Authoritarian states and the arts

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Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Trotsky » Tue Apr 03, 2012 7:49 pm

It is a common place that freer societies breed better artists. I have been playing with the idea that it might not be set in stone. For instance, when I was a child, although the dictatorship had officially ended, there was plenty of previous censorship. But as soon as the Destape happened, everyone was free to say anything in any way - which is great for every aspect of life, *except* the arts. Art thrives on tropes, layers of understanding, subtelty. This was way too apparent with comedians; once they got great lenghts to convey their message by elevation, and soon they were making cheap dirty jokes. Also, plays were to be interpreted in face value. No metaphors, no rhetorical devices, just baddie bashing. Am I onto something, or did I catch some seasonal authoritarian flu?
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby WCMeyer » Tue Apr 03, 2012 8:04 pm

I don't know if an overlord necessarily breeds better art; unsophisticated art has always been around, only now it's mainstream and extolled.

As with most things good, you have to seek out and wade through the refuse. I highly doubt comedy was any better in 1950's Russia than it is in present day America. There's tons of great comedy today. Sure, it may be more broad, but art and its sensibilities change.

There is something to be said of religious patronage fostering the production of art, though.

Remember - Shakespeare's comedies were loaded with dick and fart jokes; we just find them refined because they're in a nearly indecipherable language.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Waleis » Tue Apr 03, 2012 8:07 pm

Free speech means the freedom to produce amazing art, and the freedom to produce shitty art. Usually we produce shitty art. But freedom allows the best artists to work as well as they can, even as an ever growing number of shitty artists produce even more shitty art. Free speech is a double edged sword, but it's worth it in the end because of the leeway given to the best artists.

This isn't to say that restriction and totalitarianism can't inspire good artists to produce better work. The French film Le Corbeau is an excellent example of this. It's an anti-Nazi film that delivers its message with such subtlety and creativity, Nazi censors didn't ban it and the French were able to openly view it during the occupation.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby nmoore63 » Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:51 pm

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand freedom produces on art... on the other hand only the state has the power to push such a high percentage of societies resources into art. Pyraminds, Taj Mahal... would never have been built without authoritarian states.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Dr. Strangelove » Fri Apr 06, 2012 8:43 pm

It can work the other way. The Soviets produced some of the greatest artists of the time. Also, consider the story of Arvo Pärt. He refused to renounce his Christianity so the communists relegated him to writing choral music rather than symphonies.

He took that "punishment" and produced the greatest choral music ever. His music is incredible. It's like a three dimensional space you can explore. In his case, can it not be argued that tyranny honed his art into something so incredible? Out of his oppression came true beauty.

Listen.

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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby WCMeyer » Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:25 pm

Dr. Strangelove wrote:It can work the other way. The Soviets produced some of the greatest artists of the time. Also, consider the story of Arvo Pärt. He refused to renounce his Christianity so the communists relegated him to writing choral music rather than symphonies.

He took that "punishment" and produced the greatest choral music ever. His music is incredible. It's like a three dimensional space you can explore. In his case, can it not be argued that tyranny honed his art into something so incredible? Out of his oppression came true beauty.

Listen.



I'd say Pärt is a very singular example (and I don't really care much for him, anyways). I think another one was Prokofiev, who rather enjoyed the communist regime.

For the most part though, I'd say that authority at the very least doesn't help, if not harm, the creation of art. Stravinsky would have eventually been torn limb from limb had he not escaped Russia.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Dr. Strangelove » Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:43 pm

Are you kidding me? The Soviets were able to put quite a lot more of their GDP towards the arts then we ever could. Same with sports. Anything like that was considered a way of showcasing the superiority of communism. If a child showed promise at an early age, they were shipped off to academies to learn from the masters. An artist would be taken care of for life. In America.. yeah. Cat food and food stamps.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Waleis » Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:47 pm

It seems that the distinction between "authoritarian" and "government" needs to be distinguished here. Proper government enables artists; authoritarian government can enable some artists while suppressing the skill of other artists.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby WCMeyer » Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:08 pm

Dr. Strangelove wrote:Are you kidding me? The Soviets were able to put quite a lot more of their GDP towards the arts then we ever could. Same with sports. Anything like that was considered a way of showcasing the superiority of communism. If a child showed promise at an early age, they were shipped off to academies to learn from the masters. An artist would be taken care of for life. In America.. yeah. Cat food and food stamps.


Sure that's true, but I'm not seeing any notable examples of the success of such a strategy. Pick any decade of the 20th century, and compare the Soviets and any Western nation, and say, the production of music.

You can hand me an Arvo Part, who begrudgingly produced art that was mandated by the state, and I can give you rock n' roll, blues, jazz, pop, hip hop, as well as numerous 'classical' musicians, many of whom had escaped from the east.

So, I like your idea that 'more money poured on the arts by government = more and better art', but I'm not seeing it. In theory, I think it's a flawed premise, because (and this is totally non-empirical) an artist of worth is never moved to create for the sake of money.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby WCMeyer » Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:19 pm

Pretty entertaining story about jazz in the Third Reich.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_fu ... =131&act=2
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Dr. Strangelove » Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:22 pm

Reality contradicts you. Ever heard of a guy named Mozart? Bach?

What capitalistic nations produce is a lot of popular music and art. Commercial material, which is great. But don't discount high art. That is where authoritarian nations will always come out ahead. Subsidizing the arts is rather common for them. It is a way to illustrate their legitimacy to both their own people and the rest of the world.

We don't have anything like that. Our nation helps people become popular (profitable) artists. But most artists starve until they take up minimum wage jobs and live out their lives in squalor. We have very little art subsidies relative to our actual wealth as a nation. Our national soul is reflected by our poverty in the arts. If we truly are so great, then we should have quite a lot more art and culture than we do. Instead we live in this factory-like society.

If anything, the very opposite can be argued to a point. An authoritarian nation can always outperform a capitalistic nation because there is little economic value in art. Tell me how much is a pianist worth? But then how many of us can do what he does? We don't properly value things in such a society. In an authoritarian society, the regime in charge could very likely put a great deal of emphasis on art to illustrate their people and culture. They often do find great value in the arts that our nation will never do.

And try as you might, your little hipster band they play at StarBucks is not the equivalent of Arvo Par.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby WCMeyer » Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:44 pm

Dr. Strangelove wrote:Reality contradicts you. Ever heard of a guy named Mozart? Bach?

What capitalistic nations produce is a lot of popular music and art. Commercial material, which is great. But don't discount high art. That is where authoritarian nations will always come out ahead. Subsidizing the arts is rather common for them. It is a way to illustrate their legitimacy to both their own people and the rest of the world.

We don't have anything like that. Our nation helps people become popular (profitable) artists. But most artists starve until they take up minimum wage jobs and live out their lives in squalor. We have very little art subsidies relative to our actual wealth as a nation. Our national soul is reflected by our poverty in the arts. If we truly are so great, then we should have quite a lot more art and culture than we do. Instead we live in this factory-like society.

If anything, the very opposite can be argued to a point. An authoritarian nation can always outperform a capitalistic nation because there is little economic value in art. Tell me how much is a pianist worth? But then how many of us can do what he does? We don't properly value things in such a society. In an authoritarian society, the regime in charge could very likely put a great deal of emphasis on art to illustrate their people and culture. They often do find great value in the arts that our nation will never do.

And try as you might, your little hipster band they play at StarBucks is not the equivalent of Arvo Par.


You can't help but to be snide at the end of every post, no matter how benign the discussion, can you?

As I put it in my first post, there's certainly a lot that can be said of religious patronage, and patronage of the court. But I don't know if I'd compare feeding and housing Mozart in exchange for him producing operas to show off to those French assholes across the way to a country like Russia deciding what gets made and by who in every instance of art.

We also need to note that the reality of being a composer in the 18th century was a far different occupation than being an artist in the radio-age. Patronage was the only way to make a living in the day; after the revolution of radio, only a capitalist system like America could compete to produce quality music, as Russia continued to operate on the archaic patronage scheme, while Beatles records were being smuggled in under their nose.

Fratres by Part (and arranged by someone else, which is the only thing that makes it good) is about the only thing of his that doesn't put me to sleep. Do my 'shitty indie bands' playing in Starbucks (I don't think Starbucks has been hip or indie or played good music since '94) understand quartal harmony? Probably not, but loud guitars sure are cool. And you couldn't hear a loud guitar in Russia 'till '91, round about when Starbucks was cool.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Smitty-48 » Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:47 pm

WCMeyer wrote: And you couldn't hear a loud guitar in Russia 'till '91,


Proof the Soviets did get some things right.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby WCMeyer » Fri Apr 06, 2012 11:51 pm

Smitty-48 wrote:
WCMeyer wrote: And you couldn't hear a loud guitar in Russia 'till '91,


Proof the Soviets did get some things right.


Smitty, you can't triumphantly walk into a Walmart with Flight of the Valkyries blasting behind you all the time.
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Re: Authoritarian states and the arts

Postby Dr. Strangelove » Fri Apr 06, 2012 11:58 pm

You have to mix it up. If you want to roll like the Soviets..



Take it to 1:30.
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