Walking thoughts… ideas come to mind, walking here and there and back: to the el, the wine store, to the Fresh Grocer. Sometimes they kick off something that comes back to me. A couple days ago, I was thinking about artists—not ART, artists. About making a living (or at least, paying for art materials), in a capitalist system, when one is a confirmed, convicted, solidarity-convinced anti-capitalist. And it occurred to me, that one could look at the problems through the lens of class—that the structures and machinery of class reproduce themselves on particular strata, and this seemed particularly helpful to me in understanding what artists deal with.
The connecting point in these thoughts, was meritocracy—how, because class is not like castes, frozen across generations for all time, but somewhat permeable, it’s easy to ignore how class, in itself, is as unchanging as an South Asian caste system. That individuals are able to climb the ladder, does nothing to overthrow the range of beliefs that justify class inequalities for those who benefit from them, or to offer serious challenge to the ideologies that use those beliefs.
What beliefs? The ‘natural’ superiority of men… (white men), is way up there at the top: patriarchy and Euro-Anglo-American racism–used to excuse, what otherwise would make what capitalism, colonialism, slavery, have done, and continue to do, to the mass humanity, intolerable. What does that have to do with, meritocracy? With art? With the capitalist class system?
Capitalism creates, maintains, and perpetuates inequality. All the way back to the Adam Smith, this has been acknowledged, and because it so flies in the face of the most minimally developed sense of justice, is addressed in all the ideological variants that would defend and promote capitalism. For Adam Smith—it was the Invisible Hand, which, (grossly misused since) would correct the worst abuses, and prevent capitalism from becoming what it has, in face, become. But nothing has been more useful, or done greater violence, the social Darwinism and eugenics. Here was the perfect foil, the perfect answer, to justify belief in the inferiority of the masses, and if an individual here and there, rose up and proved themselves superior to their birth—the genetic mythology perfectly accounted for it, and supported those who would protect the superior races and individuals, while justifying their suppression, and attempts to control, or better, if they proved less than useful and docile–eradicate the untermenchen.
How perfectly the Art World recapitulates this! With its gallery to investor pipeline, a gatekeeper system, meant to identify the Elite, and (hopefully) erase from memory, if not from life itself all the outsiders! Women! Blacks! Colonials! A Patriarchal system (where are the women from how many generations past?) Where are non-Euro artists and their work, but as appropriated by the (even if late-acknowledged) Masters? There is such thing, as ART, let alone, an “Art WORLD!” … if it is not as varied and multiple as there are worlds and peoples! If it doesn’t crash through and DESTROY the gatekeepers and their system!
Those were my walking thoughts… how, I asked myself. .how is it possible, for anyone who calls THEMSELVES an artist—to accept this system? To define their idea of ‘success’ by it’s terms? To not throw themselves into the struggle to create—to IMAGINE… as artists do.. a new and better world?