Why do authoritarians attack the arts?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Landrum Kelly, Apr 6, 2017.

  1. My reformulated question remains, if anyone (besides Fred) can or wants to address it:

    What is it about about art that seems to invite efforts to suppress it?
    That has been addressed by Fred and one or two others above, but the comments in general have tended to come down in terms of overtly political discourse of a partisan nature, which was certainly not my intent in posting the original question.

  2. Actually,Hitler was rabidly anti Communist.
    Communism is a totalitarian variant of socialism. Hitler was against all variants of socialism, including democratic socialism, much less voluntary utopian socialism.

    Any comments out there about art?

  3. Interesting, the academic reflex in debate, lock in on a minor point.
    Sandy, knowing that I have been an academic all of my life (continuing to the present , and I will be seventy-two in less than two weeks), why did you take what appears to me to be something of a cheap shot? What, pray tell, was my "minor point"?

    Academia may be overwhelmingly left-leaning to you, but from where I sit (which is unfortunately a bit too far south for my blood), the greater force of the academy is supportive of the status quo in my part of the world (the Southeast)--if not downright reactionary.

    Anybody want to talk about art?

    Last edited: Apr 6, 2017
  4. Art is both cultural and countercultural. Counterculture is often threatening to prevailing power structures.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  5. Art is both cultural and countercultural. Counterculture is often threatening to prevailing power structures.
    That is certainly true, Fred, and such widely disparate figures as Franco and Putin seem to have been obsessed by that which was/is not traditional and blessed by the Church.

    What strikes me in general, however, is that even very moderate dissent is rarely tolerated by some authoritarians. Artistic expression can be viewed as something like a conversation, I think, and some persons simply do not want conversation itself to be open and free. Since I left full-time teaching in 2011, I offer a course here and there, and one place where I am teaching this semester has made it clear that all communication relating to academic matters must be carried out through what the administration calls "the chain of command." (I presume they mean "channels," but I don't typically belabor the point.)

    It is this very effort at the CONTROL OF CONVERSATION AND THUS THOUGHT ITSELF that frightens me the most. Good art can certainly make people think--and question--and thinking and questioning are not high on the lists of academic virtues in some corners of the South--and elsewhere. When I came back to the Southeast in 1986, I taught a course in political theory/philosophy in which I had a former Navy seal as a student. One day, when I was extolling the value of the conflict of ideas in terms of generating thought, he suddenly burst out, "People think too much!" I responded "Not my students" and let it go. North or south, he got his intellectual socialization in the military--and he never outgrew it.

    The impulse to control communication is, I believe, part and parcel of the effort to control thought. One popular view right now is that the academy wants to suppress dissent from the right. Those currents exist, but the academy in general (universities, that is) seem all too often to want to suppress dissent, period--especially from the left.

    If art is not free, I wonder if it is really worthy of the appellation "art"--but I dare not make this thread into one about definitions again.

  6. "Authoritarian" and "paranoid" seem inextricably linked--non-paranoid authoritarians don't tend to survive very long. Paranoia interprets the ambiguous or incomprehensible as an attack, and much of art--visual, written, or music--incorporates ambiguous elements. It's in the best interest of someone who intends to be a long-lived authoritarian to squelch the perceived attacks. The kinds of art left standing are predictably unambiguous.
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  7. Can't recall too much propaganda art, ex the Che shirt, commemorating a sociopath killer that sells well.
    Sandy, every "Che" shirt that I have ever seen in these United States was surely "subsidized" by a private vendor--i.e., offered on the open market.

    They sell pretty well!

    By the way, Che is reputed to have said of Castro's purge of dissidents in the early Sixties, "Every revolution has its purge. I hope that this one is mercifully brief." That didn't come from a Cuban publication, since they all deny that there even was a purge. Che was in many ways an odd bird, but I have never heard him called a "sociopath killer" before. For what it's worth, I gave a paper critical of Che's "new man of socialism" in Cuba in 1997--during my second multi-week stay in Cuba. In addition, I gave that paper (critical of Che) at an institution of higher learning in Matanzas, just a few miles from where Che had a home before being shipped out to Bolivia--and almost certain death. You obviously don't know me, but you apparently think you do.

    Last edited: Apr 7, 2017
  8. My personal opinion is, art, which is composed of symbols, rhetorics and gestures, is much more effective in convincing someone than words or pamphlets. Art turns you from within, and such conviction can be long lasting or permanent. When a sizable part of the population has been so turned (often silently), there is a cascading change in public emotion that can lead to revolution. Authoritarians fear that. Besides, there is also the concern of being proven insignificant and failed in their demagoguery, when the population finds a greater inspiration elsewhere in art or the artist.

    In addition to the symbolic aspect, art also makes frequent references to heritage, history and social bonds that present the society with a bigger context than the fear or nationalistic propaganda that the authoritarians use to subdue the population. Art can give life a meaning that's independent of the current political situation, which leads to optimism and to fearlessness. All of these tend to weaken a dictator's hold on the country and threaten his position. No doubt, he/she will be concerned.

    Some of these points were already mentioned before in this thread. In that case, I am simply echoing the others' POVs.
  9. Art turns you from within, and such conviction can be long lasting or permanent. When a sizable part of the population has been so turned (often silently), there is a cascading change in public emotion that can lead to revolution. Authoritarians fear that.
    Supriyo, your comment and that of Leslie Reid above do play upon a common theme: authoritarian types really are quite fearful, whether that fear is rational or irrational (paranoid).

    All that I can say is that fearful people are dangerous people, and none of us who dissents (whether with words or pictures or something else) is ever going to be truly safe in the presence of such fearful people. It is always dangerous, that is, to be a dissenter.

    Yet, yet, we do not shut up. . . .

  10. Its not about the dollars. And I doubt its about dictatorship either, at least not politically . Fact is, the NEA has been targeted by faith based social conservatives for several years now. These people are highly represented in today's GOP. This has been on their agenda since the days of Maplethorpe. Its just that now there is a holy trinity of GOP control of the executive, house and senate so it makes this move possible.
  11. Nevermind. No point getting into political discussions here.
  12. or·tho·dox - 1. (of a person or their views, especially religious or political ones, or other beliefs or practices) conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.​

    Art tends to be unorthodox.

    un·or·tho·dox - contrary to what is usual, traditional, or accepted; not orthodox​

    Also, as Leslie pointed out, art is:

    In consequence of that ambiguity, as Mary Panzer writes:

    "... photographic images turned all subjects into history, and all viewers into historians."​

    "... photographs have no fixed meaning. [Romana Javitz, head of the Picture Collection at the New York Public Library] reported that "the multifarious uses of pictures continued to astonish those who work with them," using as an example an unidentified photograph from the FSA (possibly Wife and Children of Sharecropper in Washington County, Arkansas, 1935, by Arthur Rothstein, or an image with a nearly identical title and date by Ben Shahn).​

    A photograph made for the FSA showing a mother in a sharecropper's family with three young children tugging at her skirt and an infant in her arms, was used by a religious organization to solicit funds for the poor ... by a birth control organization for propaganda; a visiting European used it to comment disparagingly on life in a democracy; and a mental hygienist used a detail of the mother's face to demonstrate the link between insecurity and mental diseases.​

    Speaking later of the same image, she added that it had been used by a lecturer to show his Negro audience that poverty was not solely a racial problem, and that it had first appeared in an exhibition, The Soil and the Land, comprising photographs from the Resettlement Administration; the forerunner of the Farm Security Administration."​

    Something that turns all viewers into historians permits and may therefore promote unorthodox thought. Gasp!
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  13. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    do they (or as Ian Beale, east end hero, would say, duvet).

    the vietnam war tv coverage helped stop the war but that was truth not art. i can't find a single instance of a revolution or uprising or a sizeable part of the population being turned or caused by art. an empty stomach, yes; wonga, yes (i'd liked to be proved wrong)

    did the pictures of Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach change anything?
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2017
  14. Art encourages individualism and creative thinking. Authoritarianism requires blind obedience. So the two are directly conflicting.
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  15. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    and yet both utilize cronyism, favouritism, nepotism and occasionally jism.
  16. There was a more cogent article about the power (or impotency) of art that appeared in the New York Times in 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.


    It begins this way:

    "THE only time art ever seems to make news here in the West anymore is when a Pollock or Warhol sells for a sum commensurate with the budget of a “Transformers” film. It seems bizarre, then, to find ourselves grappling with international crises in which art is the issue: the imbroglio involving the Sony movie “The Interview,” the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The incomprehension, whether bemused or horrified, that we feel toward people who take up arms against the creators of cartoons or comedies is a chastening reminder that there are still cultures in which art is not a harmless diversion or commodity, but something real and volatile, a potential threat to be violently suppressed. These attacks are, in a way, a savage, atavistic show of respect."

    (...) "Autocrats from Plato on have advocated control and censorship of the arts to ensure the stability of their states and micromanage their people’s inner lives. In the mature democracies of the West, there’s no longer any need for purges or fatwas or book-burnings. Why waste bullets shooting artists when you can just not pay them? Why bother banning books when nobody reads anyway, and the national literature is so provincial, insular and narcissistic it poses no troublesome questions?"

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  17. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    the attack on charlie hebdo allowed the french govt to become more authoritarian
    i think the same would have happened if the terr'wrists had shot up a boulangerie.
  18. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    anyhoo, i don't think authorities attack art they just suppress facts.

    if you are really interested read George Orwell's killing an elephant, pages 12-14
  19. Back in 1982-83 I lived through the paroxysm of authoritarianism that was Argentina under the military junta and the Falklands War. It was an education in the power of propaganda (as promulgated by the authoritarianism) to influence the opinions and acts of a willing populace. I want to emphasize the the necessity that the targets of the propaganda be willing to be influenced. I think we can all agree that there exists a vast range in categories of art. Some would classify virtually every class of art as propaganda, while others are more concerned about intent as to whether a work is propaganda or not.

    Merriam-Webster defines propaganda as: "2: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; 3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect" For me, most art exists somewhere on a continuum between beauty-for-beauty's-sake and overt, deceitful propaganda.

    All art, by definition, is about the representation and communication of ideas, so the intent and purpose of the artist's ideas becomes a critical component in placing art on this continuum. The place of a given piece of art on the continuum is also determined by how it is used by others beside the artist. Authoritarians are, by nature, suspicious of threats to their positions of power, and manipulate the arts to greater or lesser degrees to both enhance and secure their positions while undermining and diminishing the influence and power of their opposition. However, this is not the sole purview of the evil, wicked, mean and nasty types such as the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. Both sides of the "democratic" political spectrum do the same thing. The left-leaning media rarely publish a photograph of Mr. Trump that portrays other than an angry, sour, or suspicious demeanor, while the majority of images of Mr. Obama were dignified, sober, or happy.

    In the realm of ideas, and, by extension, art, it is all too easy to label the representation of one's opponents' ideas as "propaganda", thereby devaluing those ideas and the people who espouse them, while insisting that one's own representations are pure and uniquely noble. I oppose those who insist that any representation of Conservative thought is propaganda, constitutes hate speech, and is to be suppressed, while insisting that every representation of Liberal ideas is pure and noble, and deserves both a place in the public square as well as the support of taxpayer dollars. The change today from four years ago is that now the Right holds the purse strings, and the Left asserts the evil intentions of those in power (the Authoritarians), while the shoe was so recently on the other foot.

    I still have not heard a meaningful explanation of what criteria should be used to decide which art should be supported by finite tax dollars, and which left to its own devices? If NEA remains funded, but those funds are directed towards Conservative-themed art, will that be OK?, or is it that what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander? How do you propose we answer this question, and so many like it?
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2017

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