I find that can only read John Berger’s essay in Landscapes, Revolutionary Undoing: on Max Raphael’s The Demands of Art, a page, or paragraph at a time, without being brought to full stop. Here is one of those passages, where I have to close the book to take it in.
“There is not a significant artist in the world who is not asking himself whether his art is justified — not on account of the quality of his talent, but on account of the relevance of art to the demands of the time in which he is living.”
I have to stop because these thoughts have been troubling me, and the more assured I am–the more confident I become in my creative powers, the more troubling they become, trouble me to the point, that I’ve come to believe that that to make art for our times is impossible, or rather–that there can be no validation here in the making of art–not in this world, for us as artists. Justification, if it’s to come, will have to wait for the new age.
To go on making art, then, is–must be–an act of faith–that against all evidence–or in its absence, which comes to the same thing, what we do will have to find it’s meaning elsewhere, in the world we must create if we are to survive for long on this planet. A world that does not now exist, except as a dream and a necessity.
It isn’t enough to be ‘topical,’ to be what others would call, relevant–that is, to make art that serves the revolution–an impossibility, because the revolution, whatever form it will take, is still invisible, and the best we can do to directly serve the cause–is make propaganda–pieces to encourage and embolden our would-be revolutionaries. There is nothing wrong with that. Such efforts are needed. But whatever is of use now, will not have the power to resist being usurped, and put to uses antithetical to the revolution, and to the world we are called upon to build.
This is different than the old hope in posterity, a posterity that would be like us, but with greater understanding. This is a faith in a new reality. What we make now, we see only with the eyes and mind of this reality. That which will exist in the new reality, is present now, present in the art we are making–and yet, but beyond our ability to in the eye of our imagining. That’s the nature of our faith, the faith we must have. That if we are true to the promptings of our own vision, we will bring forth work that exists now, both in and beyond our time, visible in the present only as a work of the the present–but pregnant with a future no eye as yet can see.