Saturday, June 27, 2009

Honest error vs. icy perfections

Inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh's rendering of J.D. Sedding's epithet "There is hope in honest error: none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist" I've decided to restructure the look of the blog, despite my lack of design skills. My "if I were a real designer" fantasy is to synthesize elements of Arts and Crafts style with a dash of Peter Saville. Because I am the pen and paper type, and share only a name and no know-how with Mackintosh's life partner/artistic collaborator, that synthesis is not going to happen here. In my own low-tech way, I am pleased to share with you, the visitor, the above photo of old theatre posters hanging in the Folkets Park theatre at Huskvarna, Sweden.

Living in Canada, an administrative nation with a fading attachment to social democracy, I often find myself struggling with questions about the relationship between politics and art. The above posters represent state-sponsored entertainment, some of it the kind of light, cathartic entertainment that gives an audience a sense that things in the world are fine the way they are. But the same system also produced Ingmar Bergman, whose work, I would argue, can be more unsettling than Samuel Beckett's. This puts a pea under the mattress of settled thinking. The source of the work, the system that supports it financially, does not necessarily determine the form of the work, or its effect. With films like "Scenes from a Marriage" and 'Winterlight" Bergman demonstrates that realism can leave the audience with a sense of deep unease.

Cultural critic Theodor Adorno sometimes strikes me as a bit of a jerk (not of the Steve Martin variety), but in the essay "On Commitment" he has several moments of tenderness and clarity when contemplating political art. He writes: "It is not the office of art to spotlight alternatives, but to resist by its form alone the course of the world, which permanently puts a pistol to men's heads."* But to resist the course of the world, the form of a work doesn't have to be 'difficult,' obscure, or inaccessible. It doesn't have to feel bad to be good.


*Adorno in Arato and Gebhardt, Editors, Essential Frankfurt School Reader, New York: Urizen, 1978; p. 304

No comments:

Post a Comment