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Art and freedom

My day is done. I’ve read the one quote that makes me happy, so now I can buckle down to grading. It’s from Ai Weiwei, the artist and dissenter the Chinese government would love to silence.

My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention. I definitely know people who are shameless enough to give up basic values. I see this kind of art, and when I see it I feel ashamed. In China they treat art as some form of decoration, a self-indulgence. It is pretending to be art. It looks like art. It sells like art. But it is really a piece of shit.

There’s more about his politics: China keeps trying to control the free expression of the people on the internet by shutting it down. They argue that they’re better than they were in the days of the Cultural Revolution — which is setting the bar rather low, I think — but it’s still a restrictive police state.

I’d argue that the US is better than China, but still, especially considering the record of the last few weeks, is likewise a police state.

Comments

  1. Michelle R says

    I understand his point, but calling art that is just strictly decorative a piece of shit is a stretch. Art doesn’t HAVE to be political.

    That said I hope he continues on his political art. It’s important to have that type of art around too.

  2. Eh says

    I’d argue that the US is better than China, but still, especially considering the record of the last few weeks, is likewise a police state.

    I really do wish that people who write stuff like this could live under a real police state for a year.

  3. Mathlover2 says

    I agree with everything…except the bit about America as a police state.
    Even when considering the arrest of protesters on flimsy pretexts, the abuses the Occupy protesters are receiving (which, as far as I know–and feel free to correct me if need be–mainly consist of a few nights in jail, pepper spray, tear gas and so forth) are nothing compared to the much harsher penalties for such activities common in China and other oppressive dictatorships. (Remember Tienanmen Square?)
    Of course our country is screwed up–all places are to some extent–but I still do not think “police state” is an appropriate term for the United States.

  4. Gregory Greenwood says

    I’d argue that the US is better than China, but still, especially considering the record of the last few weeks, is likewise a police state.

    Any second now some idiot will turn up to loudly proclaim that America is the ultimate bastion of freedom because China used tanks in Tiananmen Square, and so the OWS protesters should be thanking the campus police for only indiscriminately spraying a usually-not-entirely-lethal chemical weapon outlawed in actual combat situations into their faces…

    It is apparently the moronic argument du jour to claim that an offence is unimportant if worse things happen elsewhere in the world.

  5. Gregory Greenwood says

    It appears that Eh has made my post redundant @ 3…

    I was confident that my prediction would be validated, but to see this happen in the first five posts did surprise me a little.

  6. Amphiox says

    They argue that they’re better than they were in the days of the Cultural Revolution

    Yeah, that’s setting the bar REALLY low, seeing as they were, in fact, also better than they were in the days of the Cultural Revolution, in the days of oppressive dictatorship BEFORE the Cultural Revolution.

    (It’s like celebrating the loftiness of your altitude using the Marianas Trench as your benchmark.)

  7. Amphiox says

    I really do wish that people who write stuff like this could live under a real police state for a year.

    Ah, but America claims to be exceptional, special, a city on a hill.

    What counts as a police state in America is therefore less than what qualifies for a police state anywhere else.

    It’s only fair that America be held to the higher standard that it claims for itself.

  8. Marius Rowell says

    What a crock – the police here only beat protesters a little bit compared to what China did – how the fuck is that okay with anyone? How is ANY level of abuse of police power acceptable?

    In China you will see blatant censorship but you do know what it is. Here we have those nice corporate and political liars who have learned how to tell the kind of lies most people are simple enough to believe, and they love to swamp the news cycle with so many of those lies the truth has no chance of getting out, but hey it’s okay – there’s no real consorship here.

    That’s how the message behind OWS has been turned upside-down and our poorly educated masses prefer to believe that all those protesters are nasty, lazy out of work oafs rather than the educated and intelligent (and often fully employed) bunch they really are. Money talks, truth walks and fools will believe anything they’re paid to believe.

  9. Gregory Greenwood says

    Mathlover2 @ 4;

    I agree with everything…except the bit about America as a police state.
    Even when considering the arrest of protesters on flimsy pretexts, the abuses the Occupy protesters are receiving (which, as far as I know–and feel free to correct me if need be–mainly consist of a few nights in jail, pepper spray, tear gas and so forth) are nothing compared to the much harsher penalties for such activities common in China and other oppressive dictatorships.

    (Emphasis added)

    It’s a food product, essentially, right?

    Here’s a free hint – if you find yourself agreeing with Megyn Kelly or pretty much any of the inmates of Fox News, then it is time to really start worrying.

    (Remember Tienanmen Square?)

    Now that is downright spooky. If I was a charlatan, this is the part where I would claim that I was psychic…

    *Que Twilight Zone theme music*

  10. Japheree says

    I admire his views but I disagree with his notion of the functional reality of art, I have to say that art can serve so many purposes and it can be as elitest as it wants, as democratized as it wants and as shit as it wants so long as it effects productive communication between people.

    The thing with art as I have understood it is that it isn’t about total freedom of expression. Its about being on a thin spectrum between cultural cliche and unacceptable expression. In that regard the freedom of the artist is still constrained.

    I am basically bullshitting here though. Art is a horribly difficult concept to grasp, even though I tried my best to pin it down during my studies.

  11. chigau (本当) says

    Did any country become a police state overnight?
    or was the change so gradual that by the time the water was boiling, it was too late?

  12. Peptron says

    @10 Gregory Greenwood:

    I keep thinking that shooting people with assault rifles isn’t too bad either, because iron, too, is a food product. It’s even essential to life.

  13. knut7777 says

    In a society that seeks to control thought, art is by definition political. In a free society it is not necessarily so. Great art often is made under repression, but when that repression is lifted there is a period of floundering where the old paradigm is no longer compelling.

    Political art made in the West often takes on the ideology of various interest groups, and is trivialized in the process. I’d rather see art that is not so tied to the present societal moment.

  14. says

    Look at our prison system.

    Look at our bloated Department of Homeland Security.

    Look at how much of our budget is being thrown away to the military.

    We are a police state.

  15. consciousness razor says

    It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious.

    I agree for the most part. I think we should have the same ability, but that’s not to say we do. Ordinary people, the mysterious elites, and whoever else, should share whatever understanding they have, if any. One isn’t going to change much just by moralizing about it or defining it a certain way. One has to ensure everyone has access to the same sort of rich experiences and can communicate them with each other. Then we can start to understand art in the same ways.

    I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention. I definitely know people who are shameless enough to give up basic values. I see this kind of art, and when I see it I feel ashamed. In China they treat art as some form of decoration, a self-indulgence. It is pretending to be art. It looks like art. It sells like art. But it is really a piece of shit.

    I get what Ai’s saying, and in his country (and others) right now, it probably makes a lot of sense. But more generally, one doesn’t need to give up any values to make non-political art, and it isn’t shit or just a decoration for that reason. I think he probably has some specific kinds of artists and works in mind here, not necessarily that he’s trying to criticize everything out there that isn’t “political” in some sense.

  16. says

    I definitely agree on that view of art. Good art is about challenging the perceptions we take for granted, and that includes the political status quo.

    As for America’s status as a police state, I’d say we’re at or approaching the “friendly fascism” state. Checks and balances on the executive branch are breaking down and I see nothing reversing that trend any time soon. Police are virtually immune to the consequences of their actions. They’re also getting much more militarized as time goes on, and the war on drugs has given them excuses to abuse their power.

    We haven’t seen the worst yet, but we are heading in that direction.

  17. Derg McKlerg says

    I won’t say all police are pigs or whatever. They’re a necessary public service and are the only solution to, say, domestic abuse. The abuses in this case though show that even the very best ones that don’t abuse their power still have too much being given to them.

  18. Derg McKlerg says

    I define art as “whatever I think is art”. Essentially, there is no accounting for taste. I consider video games to be art, especially the very top ones. Art doesn’t need to challenge the status quo, it can in fact crystallize and refine it into it’s purest essence and still be art. It’s why I love retro stuff. For me, all something needs to be is A:, not Utilitarian and B:, good. I’ll call it art then. Saying a movie like Lord of the Rings is trash because it isn’t challenging the status of the world order doesn’t change the fact I enjoyed every minute of it.

  19. says

    @Eh and Mathlover
    This country is a police state. The only thing that separates this one from the others is that America doesn’t use real bullets. That’s it. Otherwise, all the other police states so far, the reaction to protests has been to use tear gases and rubber bullets at the beginning, like this country.

  20. consciousness razor says

    For me, all something needs to be is A:, not Utilitarian and B:, good. I’ll call it art then.

    So by definition, there is no useful or bad art? That’s kind of silly, isn’t it?

  21. Gregory Greenwood says

    Peptron @ 13;

    I keep thinking that shooting people with assault rifles isn’t too bad either, because iron, too, is a food product. It’s even essential to life.

    Good point. I half expect to hear an angry Bill O’Reilly complaining about all the free high velocity iron supplements the US military keeps handing out without even charging for them. It’s a waste of BillO’s tax dollars, I tell you!

  22. Amphiox says

    We are a police state.

    And lets not forget that there is a spectrum within that class that we label “police state”. One doesn’t have to be at the rock bottom of it to qualify for the title.

  23. nobonobo says

    Mathlover2 says:
    …nothing compared to the much harsher penalties for such activities common in China and other oppressive dictatorships. (Remember Tienanmen Square?)

    (Governor’s office call to Pentagon) So, how can we get some of your tanks? Now it’s uppity artists…

  24. WishfulThinkingRulesAll says

    Michelle R says:

    I understand his point, but calling art that is just strictly decorative a piece of shit is a stretch. Art doesn’t HAVE to be political.

    I understand his point too but his definition is a little restrictive. Actually, it is a lot restrictive. I can’t take a photo of my cousin and call it art, seeing as she’s 5 and has no politics? None of those awesome landscape paintings in the major world museums should be called art? I call foul on this guy, but only for his choice of definition.

  25. Albert Holk says

    I tend to agree with Marius and a few of the others.

    “Police State” is really a “black or white”-type thing. Reasoning that because the US is not as bad as China and therefore is not a Police State is like reasoning that a guy who slaps his wife is not as bad a his neighbor who beats his and therefore is not a wife-beater. It’s black and white and there is no room for middle ground.

    Chigau is correct. Most people do not (and will not) realize their freedoms have been eroded until they find a need to exercise them. It’s a gradual process.

    Citing Wikipedia:

    “A police state is one in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political life of the population. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.”

    I acknowledge that the definition is relative, but would also argue that much of what the US has experienced in the last 10-12 years would fall in line with this definition.

  26. Amphiox says

    I keep thinking that shooting people with assault rifles isn’t too bad either, because iron, too, is a food product. It’s even essential to life.

    Hey, it’s not just iron, either. There’s some phosphorus, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur there too.

    All of which are, essentially, food products. All of which are essential to life.

    It’s a full meal deal, really.

  27. Brian Coughlan says

    Yep. The US is obviously a police state and not just because of the indiscriminate shootings (the deaf in one ear wood carver), tazings (don’t taze me bro!) and pepper spraying (blubble .. splubble .. gasp … ouch!) that the “law enforcement” community perpetrate every year. The evidence is much richer than that.

    One tiny example.

    The US have (per 100,000 of the population) 7 times as many people in prison as Sweden does.

    http://www.nationmaster.com/compare/Sweden/United-States/Crime

    Apparently this means that Sweden spends per capita on education about the same as the US spends per capita in locking people up and occasionally killing them.

    Pretty much take any country in the EU and you get a variation on this theme. So yep. Police State.

  28. scriabin says

    While the US may indeed be a “police state”, in this context the term isn’t very helpful, as it’s all definitional – and pretty inflammatory. People will get sidetracked and argue about the term while missing the actual point about “art vs. politics (and artist intention)”.

    Political intention of the artist is a pretty damn slippery discussion, and seems to pass through its academic fads (read the last century of literary criticism and theory for the standard examples).

    “Decorative art from people who have given up basic values” is shit? Uh, okay. That’s a poignant political position.

    But what it does is really define *his* artistic viewpoint, rather than give anybody a reasonable tool to judge the art of other people.

  29. Eh says

    Gregory,

    Let’s see now, here’s your post:

    Any second now some idiot will turn up to loudly proclaim that America is the ultimate bastion of freedom because China used tanks in Tiananmen Square, and so the OWS protesters should be thanking the campus police for only indiscriminately spraying a usually-not-entirely-lethal chemical weapon outlawed in actual combat situations into their faces…

    And I wrote any of this – where?

    I am simply very, very tired of spoiled first worlders who think they’re under the heel of some iron tyranny. I have read and talked with plenty of people who have had to endure the real thing, and it just makes this sort of dress-up tedious in the extreme. People who don’t even understand how they trivialise the real sufferings and oppressions that millions and hundreds of millions have had to endure. It’s both boring and repelling.

  30. Eh says

    ibeya

    The only thing that separates this one from the others is that America doesn’t use real bullets

    Hey why don’t you just go right ahead and claim that America is Just Like Nazi Germany – the only thing that separates it is that it doesn’t use real death-camps?

  31. Pteryxx says

    “Decorative art from people who have given up basic values” is shit? Uh, okay. That’s a poignant political position.

    Well, one widely recognized way to convert good art into bad art is to strip out its messages or individuality, making it trite, cliche, and inoffensive. Oversimplifying, yes, but there’s a reason “trite” and “cliche” are generally negative terms. Art’s much better with even a tiny bit of challenge to it.

    I hear Bradbury roaring…

    Coda

  32. Zinc Avenger says

    @Eh, 32:

    The first step to avoiding a police state is to notice it and talk about it before it gets too late.

  33. Kagehi says

    Gregory, the point is kind of to recognize that there are “increasing” elements in US society that would be more than happy to make us **way** more like the ones you seem to be worried about, and that part of keeping that from happening is to point out that, as someone else said, “Merely slapping around your wife doesn’t make you less of an abuser than someone who leaves bruises.”, both constitute something that needs to be corrected, if for no other reason than so that the slapping doesn’t escalate into beating her with a baseball bat (or maybe shooting her), at some point. Its not relevant how *much* of a police state you have, if certain people are increasingly making it more of one, while no one is effectively managing to prevent it.

  34. Eh says

    Zinc,

    The first step to avoiding a police state is to notice it and talk about it before it gets too late.

    I could sign onto that proposition 100%. I could equally well sign onto most any condemnation of the incident. If the post had said anything like “China is a reminder where this stuff leads”, I’d have been behind it. However, as I have said, I am fed up with people who have no idea what the real thing is, thinking it’s clever to make claims like that.

  35. peterh says

    “The only thing that separates this one from the others is that America doesn’t use real bullets.”

    Tell that, for example, to the students at Kent State.

  36. says

    I liked this excerpt from an article about the high school student who got in trouble for tweeting “he sucked” in reference to politician Sam Brownback:

    Brownback’s bluff (his office claims to merely be policing her tone and not her content, as if tone didn’t also enjoy the protections of the First Amendment) by asking for a respectful dialogue where she addresses her criticisms of his office for cutting arts funding in Kansas. (Unsurprising again. The arts, like Twitter, have an unruly tendency to release unauthorized opinions into the public view.)

    First of all, policing tone is policing content.

    And the student was protesting Brownback’s cutting of funds for art programs in Kansas. She has a legitimate beef with the Governor.

    And yes, art does release uncensored opinions in public.

    Sounds dangerously like the right thing to support.

  37. says

    Eh,

    It really does not matter, how much more or less brutal America is compared to other states. American police used excessive force against peaceful protesters. Whether or not, Chinese police would have shot the protestors is irrelevant. If we are to be the bastion of free speech that we claim to be, the only comparsion that has any meaning is that between our ideals and our actions.

    Secondly, is your point – as long as the police are the worst in the world, people shouldn’t complain? Should we not hold our law enforcement offers to a higher standard than those in oppressive countries?

  38. says

    @Eh
    US may not have concentration camp, but it sure carries out a huge deal of injustice via its prison system. It is a system in which non violent criminals are placed with the violent folks, where death sentences are carried out regardless of a person’s innocence, and one which places a large percentage of its population into a prison. A government does not have to be as bad as the NAZIs to be a police state.

  39. Gregory Greenwood says

    Kagehi @ 36;

    The post @ 32 was made by Eh, not me.

    —————————————————————-

    Eh @ 32;

    And I wrote any of this – where?

    When you wrote;

    I really do wish that people who write stuff like this could live under a real police state for a year.

    You didn’t use the same words, but the sentiment that what is happening in the US isn’t really a big deal, and worse things happen elswhere, so people shouldn’t make a fuss, is evident.

    I am simply very, very tired of spoiled first worlders who think they’re under the heel of some iron tyranny. I have read and talked with plenty of people who have had to endure the real thing, and it just makes this sort of dress-up tedious in the extreme. People who don’t even understand how they trivialise the real sufferings and oppressions that millions and hundreds of millions have had to endure. It’s both boring and repelling.

    Just because worse things actions are undertaken by other regimes in no way makes it OK for police to use so called ‘pepper spray’ (a significantly toxic material) on peaceful protesters. Your post seems to be aimed at minimising the seriousness of the various instances in recent weeks where people exercising their constitutionally protected right to peaceable assembly and protest were accosted with a noxious substance by the police. Is it the same as assault rifles? No, but as chigau (本当) observed @ 12, these things exist on a spectrum. If these abuses are not discussed and opposed now, then there is no reason why violence that would more readily satisfy your personal definition of the actions associated with a police state couldn’t happen tomorrow. This is the way that sort of stuff often begins.

  40. says

    As in all things beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like almost all visual art forms, even some sacral art. Some art is literally shit, and urine (remember Rudy Giuliani’s hissy fit a few years back?).

    Second we do live in a police state. Face it, every country is a police state. It just depends how the system reigns in the police or military’s power. Why in the world do any of you commenting here think people join the police? You don’t think they like the potential power that they yield? A person may enter any profession with altruistic intentions and values but power to any extent corrupts.

    I became a physician because I loved science and luckily as a pathologist I still basically am a scientist.

    Those that become policemen and join the military may also do so initially because of altruistic values. To some however the uniform, the power over people, the nice weapons, the thrill of pepper spraying or beating someone to a pulp (“the smell of Napalm in the morning”)outweighs everything else.

  41. says

    Wait, they used live ammunition, not just rubber bullets?!

    At Kent State the used .30 cal M1 rifles with live ammo against unarmed college students. Yeah.

  42. Mathlover2 says

    Okay, I concede that we have a vast amount of improvement to make in the aspect of how our police behave. I concede that the United States, as a country, can be, has been, and very likely is now repressive to an extent. (I must point out that Kent State was an event which being as horrible, stupid, unnecessary, potentially liable to recur, and completely and utterly the fault of the government as it was, happened a while ago under circumstances which, though very, very capable of recurring, are not present to the same extent at the moment of writing as they were back then. The Vietnam war was in full swing, and our two wars, foolish and simple and bloated as they are, in my humble opinion do not equate with that war.)
    My problem is not that I think that any of those two things –or indeed most of what the commenters above are saying about the United States–is not the case. I agree that the government of the United States can often be very repressive. My problem is simply that the word “police state” should be necessarily applied to the United States, since the definition currently accepted for that term does not fit the current political circumstances present in the United States. I will not discuss any more of this issue–I agree completely with scriabin that this debate is quite pointless–and I will henceforth cease my discussion of this matter.

  43. says

    Paulmeade writes:

    You don’t think they like the potential power that they yield?

    Short Anarchism 101: the only reason to have power is so you can abuse it.

    More elaborate Anarchism 101: therefore the police, as actors who want to wield power on behalf of the state, have declared themselves to be your enemy.

    (Typically when you point that out someone says, “no! you can have power because you’re working for someone’s benefit” but the anarchist response to that is that if you’re working for someone’s benefit you’re not exercising power because they understand it’s for their benefit or it’s your responsibility to explain to them why it’s for their benefit, in which case what you’re doing is leading, not being an authority)

  44. says

    Considered globally, the US has been an imperial police state (sometimes by proxy) for quite some time. Moreover, many of the police-state conditions in other countries serve US corporations by repressing, killing, and terrorizing workers and activists. Police-state ideology and tactics have long been used against indigenous and other poor minority groups domestically. Less frequently and less extremely, police-state ideology and methods bleed over and are used against the less marginalized groups, especially during wars and “emergencies” and when they rebel. The US is a police state, but the extent to which people experience its weight and wrath depends on who and where they are.

  45. says

    Kent State was an event which being as horrible, stupid, unnecessary, potentially liable to recur, and completely and utterly the fault of the government as it was, happened a while ago under circumstances which, though very, very capable of recurring, are not present to the same extent at the moment of writing as they were back then

    Actually, the forces that caused Kent State are present in plenty at every riot and – possibly to a greater degree today than at that time. The National Guard unit at Kent State was led by incompetent morons who approached the situation as soldiers would, not police. Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 world a lot of police forces have militarized; virtually every podunk town now has a SWAT team that acts more like combat troops than constabulary. They’ve been practicing their double taps and room entry techniques and have convinced themselves that they need to be at a level of combat efficiency to take on “well-armed drug cartels” and “terrorists” — all it takes is someone, either a protester, or one of the militarized goons, to hear something that sounds like incoming gunfire, or to get hit by a rock and think it was their body armor stopping a round, and you could have a slaughter. That’s one of the reasons why the protestors have been careful to be as non-resistive as possible: they know that they’re up against people who have trained how to kill. Kill, not negotiate. Kill, not problem-solve. Their leaders are also incompetent – they say utterly inane things that reveal their incomprehension of how to handle civil unrest like the comments about pepper spray being an appropriate level of force, etc. “Us versus them” is the attitude of the cops and it was exactly the same attitude that the National Guardsmen had at Kent State. When you’re dealing with militarized police with automatic weapons, a very brief mistake can be entirely too large and final.

    There was a great deal of public anger against the war in Vietnam, and it has taken longer for public anger to develop against the current wars. But that (plus anger at the economic consequences of those wars, among other things) is what you’re looking at now. They didn’t shoot Vietnam war protesters early in the anti-war movement, either. It wouldn’t take a really major wrong turn for this to get really nasty.

  46. Eh says

    The typical intellectual sophistication of the typical yankee political debate…

    ibeya, and others,

    You are pushing at an open door with me if you’re saying that the state of US prisons is appalling. I strongly recommend an article by Christopher Hitchens on the subject. Anyone who bothers to look knows about the abuses of the death penalty. I intensely dislike the paramilitarization of the police, I think it’s very dangerous, and I think the most civilised police force ever made were the bobbies on the beat. I could agree with all of this. I could have supported you 100% if you’d have stuck to that line.

    But no. It’s just not as sexy as saying you’re under the rule of a police state. There’s not that frisson, is there?

  47. consciousness razor says

    The typical intellectual sophistication of the typical yankee political debate…

    I don’t understand. What’s wrong with eating apple pie for breakfast?

  48. anchor says

    “I’d argue that the US is better than China, but still, especially considering the record of the last few weeks, is likewise a police state.”

    In what, art? Art in the US? Like what Ai Weiwei describes when he says that “Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious.”?

    Hmmm. So this “art” in the US must be hidden or camouflaged as something else that is ubiqike TV programming? brought to you by your usual suspect multinationals, who also provide you with your marvelously diverse and impressive selection of pres candidates.

  49. anchor says

    dammit, that’s what happens when you hit a wrong key – it gets launched before your done and falsely accuses you of having repeated what you posted before. I’m too demoralized to correct it and finish what i meant to say. fuck it.

  50. scriabin says

    Pteryxx @34: “Art’s much better with even a tiny bit of challenge to it.”

    Absolutely! But where is that challenge directed? Is it artistic, technical, political, conventional, etc.

    Think of some of the music composed by Shostakovich and Prokofiev for the periods in which they were being lauded as “perfect Soviet artists”. Was their music propaganda? Or were they composing brilliant anti-propagandistic tracts fooling those Soviet censors? What was their political intent? Who is to say whether they gave up basic values or were being “decorative” or (gulp!) just earning a living…

    I’m really generalizing here, but the general point stands: *what* exactly does the art challenge? Politics? Or a tightly established decorative convention?

    And back to the blog post, just because, as a viewer or audience to the art, one might not have the background to understand what is being challenged doesn’t mean the “art” is shit. To communicate the challenge, the interpretive context of the audience is key.

  51. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    The USA imprisons the most people per capita, PERIOD. We beat out China and Russia a few years ago.

    Americans of color certainly live in a police state. 1 in 4 black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, whether in prison, on probation, on parole, or waiting for trial.

    I do not understand how one could be cognizant of these facts and still refuse to describe America as a police state. Just because the police haven’t cracked down on you personally, or your friends and family, doesn’t mean it isn’t going on.

  52. chigau (本当) says

    OK
    China is a police state.
    USA is not a police state.
    Which country is in between? So we can have a standard by which to compare.

  53. The Rat King says

    It’ll be fun when China decides not to build anything for anyone else anymore.

    China owns the world.

  54. Jem says

    He seems to be saying that any art without political content is shit. That’s insane, but maybe I’m just not grasping what he meant by that statement.

  55. Rip Steakface says

    I’m really generalizing here, but the general point stands: *what* exactly does the art challenge? Politics? Or a tightly established decorative convention?

    Any number of things. Ai challenges Chinese politics, whereas death metal challenges the standard aesthetics of vocals and tonality in music, and Mass Effect (video game series, for those unaware) at once challenges the idea that video games are simple vehicles for delivering explosions to teenagers’ eyes, and the idea of soft sci-fi as being the realm of fantastical imaginings that don’t make any lick of sense even within the context of the story (basically, all the fictional/sci-fi elements are explained in obsessive detail in an optional Codex, essentially an encyclopedia for the game’s universe).

  56. says

    You know, nowadays China doesn’t necessarily shoot protestors with bullets either.

    China is experiencing farmer protests quite constantly (actually this has been the case throughout its history), and post-Tiananmen, the Chinese police do try to talk first.

    http://www.chinapost.com.tw/china/national-news/2011/04/01/296943/Paramilitary-troops.htm

    However, they also like to put petitioners into reeducation camps. (Petitioning has been a tradition since Imperial times, i.e. complaining to the Imperial authorities about provincial misadministration)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petitioning_(China)

    So with Chinese police tactics growing “softer”, the gap is certainly narrowing.

    However, the large-scale uprisings still tend to lead to many casualties:

    6/4 aka Tiananmen: 500-3000 dead, at least 7,000 injured

    3/14 aka 2008 Tibet unrest: about 20 dead, at least 400 injured
    7/5 aka 2009 Xinjiang unrest: 200-600 dead, at least 2,000 injured

    (all figures according to Wiki, but casualty figures are notoriously controversial. Also casualty figures include police and military casualties as well)

  57. says

    @Eh
    You just described the US as a police state. If the police are being paramilitarized (and it already is), then what is the point of calling it anything else?

  58. KG says

    Americans of color certainly live in a police state. 1 in 4 black men are involved in the criminal justice system in some way, whether in prison, on probation, on parole, or waiting for trial. – SallyStrange

    Yes, it’s a really neat example of multi-functionality: bigger profits for the private prison industry, lower unemployment figures, and fewer black voters!

  59. otrame says

    Ah, but America claims to be exceptional, special, a city on a hill.

    You know, I have thought a lot about the whole “city on a hill” thing. I started when I read the amazing Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates (if you haven’t read it yet, you really should). She talked quite a bit about that concept, its origin and the way it has been used. Everyone seems to assume that the “city on a hill” is a good example that everyone looks up too (literally). But I think the passage (Matt. 5:14) means more than that. It says (in part) “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” It suggests that not only is the city an example, it cannot hide from observation. So it damned well better be an example. This is the connotation that Reagan and most others who have used it ignore.

    The US has been a good example at times, especially when it was the first secular government. It has been a good example at other times. And a very bad example at others. Those who say “Yeah, well the rest of the world is worse”, even if it were true, miss the whole damned point. If we want respect, if we want to be seen as a good example, if we want to be a good example, we have to earn it.

    Lately we haven’t been doing that much.

  60. says

    Just an observation from a regular lurker – when authority feels like it looses power, it cracks down harder. The more threatened it feels, the tighter it’s grip becomes.

    A police state is any state where the authority is on the slippery slope towards totalitarianism of any type. The United States has been here for a while; we’ve been ever since 9/11 was used by an excuse by the bootlickers who follow the men who need no excuses – they have the money and the power – to wage war against it’s own people. Ever since the police have been militarizing and slowly stripping away the freedoms in the “War on Drugs”. Since the nigh-Orwellian redefinition of “torture” as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, and all of the other theofascist bullshit that’s found its way into the governments local, state, and nationwide. There’s a lot of reasons why we’re here right now, but we don’t have too many choices to get out as a nation. I think it’s time to start planning for an emergency exit. Failing empires are never pleasant places to live.

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Ben Franklin, of the original dirty old men, and one of my favorite quotes.

  61. scriabin says

    Rip @ 61.

    Exactly!

    And the “challenging intention” of the artist needs to be distinguished from the way that people *treat* the art.

    That’s where Ai’s statement falls down: there is a difference between the way people treat art (a commodity, a decoration, a piece of state propaganda, a piece of self-indulgence) and the actual inner intent of the artist. Sometimes the two may coincide, but not necessarily.

  62. Eh says

    SC,

    Pompous perhaps, but hardly inaccurate. I will never, ever understand this: one bunch of howling fools certain that the other side is about to plunge the nation into socialist tyranny, the other certain that the first is going to plunge it into a fascist dictatorship. Meanwhile they’re both living in the only nation on the world that enshrines freedom of expression as a fundamental. Whereas every other place on the planet allows you to be prosecuted for blasphemy/sedition/hate speech/whatever.

    It’s parochial and it’s pathetic. This sort of intellectual hicksville is one of the few justified reasons why the rest of the planet is a little put out observing your scene.

    ibeya,

    Britain, where the state has far more power over what it can do to you, has a paramilitarised police force, and it’s not a police state. Having a SWAT team does not make you a police state.

    It’s like the endless moan and whine that the US is a theocracy. Again, what an insult to anyone who has endured the real thing.

    Oh, and Enigma, and others? Orwell made short work of people who could not see the dif. between a free society and a totalitarian tyranny. An easy grasp for the term “Orwellian” is an easy sign that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  63. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Eh,

    It’s a tiring day here at the ol’ atheist-led water cooler, with the self-declared arbitrators driving everyone else back to work.

    Cheeses! Fuck off, Mr. Pompous poopy-Pants.

  64. consciousness razor says

    Pompous perhaps, but hardly inaccurate.

    If you say so. I’m not sure it means anything.

    The typical intellectual sophistication of the typical yankee political debate…

    Do they use verbs where you live? It is what, typically typical? Maybe this sentence fragment is deeply meaningful and intellectually sophisticated to you. I don’t care enough to argue about it.

    I will never, ever understand [...]

    Typical. Perhaps you don’t want to understand.

    Meanwhile they’re both living in the only nation on the world that enshrines freedom of expression as a fundamental. Whereas every other place on the planet allows you to be prosecuted for blasphemy/sedition/hate speech/whatever.

    I don’t want it enshrined in some old law, so I can pretend to have it. I just want freedom of expression, which means we have to fight for it constantly, no matter how insignificant you think it is. If you think we’ve got some kind of utopian free society in the U.S., you’d be wrong. Or perhaps you know better than us what kind of freedoms we want. Please enlighten us, then. What is worth fighting for?

  65. says

    Enigma writes:

    Since the nigh-Orwellian redefinition of “torture” as “enhanced interrogation techniques”

    Actually, that term (or a close translation of it) was invented by the Gestapo. So it’s pre-Orwellian (it’s what Orwell was reacting to…) I doubt that the idiots in Washington knew that, or they’d have come up with something like “the comfy chair”

    BTW, the Gestapo didn’t include waterboarding on their list of sharpened interrogation techniques – just sleep deprivation, loud noises, and beatings with a stick. So, yeah, we’ve outdone the Gestapo! Go US!
    http://www.ka9q.net/Gestapo-Enhanced-Interrogation.jpg

  66. says

    @Eh
    Just because freedom of expression is in the constitution doesn’t mean the rulers of this country respect it. Because really, as you have seen from Occupy Wall Street, they don’t. Which is why I don’t give a crap of the argument that because this is the only country in which the freedom of speech, that we shouldn’t call things as it is. The fourth amendment has already been trampled,thoroughly as it is, and it seems like the government is moving towards libertarian idiocy. It is a move towards tyranny, by not only the government, but also by corporations. The US might not be the worst police state ever, but it certainly is worsening, and just because others have it worse does not make our complaint illegitimate. Seriously, get your head out of the sand.

  67. says

    Too many of the people who think of us as a “city on the hill” and of us “taking the high ground” are thinking only in terms of military strategy.

  68. Tonyc says

    I *think* what Ai is saying is that art is political. If it is not political then is not art, it is mere decoration.

    Tautology, it appears, is one thing I do

  69. patrickelliott says

    Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 world a lot of police forces have militarized; virtually every podunk town now has a SWAT team that acts more like combat troops than constabulary. They’ve been practicing their double taps and room entry techniques and have convinced themselves that they need to be at a level of combat efficiency to take on “well-armed drug cartels” and “terrorists” — all it takes is someone, either a protester, or one of the militarized goons, to hear something that sounds like incoming gunfire, or to get hit by a rock and think it was their body armor stopping a round, and you could have a slaughter.

    There is a bit of an irony in that, given that back during he LA riots the local “search and rescue” from my home town, which along with others volunteered to add extra support, showed up armed **better** than the cops that where already there. Whether or not that would be reversed now… is a toss up. But, you can’t deal with people that are better armed than you are, by refusing to buy better arms. And, thanks to groups like the NRA, there is no way in hell that gangs are going to suddenly be “less armed”. Better tactics, and equipment developed to infiltrate and deal with opposition, without placing either bystander, or cops, at added risk, would be nice, but… bets on that being something less Orwellian than some of the stuff from 1970-80s sci-fi movies, where the cops had drones, armed robots, and stealth helicopters. The people making decisions on how best to deal with the rising problems are a) ignoring the cause, which is how damned easy it is to get even advanced weapons, for *anyone*, and military mentality, and b) not thinking about how to minimize the collateral damage. What is equally stupid is that, often, the military is the one thinking about those things now, but its ex-military, militia types, and probably mercs, like Blackwater (just a guess, but a likely one), who are probably “helping” the civilian police “improve” their weapon list and tactics.

  70. luoanlai says

    Eh

    Please refer back to SC @ 49.

    The fact that people living in the US don’t experience conditions that match the worst conditions of other police states around the world is irrelevant.

    The point is that the US exports the worst of itself in many different ways. The terror and destruction that America has wreaked all around the world for decades is significant. The police states that America has set up or supported in many countries around the world are significant. The American corporations that work with, profit from or support police states around the world are significant.

    The majority is Americans living in the US may not be subject to the same restrictions on the liberty as people living in China (yet), but the global military, economic and political havoc caused by America must be taken into account.

  71. demonhype says

    “Marius Rowell says:

    In China you will see blatant censorship but you do know what it is. Here we have those nice corporate and political liars who have learned how to tell the kind of lies most people are simple enough to believe, and they love to swamp the news cycle with so many of those lies the truth has no chance of getting out, but hey it’s okay – there’s no real censorship here.

    This right here. My father, unlike the allegedly “spoiled” American peaceful protesters who are being so generously pepper-sprayed to silence their dissent and who apparently should be grateful for not being summarily executed (yet), grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain and experienced the Soviets up close. And guess what? According to him, we are indeed in a police state. Everything adds up. It’s clear to him that the basis of a police state has been laid out under our feet and they’re in the early stages of closing the net around us. Face it, the powers-that-be in this country have ample experience creating and maintaining police states around the globe and the only reason they haven’t just marched their jackbooted thugs across this country in the open is because we, unlike many of those other countries, have certain precedents and certain expectations regarding freedom and so we have to be taken out like the much-overused example of a frog being slowly boiled in a pot, cooked gradually until by the time we realize the truth it’s too late. Seriously, you are not going to see an open police state until these bastards are fairly sure it’s too late to fight it back–at least, if you’re one of the “desirable” groups. As some pointed out above, try being black in this country, or anything but a white hetero man, and you’ll see how “totally unlike a police state” this country really is.

    This is why it is important to talk about this and why it is not helping to start in on how we’re only getting slapped around and so we should shut up and be grateful our husband hasn’t shattered our eyesockets like that poor woman down the street. My father is talking about this openly and would laugh in the face of anyone who called these protestors or anyone claiming this is a police state “spoiled” or “hyperbolic”. He knows first-hand what the signs of a police state are.

    In fact, he’s said recently that he preferred the Soviets to these mealy-mouthed corporate tyrants and their uniformed mercenaries because the relationship was more honest–you got that Soviet with the machine gun on the corner and you knew where he stands and he knows where you stand, whereas our tyrants are thinly veiling their tyranny while assuring us that their abuses of power are for our own good and we should just stop whining because we’re not really being abused until we’re being summarily executed in the streets–and even then there will be mealy-mouthed apologetics to try and make that seem like a necessary part of “protecting freedom”. He prefers an honest-to-goodness obvious enemy to a lying, backstabbing supposed friend who tries to convince you that by fucking you over he’s really helping you out and even considers the latter to be more dangerous.

    So, yeah….I was raised by someone who spent many years in a police state and I grew up hearing stories of what it was like in a police state, and according to this man who personally experienced that police state we are definitely in a police state–albeit the early stages of open enforcement, and he’s not sure if we haven’t gone past the point of no return. He’s also fairly sure this is going to blow up and get ugly, which is either encouraging or discouraging depending on your perspective. From my father’s perspective, he’s looking forward to some good old fashioned French Revolutions style violence because he thinks we’re at a point where nothing else is going to work. (Yes, I realize that most people here have a more positive and optimistic outlook and are hoping to avoid violence all together, but that’s his two cents on the subject.)