Tag Archives: propaganda

Postcolonial Thoughts: Alain Locke’s essay “Art or Propaganda?”

by Christopher Hutchinson

Alain Locke

Alain LeRoy Locke is heralded as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance” for his publication in 1925 of The New Negro—an anthology of poetry, essays, plays, music and portraiture by white and black artists. Locke is best known as a theorist, critic, and interpreter of African-American literature and art. He was also a creative and systematic philosopher who developed theories of value, pluralism and cultural relativism that informed and were reinforced by his work on aesthetics. Locke saw black aesthetics quite differently than some of the leading Negro intellectuals of his day; most notably W. E. B. Du Bois, with whom he disagreed about the appropriate social function of Negro artistic pursuits. Du Bois thought it was a role and responsibility of the Negro artist to offer a representation of the Negro and black experience which might help in the quest for social uplift. Locke criticized this as “propaganda”-By Jacoby Adeshei Carter http://alainlocke.com/?p=166

ART or Propaganda?

 

If there was a start here button on Black Aesthetics, an essay that should be a mandatory read for all artists of colour, it would be this. Alain Locke writes this simple five paragraph essay that is clear and easy to understand. This article is an attempt to unpack and apply the critique Alain Locke posed 87 years ago. Art or Propaganda? Alain Locke first posed this question in 1928 juxtaposing art and propaganda as binary opposites.   He positions his argument as a statement to where the question becomes rhetorical. Locke’s makes a statement in this essay as to the virtue of art as opposed to the vice of propaganda. The problem with propaganda is “It is too extroverted for balance or poise or inner dignity and self-respect. Art in the best sense is rooted in self-expression and whether naive or sophisticated is self-contained”. Yelling on your soap box is not art.

 

Dred Scott performance I am not a man 2009; duration 1 hour. Performance still 22 x 30 inches, pigment print. http://felicityfenton.com/today/kxh3pxia6rpwnf3uqsjkn6gio0mkic

Dred Scott performance I am not a man
2009; duration 1 hour. Performance still 22 x 30 inches, pigment print.
http://felicityfenton.com/today/kxh3pxia6rpwnf3uqsjkn6gio0mkic

 

My chief objection to propaganda, apart from its besetting sin of monotony and disproportion, is that it perpetuates the position of group inferiority even in crying out against it. For it leaves and speaks under the shadow of a dominant majority whom it harangues, cajoles, threatens or supplicates. It is too extroverted for balance or poise or inner dignity and self-respect. Art in the best sense is rooted in self-expression and whether naive or sophisticated is self-contained. In our spiritual growth genius and talent must more and more choose the role of group expression, or even at times the role of free individualistic expression, in a word must choose art and put aside propaganda.–Alain Locke http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text10/lockeartorpropaganda.pdf

How many times are we going to allow the same images to be so-called repurposed, and reinterpreted to the same “perpetuation of group inferiority even when crying out against it”? It seemed that Locke had his fill of this “monotony” in 1928 and yet this method is still a tried and true way to get a response as a Black artist-STOP IT! Even in cities where Black is the majority this practice is most sought after, it is most commodified.

Shift of Psychology

There is more strength in a confident camp than in a threatened enemy. The sense of inferiority must be innerly compensated, self-conviction must supplant self-justification and in the dignity of this attitude a convinced minority must confront a condescending majority. Art cannot completely accomplish this, but I believe it can lead the way.–Alain Locke http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/protest/text10/lockeartorpropaganda.pdf

The only negative to this essay is the overtly biblical context that assumes that everyone has this knowledge. Within this religious context Locke articulates “Art or Propaganda?,” more clearly into two camps, David or Goliath. David being Art and Goliath being the propaganda. This illustration points to the populous and plentitude of number that the camp of propaganda holds as well as the strength of one individual with carefully chosen “five smooth pebbles fearlessly”. Locke urges that the practice of David should lead us. Alone we should be willing to choose carefully five pebbles and stand without propaganda against any number army. Terry Adkins is such an artist, one of the David’s Locke foresaw.

 

“Recital” comprises a selection of work spanning the last three decades by artist/musician Terry Adkins. Born in 1953 in Washington, DC, Adkins grew up deeply invested in visual art, music, and language. His approach to art making is similar to that of a composer, and the exhibition is conceived as a theatrical score that punctuates and demarcates space, creating interplay among pieces in different media and from diverse bodies of work. Together they act as facets of a crystalline whole, reflecting and illuminating each other in ways that amplify their intensity.

Locke would be disappointed in the overgeneralization and lumping of the Harlem renaissance artists into a Black propaganda machine and Black art today largely falls into the camp of the Philistines. He credits propaganda as a necessary step in our development, as it is necessary for an infant to cry for milk. Art, on the other hand, requires much more than cry’s for necessities, it demands an honest dialogue that allows one to specify nuances of imagery,language, time, and music ones individual aesthetic within a populous culture. …the primary responsibility and function of the artist is to express his own individuality, and in doing that to communicate something of universal human appeal.-By Jacoby Adeshei Carter http://alainlocke.com/?p=166

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Art & the Origins of Supremacy

by Christopher Hutchinson

 

To Winckelmann, the art of Rome was an afterthought. The pinnacle of ancient art had been achieved in fifth-century Athens, whose democracy was the root cause of her excellence. The decline of art began with the establishment of the Hellenistic kingdoms following the death of Alexander. The moral lesson to be drawn from ancient history was not the danger of pagan hubris but rather the superiority of democracy.

http://www.brynmawr.edu/library/exhibits/antiquity/education3.htm

 

Art & Supremacy

From its inception art history has been tied to Supremacy.  Johann Winckelmann, author of the first History of Ancient Art 1764, whose sentiments are stated above, set the rubric as to what could and should be considered art. Many assume that art history has always been in existence. Truthfully it officially begins with Winckelmann and Neoclassical thought.  True to Neoclassical thought, there can be only one way to achieve art, and is through Democracy.

This democracy has been one of the major reasons why Greece has become the go-to standard as the beginning of art praxis.  This allows a global nullification of art produced by second and third world countries.  Winckelmann’s democracy becomes synonymous with supremacy.

It is completely logical that the art of the Third Reich would adopt the standard of supremacy set by Winckelmann. Even the rebirth of humanism laid in the Renaissance and art movements that follow after, have a conceptual tie to that superiority that cannot be overlooked.  The linear practice of Western art theory/methodology has these roots. Hitler was aware of this obvious relationship.  His crowning achievement, after dominating the world, was to be his Museum of Art.

The museum was to have occupied the majority of the city center of Linz, turning the working-class town into Vienna’s cultural superior, a concept that Hitler had relished ever since his failed attempt to become an art student in Vienna, a city that made him feel like a rejected, second-class citizen, prior to his political career  

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/07/inside-hitler-s-fantasy-museum.html

 

Art & Propaganda

pro·pa·gan·da

: ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.

1capitalized :  a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions

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

 

The Ziegler painting installed above the mantle of Hitler's apartment. The Judgement of Paris by Ziegler http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/uploadedImages/articles/2074_Guggenheim785848.jpg

The Ziegler painting installed above the mantle of Hitler’s apartment. The Judgement of Paris by Ziegler
http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/uploadedImages/articles/2074_Guggenheim785848.jpg

 

 

Art of the Third Reich has often been linked with the term propaganda as something negative.  Propaganda is usually perceived as the binary opposite to democracy. This would be the traditional understanding, except for the seamless transition Hitler’s propaganda and the history art already present.  Ziegler’s direct appropriation of Ruben’s Judgement of Paris 1636 is a testament to the farce of democracy. How could this be propaganda, when this narrative was already present?

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

 

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