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Karl Marx Modernism

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The relationship between art and politics has been re-discussed in recent years in connection with the change in perception brought about by the debate of modernism/postmodernism. The discourse that pure modernism is an autonomous nature of art and therefore should not mediate politics (as well as morality, religion, and tradition) in ‘non-art’ spheres has lost its old power; modern methods of representation and criticism have been replaced by postmodern tendencies.

Since the late 19th century, it is known that the main ideology that explores the relationship between art and politics is Marxism. Even the modernist critics who came to the point of claiming that art should be independent of politics could not dismantle this doctrine which they were once very impressed with and benefit from its methods and concepts in their analysis (Greenberg, 1997: 357-363; 2004: 244-263).

Those who remained loyal to Marxist doctrine continued to see the artist as a creative producer and art as one of the means to free the working class from its chains. According to them, the modernist thesis that art should be independent of politics is a bourgeois ideology and is totally deceiving. Because in a society whose interests are divided into conflicting classes it is impossible to remain impartial. Impartiality means affirming it by keeping silent to the wheel of exploitation. Therefore, the artist, who is himself a producer himself, must stand by the working class; it must reveal and reflect contradictory social realities; it must do its part in the process of building a new society (Fischer, 1993: 7-14; Lukacs, 1985: 33-76; Ziss, 1984: 31-41).

Until the 1980s, art was perceived as a simple presentation/representation relationship in Marxist circles; but now this approach is far from responding to contemporary problems. The artist, as a requirement of autonomy, should not compromise his private life or artistic preferences, but he should stop repeating eroded styles. Traditional representation habits should be broken down and new methods and tools should be tried. It is not only the works that deal with current political issues; and even beyond them, erotic paintings attacking established moral rules and narcotic values may be of a very political character. In sum, creating excitement and debate in a dead-soil environment and creating stimulating work should be regarded as a political activity (Kahraman, 1995: 95-108).

In order to better understand the current relationship between art and politics, it is useful to take a closer look at the development of the idea of art autonomy. Because the idea of artistic autonomy is directly related to how bourgeois art politics evolved from past to present, both in individual and civilian and social and official contexts.

From the 18th century onwards, political discourses in art had increased in the West. Party artists, such as Jacques-Louis David, for example, have clearly declared that they devote their work to revolution. However, as the idea of individuality and freedom developed in the nineteenth century, even artists who voluntarily presented their art to the service of an ideology began to resist ‘external’ political pressure or interference. Because the ideas imposed by the circles of power were contrary to the idea of artistic autonomy because they did not reflect the artist's inner voice. Even if the artist had a relationship with contemporary politics, this decision should have been entirely his own. (Hauser, 1984: 123-148; Kreft, 2008: 19).

The autonomy tendency of art was born as a political art program. Its leading slogan is ’art for art’. At first, glance, although it may seem to be non-political or neutral, given the circumstances of the period, it is clear that this slogan stands at ‘the intersection of current political conditions’ and ‘art's domestic politics’ (of autonomous nature). In the preface to his novel Mademoiselle de Maupin, Theophile Gautier wrote that art had an independent nature of morality, religion, or politics, so instead of obeying them, it was only necessary to follow its own rules. According to him, ‘art was for art. The artist should stay away from ‘non-art spaces’, not deal with unnecessary burdens, and only concentrate on artistic problems. This also meant a rebellion against the dominant powers and the traditional point of view. For centuries, both religious and aristocratic circles in the West have used art as a means to maintain their power. Therefore, their deprivation of this instrument was very important for both the emerging new class (the bourgeoisie) and the artists who were fond of their freedom. In the struggle for political power, it was wise for the bourgeoisie to applaud the artists' demands for autonomy. It was an excellent art policy to draw the artists from the aristocratic circles to the bourgeois ranks. Now, more clearly, this move of the bourgeois class in the 19th century was not apolitical. On the contrary, this move had anti-political content. Because it was opposed to the official art policy of those years, and also a radical critic of the new capitalism and constitutional republic that was dominant in France after the 1848 Revolution (Kreft, 2008: 35).

In the following process, the bourgeoisie took care to evacuate the revolutionary content of this autonomous art politics and transform it into its own form. Once bourgeois power was established, the artists could continue to freely discuss material and style among themselves in the capitalist market environment; however, they were locked in a golden cage’ (Hauser, 1984: 227). From the 19th century to the 20th century, artists such as Delacroix (Visual 2), Courbet, Daumier (Visual 3), Picasso, Kollwitz (Visual 4), Dix (Visual 5), Léger and Cahun (Visual 6), ) while dealing with various political issues, while trying to make their voices heard from this golden cage.

Until the 1940s, the center of this modern art politics was Paris. After World War II, New York took on the role. The US-led Western Bloc, during the cold war with the USSR until 1991; showed a special interest in neutral artists and their stylistic research, especially abstract tendencies. Museums and educational institutions are also shaped in this direction (Clark, 2004: 13, 168; Guilbaut, 2008: 251-61).

Undoubtedly, Picasso's Guernica comes to the fore when it is mentioned as a political work in connection with the modern period (Visual 7). Guernica's strength stems not only from its being anti-war but also from the tradition of classical representation. In addition, Picasso became a leading artist in the left circles because he was a member of the French Communist Party (Berger, 1989: 174-181; Clark, 2004: 55-63). Both this work of 1937 and its by-products, as well as the words he wrote in 1945, have taken their place among the unforgettable memories of not only the modern era but of all times:

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What do you think of an artist? If a painter is a fool with only eyes, a musician with only ears, and a poet with a lyre in every corner of his heart? On the contrary, he is a political entity that is always on the lookout for the fiery, happy, or fearful events in the world, always ready to reflect on such events. How can you break yourself out of life on the pretext of being neutral? How is it possible not to take care of other people who add so much to your life? No, the painting is not made to decorate houses. An attack and defense tool against the enemy picture. (Ashton, D., (der.), (2001). 165-166)

In the meantime, it should be remembered that the artist is not only owned by the left but also by the bourgeois circles. In the process of the footsteps of the Second World War, countries such as the United States, Britain and France seemed to be side by side with the USSR and other left circles in the context of their struggle against fascism. Picasso's heart was in favor of socialists, but he also found their view of art directive and conservative. The leftist parties in the capitalist countries insisted on socialist realism whose content was determined by Stalin's art commissioner Judanov and proposed against modernism (Clark, 2004: 55-63).

Most intellectuals in the United States remained close to Marxism until the 1940s; They also supported Trotsky against Stalin in the internal party fight in the USSR. One of the reasons why the intellectuals looked warmly at Trotsky was his cultural accumulation. Since Trotsky was in exile in Mexico at that time, the artistic community had the opportunity to benefit from his views. When Trotsky was killed by a Stalinist Spaniard in 1940, the enmity of the US intellectuals increased one more time Stalin. In the following period, this hostility spread and turned into anti-USSR and leading them to move away from Marxism. In fact, the intellectuals have been vacillating between Americanism and Marxism for some time, looking for a way out. The fact that Trotsky was massacred by Stalin and that orthodox Marxists supported socialist realism as opposed to modernism gave American artists the opportunity. If the US government and business circles decided to support modernism, then it was wise to come under the wing of this cultural policy (Guilbaut, 2008: 31-57).

In Europe, the influence of Marxism lasted longer. Ernst Fischer and Georg Lukacs began to examine art and culture issues from the 1930s onwards and were effective until the end of the 1980s. In addition to these writers, other Marxist thinkers, such as Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse, set out in 1923 to analyze the political atmosphere of their time; but they were able to draw attention from the 1950s. The common aim of these thinkers, who came together under the umbrella of the Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School) in Germany, was to take Marxism from a critical perspective and return it to its essence. Because according to them, this doctrine had already turned into a dogma.

When Adorno and Horkheimer emigrated to the United States in 1933, escaping from the Nazi oppression, they found it worth exploring the cultural environment being built there, while at the same time distancing themselves from orthodox Marxism. Until the return of these two thinkers to Germany in 1953, their research in the United States formed the basis of what is now known as the culture industry.

According to the observations of Adorno, capital directly governed both politics and art. This meant that the boundary between art and politics became ambiguous and even disappeared. The cultural industry (through the film, music, television, and advertising sectors) put an end to the distinction between high and low culture. The culture was no longer a mass-born, but an industry that was offered to the masses by capital (Lunn, 1995: 186-215; Adorno, 2003: 76-78). Adorno and his colleagues were, of course, heralding postmodern theses after them.

Michel Foucault was also trying to introduce new explanations to the power and political issues in capitalist countries since the 1970s. According to him, discourses such as class struggle, the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist party, and the intellectuals bringing consciousness to the masses were eroded. Power relations were not just relations between the state, parties, and society (classes). Foucault stated that the struggle for power took place everywhere (at home, at work, among individuals, in the media, between communities and genders, and even in the body of every individual person). The masses had nothing to learn from intellectuals who believed in orthodox Marxism. Anyhow, a worker's knowledge of his own position and work was more than that (Foucault, 1994: 32,45; 2000: 15,45,181-5, 238-50).

The collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, and two years later under the internal contradictions of the USSR, heralded the complete elimination of the obstacles to the neo-liberal politics of the US and Britain (Hardt and Negri, 2001: 195). It was the time of the new world order. According to Francis Fukuyama, one of the spokespersons of neo-liberalism, the era of history and great narratives had come to an end when liberalism overthrew fascism and communism. Marx had taken the idea of the 'end of history from Hegel, but with the collapse of Marxism, humanity had been freed from this impossible and unnecessary dream (Fukuyama, 1993: 192-200).

In the 2000s, the new concept of globalization has been introduced. With the globalization of capital and communication, cultural similarities have arisen not only in business but also in every field, from sports, entertainment, clothing, nutrition, and art. This inevitably recalled the assumptions of Marx and Engels more than a century and a half ago. In the Manifesto, which they co-wrote in 1848, that the bourgeoisie would constantly revolutionize the means of production, hence the relations of production and thus all social relations; that by constantly transforming the production in every field of material and spiritual, it will continuously shake all social segments (Marx and Engels Manifesto) it outlines the globalizing nature of capital in general. According to Aren, this was an inevitable process. In fact, globalization means the rasping of national independence and therefore cultural uniqueness. But there is no way to stop it. What needs to be done in this case is to create products that can compete with developed countries in every field, rather than inward (Aren, 2002: 59-67).

Meanwhile, another issue that should not be overlooked is that global capital groups are competing with each other rather than peace. They try to influence the official institutions in their favor with the instinct of profit and they struggle against each other. International biennials and art fairs in New York, London, Venice, Berlin, Istanbul, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Beijing, and many other cities are directly linked to these capital movements. Art policies of companies should be considered as part of their general policies (market share strategies). This inevitably means that, as Haacke points out, every artist who is willing to work with these companies becomes the gear of their art politics (Haacke, 1993: 105).

So, are all roads blocked? Are there any non-system areas where artists who want to remain opposed to everything can breathe? The truth is, there is no place outside. Everything is going on here. At the very least, chaotic spaces can be mentioned as difficult to control. The most prominent ones are the internet and the streets. These two environments inspire pirated-spirited artists to produce criticisms and expressions that will shake the system, leaving legal limitations helpless and hoping for new searches.

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