I have in front of me the on-line edition of “The Hindustan Times”, which is reporting quoting chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan , Asma Jahangir , that Salima Hashmi , eminent Pakistani painter and teacher of Art has been arrested by Pakistani authorities following her protest against emergency rule in Pakistan. Mrs Hashmi is daughter of greatest of Urdu poets and revolutionary Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Faiz himself was arrested many times and had to live in exile for a long period. Hashmi and her family faced similar situation in 80s as well under the dictatorship of neo-fascist General Zia ul Haq. While admiring Hashmi’s courage , i am forced to take up the issue of Art and Revolution. This question has been of monumental importance in Modern Aesthetics.I have seen some where a quote from Salima Hashmi regarding this question , it is stated as :
“The objective of art is to give life a shape and though artists cannot change the world they can, through their work, give flight to imagination; they can give you the direction”
At a glance , it appears very appropriate but it is an expression of the fundamental flaw on part of the Leftist Artists and theorists of Modern Art, in understanding the nature of Art and Revolution. The above quote unfortunately pre supposes the Metaphysical dichotomy between “Mental” and “Physical labor” thus legitimizing the very system of thought and action which the Left intends to over throw. “The Artist” because of his or hers Intellectual ability presumes himself or herself either superior or separate from the People. The relationship such Artist develops with the people is thus the “relationship of separation”.
When such an Artist is a Leftist the problem becomes profound because now the Artist want to associate himself or herself with “the People”. now his role become that of a “Leader” or a “source of Guidance”. This always leads to unfortunate results because this position falls in the trap of Ideology. Instead of People making History , its the Idea that is driving the History: Ideology becomes the motor of History and not the People. Result is firstly a Phase of development of “Political statements” as “Art”, one that lacks the very spirit of Art and Aesthetics and Secondly a “Phase of Disillusionment” from Politics, left and People it self because of the “betrayals” “the failures” etc
If we look at the history of modern Arts , we see the proof of the above phenomenon, the monstrous and barbaric junk that was created in name of “Socialist Realism” in Soviet Union and Eastern Block was an example of the first phase, when Artists sacrificed their very being to dictatorships , this Art that was neither socialist, nor Realist. It was not even Art, rather it was accepting genocide in name of Revolution.
Here Politics was wrongly understood as “Party bureaucracy” , who were supposedly the motor of history! The thinkers , ideologues “guiding’ the people! Whole Art had to be People friendly only if its created on orders of bureaucracy! The whole “system of thought” was reversed! People are motor of history, Party is driven by the People , Ideas are created by People, they are expression of Matter it self, its various trends and contradictions. Party cant guide the people , it has to be expression of People!
Appearance of post modern Art is the example of the second phase , the Suicide Phase, Left dying in Nihilistic frenzy , but sticking to its fundamental error! Accepting the fact of dichotomy of “Mental” and “Manual” labor. This is a Fact in the logical world. But for a Socialist a “FACT” is not enough. For Socialism has always been about challenging FACTS .
Art is Revolutionary within itself, it does Not needs an external approval for being Revolutionary, Since Modernity , Art’s fate has been sealed with the Revolution. Every “Artistic Movement” is a rebellion in itself. A Revolt against the Reality itself!
Leon Trotsky , the Marxist revolutionary wrote on this very question :
“Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for a harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion. Bourgeois society showed its strength throughout long periods of history in the fact that, combining repression, and encouragement, boycott and flattery, it was able to control and assimilate every “rebel” movement in art and raise it to the level of official “recognition.”
Art cannot be separate from Society and Artist does Not exist beyond the sphere of “the People”. Every crisis of Society is the Crisis of Art, since the decline of bourgeoisie and Capitalism the society is dying and rotting, so is the Art. Revival of Art is in Revival of the Society, sealing its fate with Revolution. Going again to Trotsky who wrote:
“It is a crisis which concerns all culture, beginning at its economic base and ending in the highest spheres of ideology. Art can neither escape the crisis nor partition itself off. Art cannot save itself. It will rot away inevitably – as Grecian art rotted beneath the ruins of a culture founded on slavery – unless present-day society is able to rebuild itself. This task is essentially revolutionary in character. For these reasons the function of art in our epoch is determined by its relation to the revolution”
So , i raise my glass to Faiz’s daughter , her courage and conviction, but we must always question our selves, to save Art we must save the Society, and Society cannot be saved when Artist have “Relationship of Separation” with the people. This separation is a Logical Fact but Socialists learn to defy Logic, Leon Trotsky and Andre Breton gave this dialectical formula in their “Manifesto of Surrealism”
The independence of art — for the revolution.
The revolution — for the complete liberation of art!”