese art (the woodblock print in particular) and contemporary graphic art and animation. A less charitable interpretation of “Superflat” could, however, be the quite literal shallowness of most of Murakami’s own work and that of many of his contemporaries, in which the cute (kawaii) or its distortion for violent or erotic purposes drives out any real social comment or dimension. If there is a break between modernity and post-modernity in Japanese art, it may lie precisely in this move from the social to the internal and subjective imaginary. A significant aspect of this has been the tendency to neglect or altogether to ignore other Asian contemporary art, the assumption being that the anime culture is largely a one-way export product, with the examples coming back (for example Korean produced animated TV shows) being basically facsimiles of the Japanese originating product and techniques (from the large literature on this subject see, for example, Iwabuchi 2002). This forgetting and the anti-humanism that it generates, including the deformation or degradation of the human body that accompanies it, emerges as a central trope in Japanese modernist and post-modernist art (Clark 1998: 297), a point at which it contrasts sharply with the contemporary art emerging from other Asian countries such as Indonesia (Miklouho-Maklai 1991). Other commentators have also noticed this lack of dialogue with other

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traditions of Asian art and the lack of Asian symbols in contemporary Japanese art (Kajiya 2008), which has become as a result not exactly a sealed world (since it aggressively exports itself), but a paradigm of Japanese globalization in which the local culture can go out to colonize other imaginative spaces and subjectivities; a paradigm in which the influence of the outside world is gently repelled, or if it must be admitted, domesticized. Japan, then, has less attempted to establish a hegemony over Asian contemporary art as colonized its image bank with symbols drawn from its own popular culture. Within Japan itself freedom of expression, possibly as the result of affluence and widespread political apathy, has created an artistic culture of wild imagination within surprisingly narrow boundaries both conceptually and socially, while for the most part refusing the role of critique. Certainly, a number of critics and commentators have striven rather unsuccessfully to argue that there are contemporary artists who do directly confront the underside of Japanese society. Examples might include the Osaka based artist Yanobe Kenji, who locates and interviews artists and activists who were engaged in confrontational activity in the 1960s and then re-enacts some such event in a performance piece, which the critic Gunhild Borggreen interprets as both “ethnographic” and as addressing issues of nationhood, warfare and geopolitics (Borggreen 2010). Other possible candidates suggested include Date Nobuaki, who constructs ukuleles out of materials from demolished buildings in conjunction with local citizens and Kimura Toshio Jinjin, who “intervenes in and negotiates the use of public space of the Shinsekai area in Osaka with his open-air tea ceremonies set up in a shopping arcade or parking lot” (Borggreen 2010: 3–8) in which passersby are invited to drink tea with the artist and other community members, an activity which according to Borggreen “combine aesthetics and activism, culture and politics” (Borggreen 2010: 6–7). They also include Akasegawa Genpei as a populist artist and promoter to the Japanese public of the significance and even fun of art (Tomii 2010), or the artist Take Jun’ichiro, who produces paintings on the cardboard houses of homeless people or Ichimura Misako, who actually lived with the homeless for six months and decorated her own cardboard box house with silver stars. What is interesting about this kind of activity is that it largely fits Matsui’s definition of Micropop – marginal, utilizing simple or found materials and having, we have to admit, very little impact on the injustices of Japanese society, its corporate structures or ineffective government. Interestingly, most commentaries on contemporary Japanese art have not noted this dimension: the closest is probably Matsui’s characterization of Micropop art as “micropolitical”. But can a case be made that another and different social aesthetics is at work here which, however apolitical and ahistorical it may be, does point to other dimensions of the human existential condition? Parallel studies of other artistic media such as film do suggest that the intense subjectivity and interiority of much classic and modern


Cases in point

Japanese cinema (Nolletti and Desser 1992; Richie 2001), corresponds to what we essentially find in the Japanese art world in general: an intersection not so much of art and history (there is certainly little if any “revolutionary” art in the sense of politicized art of the kind found in the former USSR in its earlier days, in Mao era China and in contemporary Cuba), as of art and capitalism. In her study of 1990s TV drama, Gabriella Lukacs (2010) argues that this is very true for that mode of visual culture, as does Eric Cazdyn in his analysis of the evolution of Japanese cinema (Cazdyn 2002). While obviously a case can be made for continuities between other forms of contemporary Japanese culture, and in particular of course anime and manga and traditional art (Hu 2010), it is in fact the discontinuities between much contemporary art and traditional forms that are striking. Exceptions to this would be Edo period ghost and demon paintings and woodblocks (for instance in the art of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861), Kawanabe Kyosai (1831–89), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–92) or in the erotic shunga prints of the same period). Certainly absent from most contemporary non-nihonga art are nature, a sense of human beauty, spiritual themes or quotations from the traditional crafts, all very much aspects of the modernist (post-Meiji Restoration) Japanese arts. Rather, as suggested on p. 186, the referents are internal to the broader popular culture itself, and while the export of that pop culture itself may be seen as a form of cultural imperialism or the “cultural nationalism” pervasive in post-war Japan (Yoshino 1997), with the exceptions of Murakami and Nara in particular, most of the art does not export: it is a hermetic world in fact which largely feeds on itself. A case could be made that the description of Japan given by Roland Barthes in his celebrated work of the 1970s as a society devoid of a centre (Barthes 1970) is valid when applied to contemporary art. Whether or not the roots of this are to be found in Japanese religious culture (Hu 2010 48–52), its effects are to be traced throughout the visual culture, in television and film as much as in art. As Gabriella Lukacs demonstrates in her study of 1990s Japanese television dramas, the shows and the characters who appear in them do not embody socio-cultural ideals, but rather lifestyles (Lukacs 2010: 3), a fact representing the socio-economic context in which television is produced and consumed. The appearance and success of primetime torendii dorama (“trendy dramas”) in 1990s Japanese television is seen by Lukacs as “symptomatic of a shift from narrative-to lifestyle-oriented entertainment” centred on the persona of the tarento or currently popular but often untalented media figures who act in them (and appear endlessly in game shows, advertisements and other multiple sites of exposure), in which the attraction to the viewer is not the story line or plot, “but, rather, the information provided on consumer trends” (Lukacs 2010: 21). The whole context she sees, rightly in my estimation, of the evolution of Japanese capitalism and the widespread creation of an affluent, hyper-consumerist society that had become the dominant macro-sociological form of Japanese society by the

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1990s and has survived the collapse of the bubble economy. The nature of visual culture and the nature of Japanese capitalism dovetail, with a corresponding move, in Anthony Giddens’ terms, from emancipatory politics to lifestyle politics as a typical characteristic of late modern, or post-modern, industrial societies globally (Giddens 1991) and with the emergence of the image as commodity – of an economy based as much on the circulation of signs as of things (Lash and Urry 1994). Furthermore, the ability to read in an inter-textual way is as true of contemporary art as it is of television: the viewer’s knowledge of the broader popular culture is key to the appreciation of the art, the “meaning” of which lies within the inter-textuality rather than with reference to the “outside” world. For the non-Japanese viewer, much of that meaning may consequently remain opaque unless he or she is a fan of the wider and more accessible Japanese popular culture (Napier 2007), or unless, as also may be true, the surface reading is indeed the correct reading, there being no depth to be further elucidated. This reading is indeed congruent with the “Superflat” theory of one of Japan’s best known contemporary artists – Murakami Takeshi – where the surface is the reality. All this raises some very interesting interpretative issues. The blurring or eradication of the boundaries between “serious” art and mass entertainment, and the corresponding shifting of attention in Japanese studies from traditional arts to popular culture, suggests to the media scholar Yoshimoto Mitsuhiro that a serious re-examination of the concept of culture is required, the old distinctions no longer being applicable (Yoshimoto 2010: 2). Likewise, the rapid evolution of media related technology (the mobile phone, the iPod and its imitators, video games, the internet novel, Facebook and so forth) and the visual crowdedness of Japanese urban spaces suggest a high level of visual literacy, but one which is tied mostly to these media transmitted by these technologies. Although art gallery attendance in Japan is quite high, it is the “blockbuster” exhibitions of Western art that draw the big crowds, and the physical audience for contemporary art remains small. Much of that art indeed is known, if at all, to a wider public not through galleries but through other media, primarily print media. The cultural critic and philosopher Azuma Hiroki has argued (Azuma 2001) that, not only do the forms of visual production and consumption propagated through these technological modes (anime and computer texts) represent the triumph of the otaku culture in contemporary Japanese popular culture and its congruence with the characteristics of post-modernism announced a decade ago by the French post-modernist social theorists Baudrillard and Lyotard, but they also signal a major shift in Japanese culture, also corresponding to the 1990s. This Azuma provocatively calls the dobutsu no jindai – the “age of the animal”, in which the otaku is characterized as finally abandoning the enlightenment project in its entirety and is thus no longer “human”. In Azuma’s model, textuality, visuality and consumption come together in a fatal embrace. The reception of works of art we may assume (although


Cases in point

Azuma does not discuss art directly) is as much conditioned by this fatal nexus as is any other form of cultural production. Not only have master narratives disappeared (assuming that they were ever that important in Japanese culture anyway), but the forms of that cultural production do indeed come to resemble those of Murakami’s “Superflat” (Murakami 2000; Azuma 2001: 144–61). This is aesthetically interesting as representing a possible general theory of the evolution of the arts in a “post-development” society, and one that does indeed have many parallels with contemporary artistic production globally (e.g. Grosenick 2005), although internationally it must be said, there is less cross referencing to the surrounding popular culture. But it does also raise more significant questions about power. Sarah Thornton has demonstrated how sub-cultures, seeking, like the Micropop artists discussed earlier, to find recognition in a wider society that does not “see” or recognize them if it does, frequently rather than contest the hierarchies and discourses of that dominant society, simply reproduce in a different space exactly those hierarchies of power and patterns of discrimination (Thornton 1997). The question then becomes whether one can legitimately read Micropop or other forms of contemporary Japanese art as micro-political or actually as nonpolitical? The “politics of the gaze” then becomes a key to understanding the relationship between viewer and the art. Azuma argues that in contemporary Japan, that gaze is kairiteki (“dissociative”), in that the viewer does not draw meaning from the “text” but simply utilizes it as a means of satisfying needs, including those of pleasure and information. Hence the “animality” of Azuma’s characterization: the otaku “feeds” not on the big stories (the meta narratives) which they can in fact no longer access, but simply on the “small” stories, the cute and that which fits their existing repertoire of images. Critical or creative reading then disappears. The larger questions of power and the operations of capital that largely set the parameters of consumerist culture are absent: the apolitical nature of the otaku culture is reflected in the apolitical (except by its silences) text by Azuma himself. In a world in which asocial individualism reigns (despite on-going attempts to characterize Japanese society as a “group” culture), concern with the wider collective or with social movements is absent. Civil society is clearly not absent from Japan, but its relative weakness vis à vis the state on the one hand and corporate capitalism on the other demonstrates its relative impotence (Pharr and Schwartz 2002); interestingly the ‘New Religions’ are one of the few possible exceptions to this rule. The interpretation of Japanese contemporary art, then, suggests a number of possible and co-existing models – of subtle resistance (the “micropolitics” argument of Matsui, the depoliticization and “animality” of Azuma’s reading, of continuity between some aspects of traditional art [especially the ukiyo-e or Edo period woodblock prints]) on the one hand and between contemporary art and anime and manga on the other, as simple

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accommodation to the undemanding aesthetic standards of the wider consumer oriented society, as an aspect of that consumerism itself and as a product of capitalist relations of (cultural) production and fragmentation of the consumer market that has occurred during and since the 1990s. Within such possible models, particular emphases can be seen – whether, for example, the shojo (“for girls”) comics that dominate much of the manga market simply reflect and reproduce passivity, consumerism, narcissism and selfreferentiality without ethical or political content and promote a kind of permanent adolescence, or whether their meaning is more ambiguous and also create areas of mystery, dream, gender-bending and freedom in the ironcage and socially rigid hierarchies of Japanese society (Orbaugh 2003), and whether much the same can be said of gender representations and styles in Japanese contemporary art in general (Borggreen 2003). In 1981, the well-known cultural critic Karatani Kojin argued that the characteristically Japanese form of post-modernism could flourish as it did because in Japan deconstructive tendencies had always been at work, making Japan in fact a quintessentially post-modern society and perhaps the only genuine and thorough going one. Applying this to the arts he stated famously that “in Japan the will to architecture does not exist” (Karatani 1995: xlv). Clearly, Japan has a very venerable architectural tradition, but what Karatani was presumably alluding to was the character of that architecture – low, modular, perishable and showing few of the characteristics of the monumental, built to last architecture of the West. Many commentators have noted the high levels of design and attention to detail in even the most everyday objects in Japan, and this is true. But as Wolfgang Welsch points out: [P]aradoxically, the complete aestheticization of the everyday makes art superfluous. In an over-embellished environment there is simply no need for art any more. It is even becoming impossible to distinguish what is, properly speaking, art, since everything is artistic. Aestheticization digs art’s grave, as Jean Baudrillard aptly noted a quarter of a century ago in his work Symbolic Exchange and Death: ‘art is everywhere, since artifice lies at the heart of reality. So reality is dead … since reality itself … has become inseparable from its own image’. (Welsch 2004: 65) Clearly, too, there is a strong link here back to the work of Maffesoli on the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, especially in the Japanese case where the two are, at least in “traditional” forms of culture such as the tea “ceremony” or rather performance, seen as, if not identical, then at the least strongly supportive of each other (Surak 2013). Contemporary Japanese art is, in scholarly terms, a neglected field of study, compared with the study of popular culture and in particular the over ploughed fields of anime and manga. Worthy of study in its own right, it also


Cases in point

raises profound questions about the “deep grammar” of contemporary Japanese society and of the place of art in consumerist and capitalist societies in general. That the future of contemporary art is a generalized loss of meaning and social engagement is far from a forgone conclusion and is hotly contested by a number of prominent art critics (Gablik 2000; Spalding 2003). Other critics have noted the intimate connections between capitalism and modes of representation (Berger 1977). Of special significance about Japanese contemporary art are four characteristics: its close dialogue with Japanese contemporary pop culture, its lack of political or social engagement except by the most indirect means, its wholesale incorporation into consumer capitalism and its visual manifestations and largely dystopian vision. The surface smoothness of Japanese society clearly conceals deeper and darker sub-terranean forces. Perhaps in a society built in an active earthquake zone, this is not so surprising. But as Japanese popular culture continues to export itself apace, it does also raise the question of exactly what is being exported. This is not simply a question of the economics and politics of what is arguably a new form of cultural imperialism. It is also and more fundamentally a question of the shaping of imaginaries, and with them dreams, subjectivities, memories, patterns of creativity and images of the future. All are implicated in visual cultures, of which contemporary art is a significant part. The recognition of this places a heavy burden on art itself of course. Is its role to re-enchant or disenchant the future that moves inexorably towards us?

Appendix Artists listed in the texts cited above representing contemporary art: for Matsui these are Shimabuku, Aoki Ryoko, Ochiai Tam, Noguchi Rika, Sugito Hiroshi, Nara Yoshitomo, Arima Kaoru, Takano Aya, Mori Chihiro, Izumi Taro, Kunikata Mahomi, Oki Hiroyuki, Handa Masanori, Tanaka Koki, and K.K. For Yamaguchi they are Aida Makoto, Ban Chinatsu, Fukuchi Hideomi, Hamaguchi Ken, Ishizuka Takanori, Kato Izumi, Kato Mika, Kawashima Hideaki, Kobayashi Maiko, Koide Naoki, Kojima Sako, Konoike Tomoko, Kunikata Mahomi, Kuwahara Masahiko, Machida Kumi, Maywa Denki, Miyake Mai, Miyake Shintaro, Mizuno Junko, Morimura Yasumasa, Motoda Hisaharu, Mr., Murakami Takeshi, Nakamura Kengo, Nara Yoshitomo, Nishio Yasuyuki, Odani Motohiko, Ozaki Takashi, Sawada Tomoko, Suzuki Ryoko, Tabaimo, Tanaka Iichiro, Tenmyouya Hisashi, Toast Girl, Tsubaki Noboru, Yamaguchi Ai, Yamaguchi Akira, Yamaguchi Noriko, Yanagi Miwa and Yanobe Kenji. For Neoteny Japan they are Nara Yoshitomo, Murakami Takashi, Aida Makoto, Ozawa Tsuyoshi, Kobayashi Takanobu, Suda Yoshihiro, Mr., Murase Kyoko, Yamaguchi Akira, Takamine Tadasu, Ogawa Shinji,

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Odani Motohiko, Deki Yayoi, Ito Zon, Tabaimo, Nishio Yasuyuki, Miyake Shintaro, Tenmouya Hisashi, Konoike Tomoko, Murayama Ruriko, Kato Izumi, Kato Mika, Kudo Makiko, Teruya Yuken, Sawa Hiraki, Machida Kumi, Akiyama Sayaka, Nawa Kohei, Aoyama Satoru, Saeki Hiroe, Ikeda Mitsuhiro, Chiba Masaya, Ikeda Manabu, Maruyama Naofumi, and Misawa Atsuhiko.


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Abu-Lughod, Lila, 79–80 aesthetics, environmental, 29; Indian 30; polycentric 30 Akasegawa, Genpei, 187 Akira, 180–1 Albers, Anneliese (Anni), 108, 141 Albers, Josef, 108, 141 Alquié, Ferdinand, 107 Amazonian societies, 87 Anderson, Benedict, 124, 148 Andre, Carl, 111 Angkor Wat, 128 Anthropology as Cultural Critique, 79–80 anthropology, visual, 64 Antliff, Mark, 105 Applebroog, Ida, 111 Arata, Isozaki, 142 Archer, W.G., 151 architecture, sociology of, 65–7, 69–73 Arrighi, Giovanni, 116 art, folk 29; land 29, outsider 31; public 29, 49, 63; re-enchantment of 22, 28 Artaud, Antoine, 105, 113. Arts and Crafts movement, 108 Asakawa, Noritaka, 164 Asano, Takeji, 169 Atkins, E. Taylor, 160 Aum Shinrikyo, 177, 182 Aurobindo, Sri, 43 Azuma, Hiroki, 189–90 Bali, music of, 89 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 37, 113 Banerji, Debashish, 154 Banks, Marcus, 65 Barenboim, Daniel, 24 Barthes, Roland, 66, 188

Bataille, Georges, 43 Baudrillard, Jean, 84 Bauhaus, 17, 29, 40, 49, 99, 105, 107, 135, 142 Bauman, Zygmunt, 41 Baxandall, Michael, 12 Becker, Howard, 97 Bell, Julian, 84 Benjamin, Walter, 43, 65, 74 Berger, John, 18, 27, 31, 54, 116 Bergman, Ingmar, 21 Bergson, Henri, 106 Bettelheim, Bruno, 43 Bhaskar, Roy, 10 Bien, Peter, 61 Birmingham school (of cultural studies) 35 Black Mountain College, 108, 141–2 Bloch, Ernst, 24 Bloom, Harold, 155 body, sociology of, 13 Bogel, Cynthea, 127 Boon, James, 83 Borges, Jorge Luis, 14 Borggreen, Gunhild, 187 Born, Georgina, 11, 90–1 Bose, Nandalal, 147 Boulding, Kenneth, 14 Bourdieu, Pierre, 6, 7, 43 Braque, Georges, 102 Brazilia, 72 Brecht, Bertolt, 105 Breton, André, 24, 62, 102, 106 Buck-Morss, Susan, 178 Buddhism, 127, 129, 168 Buechler, Steven M., 104 Bueys, Joseph, 20, 28, 59, 112 Bunsei, 127



Callenbach, Ernest, 99 Calvino, Italo, 14 Camus, Albert, 24, 57 Canberra, 72 Canetti, Elias, 58 Carrenza, Eduardo, 58 Cassirer, Ernst, 10 causality, social, 12–13 Cazdyn, Eric, 188 Chanan, Michael, 58 Chaplin, Charlie, 14 Chen, Chin, 165 Chernoff, John, 80 Cho, Duckhyun, 165 Christianity, 168–170, 174 Christo, 110 Chun, Kyung-ja, 16 Clark, John, 155, 166–7, 185–6 Clark, Timothy, 15 Coaldrake, William, 38 Cocteau, Jean, 19 Coomaraswamy, A.K., 153 Correa, Charles, 153 Craib, Ian, 61 Cubism, 19, 102, 105 Dada, 106 Dallmayr, Fred, 46 Das, Chitta Ranjan, 24 Das, Veena, 61 Date, Nobuaki, 187 Debord, Guy, 112 De Certeau, Michel, 88, 182 deep ecology, 16 degenerate art, 8, 101 De la Fuente, Eduardo, 10, 11 Deleauze, Giles, 182 Denzin, Norman, 66 development studies, 48 Diamond, Jared, 120 Dickhoff, Wilfried, 20 Douglas, Mary, 133 Dubuffet, Jean, 25–6 Dutton, Denis, 5 Duvignaud, Jean, 26–6 Eagleton, Terry, 128 ecology, and art, 29, 31–2 eco-psychology, 38, 47 Einstein, Albert, 97, 118 Eisner, Elliott, 12 emotions, 13

Ettinger, Bracha Lichtenberg, 136 Evans-Pritchard, E.E., 64 Expressionism, German, 19, 102 Fekete, John, 23 Feininger, Lyonel, 65, 108 Feld, Steven, 80, 91 film, 74 Finnis, John, 58 Fischer, Ernst, 5, 8. Fischer, Michael, 79 Flowers, Betty Sue, 93 Foucault, Michel, 135 Frank, A.G., 130 Freedberg, David, 11 Fuchs, Martin, 136 Fujita, Tsuguharu, 146 Fukuzawa, Yukichi, 160 Furusawa, Jun, 24, 185 Gablik, Suzi, 8, 28, 54–5, 58 Galtung, Johan, 47 Gandhi, Mahatma, 24, 153–4 gaze, 66–7 Gell, Alfred, 11, 12, 125 Giddens, Anthony, 189 globalization, 34 Goldsworthy, Andy, 110 Golub, Leon, 106 Grana, Cesar, 9 Griffin, Susan, 56, 93 Grimshaw, Anne, 64 Gropius, Walter, 107, 141, 143–4, 151, 156, 167 Gris, Juan, 19, 102 Guattari, Felix, 182 Gwangju, 174 Habermas, Jurgen, 40, 137 Halicka, Alice, 106 Hall, Stuart, 35 Handelman, Don, 86 Harris, Mary Emma, 142 Harvey, David, 25, 43, 46 Hasegawa, Saburo, 159 Heidegger, Martin, 15–16, 23 Heinich, Nathalie, 6, 7 Hetherington, Kevin, 112–113 Hillman, James, 55 Hirsch, Edward, 23 Hishida, Shunro, 147, 161 Hobart, Angela, 22, 85

Index Hong Chong Myung, 169 Hopkins, Terence, 116 Huizinga, Johan, 98 Ichimaru, Misako, 187 Iida, Yumiko, 179 Illich, Ivan, 25 Isou, Isidore, 112 Iteanu, Andre, 80 James, Henry, 57 Jasper, James, 96, 98 Jaworski, Joseph, 93 Johanson, Patricia, 110 Jung, Carl, 9, 43 justice, visual, 49 Kahlo, Frida, 25 Kal, Hong, 174 Kandinsky, Wassily, 108, 147, 149, 150 Kapferer, Bruce, 22, 85 Kapur, Geeta, 153–4 Karatani, Kojin, 191 Kawakami, Yoshie, 169 Kazantzakis, Nikos, 61 Keil, Charles, 80 Kiefer, Anselm, 28 Kim, Hyeshin, 162–4 Kim Se Jung, 169 Kimsooja, 165 Kim, Whanki, 165 Klee, Paul, 97, 108, 141, 147 Kline, Franz, 159 Korea boom, 158 Kosaka, Keiji, 169 Ko, Uidong, 164 Kollwitz, Käthe, 106 Kramrisch, Stella, 149 Langer, Susanne, 115 LaSalle College of the Arts, 123 Latour, Bruno, 10 Lederach, John Paul, 30, 114 Lee, U-fan, 165 Lefebvre, Henri, 68, 132 Leighten, Patricia, 105 Les demoiselles d’Avignon Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 21 Lewis, Martin, W., 121 Long, Richard, 110 Luhmann, Niklaus, 46


Lukacs, Gabriella, 188 Lyotard, Jean-Francois, 182 Macke, August, 65 Macy, Joanna, 41 Maekawa, Kunio, 143 Maffesoli, Michel, 25, 38, 44, 48 Mago, Pran Nath, 152 Mallmann, Carlos, 47 Mandelstam, Osip, 171 Manifesto Kebudayaan, 27 Marcks, Gerhard, 108 Marcus, George, 65, 79 Marcuse, Herbert, 52 Marin, Louis, 135 Matisse, Henri, 27 Matsui, Midori, 182–83 McPhee, Colin, 89 Meiji period, 160 Melucci, Alberto, 100, 103 memory, 74 Mexican muralists, 108–9 Meyer, Hannes, 108 Micropop, 182, 190 Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig, 108, 141 Miller, Laura, 181 Milosz, Czeslaw, 21 Minemura, Toshiaki, 186 Mitter, Partha, 109, 148 Modotti, Tina, 48 Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo, 108, 141 Morphy, Howard, 65 Morris, David, 60 Morris, William, 108 Motherwell, Robert, 23 Murakami, Takeshi, 182, 184, 186, 189 Murphy, Susan, 57 Museum of Struggle (South Africa), 64 music, sociology of, 10 Myanmar, 72 Myers, Fred, 91–2 Nakayama, Francis, 169 Nandy, Ashis, 137 Nanyang Academy of Arts, 123 Nara, Yoshitomo, 183 Natrajan, Balmurli, 171 Neutra, Richard, 143–4, 167 Nijo Palace, 14 Noguchi, Isamu, 159



Okada, Kenzo, 159 Okakura, Kazuko, 147, 152, 155 Orenstein, Gloria, 53 Orientalism, 33 Orozco, José Clemente, 109 Owens, Craig, 31, 53–4, 135 Panikkar, Raimon, 51 Parade (ballet), 19–20 Paz, Octavio, 19–20, 43 Peet, Richard, 26 Picasso, Pablo, 19–20, 62, 102 Poincare, Henri, 106 Poirier, Sylvie, 88 Pollock, Jackson, 112 post-colonial theory, 30 Proust, Marcel, 20 Quaritch-Wales, H.G., 130 Quarles van Ufford, Philip, 45 Rancière, Jacques, 15, 114 Raslan, Karim, 122 Read, Herbert, 166 realism in art, 106 religion, sociology of, 35 Reynolds, Craig, 138 Riboud, Marc, 76 Ritzer, George, 75 Rivera, Diego, 49, 109 Robinson, Michael, 173 Rothenberg, David, 5 Roy, Jamini, 109, 150, 153, 163, 179 Rumi, Jalal-ud-Din, 57, 118 Saeki, Yuzo, 170 Sahlins, Marshall, 92 Said, Edward W., 24, 48, 53, 66, 135, 157 Saigo, Kogetsu, 161 Sarkar, Benoy, 149 Sasaki, Ken-Ichi, 73 Satie, Eric, 19 Shakespeare, William, 59 Scharmer, Otto, 93 Schlemmer, Oskar, 108 Schor, Mina, 111–12 Schieffelin, Edward, 80 Schmalenbach, Herman, 112 Schwimmer, Eric, 80, 91, 137 Secessionists, Viennese, 19 Seinsgeschichte, 15

Seoul City Hall, 71 Senge, Peter, 93, 117 sexuality, 56 Sher-Gil, Amrita, 150 Shinomura, Kanzan, 161 Shore, Bradd, 81 Siqueiros, David Alfaro, 109 Smithson, Robert, 110 social aesthetics, 16 social imagination, 13 social movements, 17 Soka Gakkai, 180 Socialist Realism, 8, 101, 105 Spalding, Julian, 59 Standish, Isolde, 180–81 Stanley-Baker, Joan, 127 Starr, Amory, 110 Steiner, Rudolf, 10, 43 Stevens, Wallace, 60 Stoller, Paul, 73, 89, 133–4 Stone, Jackie, 168 Strathern, Marilyn, 82 Stremmel, Kerstin, 106 Sudjojono, 123 Su, Do Ho, 165 Sugimoto, Yoshio, 177 Superflat, 186, 189–90 Surrealism, 19, 40, 105–7, 113 Tagore, Abanindranath, 147, 154 Tagore, Gaganendranath, 149, 151 Tagore, Rabindranath, 24, 119, 135, 147, 149–50, 152–3, 155, 163 Taisho period, 171 Take, Jun’ichiro, 187 Tanaka, Stefan, 124 Tanner, Jeremy, 12 Taylor, Charles, 135 Tenedos, Julien, 7 Terk Delaunay, Sonia, 106 Thomas, Nicholas, 160 Thomson, Ashley, 128 Thornton, Sarah, 190 Tobey, Mark, 159 Tomlinson, John, 171 Tokyo, 73 Tripathy, Biyot, 172 Trotsky, Leon, 25 Tsuchida, Bakusen, 167 Ukiyo-e, 179, 190 Unger, Roberto Mangabeira, 31, 118



Van der Velde, Henry, 108 Vedas, 51 Vienna, 72

Winichakul, Thongchai, 124, 131 Winther-Tamaki, Bert, 159 Wu, Tienchang, 165

Wagner, Richard, 83 Wagner, Roy, 83 Wall, Jeff, 106 Wallerstein, Immanuel, 116 Watanabe, Kaigyoku, 169 Wa-Thiongo, Ngugi, 109 Watts, Michael, 26 Weil, Simone, 32 Weiner, James, 82–4 Welsch, Wolfgang, 44, 84, 191 Weston, Victoria, 168 Wigen, Karen, E., 121 Wilber, Ken, 10 Wines, James, 58 Wolters, O.W., 129

Yamaguchi, Yumi, 185 Yanagi, Muneyoshi, 160 Yangon, 72 Yanobe, Kenji, 187 Yokoyama, Taikan, 147, 155, 161, 167 Yorozu, Tetsugoro, 167, 170 Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro, 189 Zagajewski, Adam, 23 Zhang, Dai, 27, 179 Zialcita, Fernando Nakpil, 134 Žižek, Slavoj, 21, 90 Zmijewski, Artur, 114–15 Zola, Emile, 105 Zukin, Sharon, 98