Friday, October 21, 2016

Social Sculpture and Climate Change

Like politics, science supports a position. They both have an opinion, though arising out of very different sources.

Politics is a reflection and harnessing of public opinion: the aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs held by a population for whatever reason. Scientific opinion, on the other hand, "harnesses the opinions of many different scientific organizations and entities and individual scientists in the relevant field, and is ultimately based on observation": that is, what is empirically demonstrable. The thing to note here, is that--unlike political consensus--once scientific consensus is reached and knowledge has been created from data, that doesn't mean there has actually been any connection made to public opinion, nor to the mechanisms of social change. Art can fill this disconnect, and has frequently been used by politicians as a tool to effect change in the working of the world.

As an example,  Soviet communist party leaders "depicted the United States as a cultural black hole and cited their own significant culture as evidence that they were the inheritors of the European Enlightenment". The Congress for Cultural Freedoms was organized, operated and funded by the CIA to promote American Abstract Expressionism to Europeans in the 1950's as a superior counterpoint to Soviet agitprop art. This covert operation was enthusiastically supported by New York's MOMA and the Ford Foundation. The CIA, acting secretly due to public and Congressional hostility to modern art, funded numerous traveling European exhibitions, symphonies, and many magazines that provided a platform for favorable art criticism. The aftermath of WWII was a not just a military Cold War, but also a cultural one, fought for the hearts and minds of the European intelligentsia. The fascinating and unsettling full story of the CIA and modern art is told in at least two books and a documentary, Hidden Hands (watch Episode 2 here), by Frances Stonor Saunders. Read Chapter 1 of The Cultural Cold War here.

In fact, the CIA still maintains a collection of important modern art used for agent training.
"We’ll have some of our guys and gals come down here and do a critical analysis of the paintings. Say you’ve got to analyze this big, heavy duty ISIL problem over here — maybe if you come look at the painting, it’ll help you think about how to solve the ISIL problem creatively."
* * *

With climate change emerging as the primary global social problem of the Anthropocene geological era, and a massive obsession of the scientific world, it is startling and alarming that politics is not bending art to address this unprecedented challenge. As Bill McKibbon said, "...though we know about it, we don’t know about it. It hasn’t registered in our gut; it isn’t part of our culture. Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?" Science can't offer this.

In the absence of political support (and funding), artists often seek to make cultural change on their own.
"There are experts in little things, but there are no experts in big things. All of us, no matter what we do, have the right to make moral decisions about the world....Everyone must be involved. -- Rachel Schragis 
The historian says [of war], "It's not my business." The lawyer says, "It's not my business." The businessman says, "It's not my business." And the artist says, "It's not my business." Then whose business is it? Does that mean you are going to leave the business of the most important issues in the world to the people who run the country? How stupid can we be? Haven't we had enough experience historically with leaving the important decisions to the people in the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and those who dominate the economy?...It is the job of the artist to...think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare to say things that no one else will say. " -- Howard Zinn
Art was supposed to change things … after studying art history, you realize that’s not always the case, but I love that spirit about what art is supposed to be. Art is part of our larger world so it’s not just by itself trying to do that … yeah, so art does change things.” -- Kellie Jones, Curator and Art Historian
Operating, as we do, on the front-lines of climate change, field stations and marine labs do well to engage with and support artists who are interested in the same things we are.

No comments:

Post a Comment