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February 3, 2020 / Congau

Dangerous Art

Art is always dangerous. Wherever there is art, there is rebellion. Authorities may try to curb artistic expression and smoothen its sharp edges, but they either fail or are too successful. They may be able to kill the art altogether but to make it compliant, never.

The essence of art is to challenge conventions, but not necessarily in an overt way to be observed by the naked and untrained eye. From the perspective of narrow-minded government bureaucracy, it may all look safe as long as the critique of their power is not expressed in familiar categories.

Art doesn’t have to be political to be dangerous but luckily that often escapes the notice of the guardians of the state. The tendency to think contrary to established practices may be contagious and later cross over to the political realm or even if it stays securely outside of the affairs of the state, culturally non-conformist groups are also a potential threat.

The safest thing for a government of a totalitarian state would therefore be to destroy the arts. The alternative strategy, to make the artists work for the government, is either impossible or just another means of destruction.

If the artists really did what the authorities wanted them to do, they wouldn’t be producing art anymore. It’s not possible to create anything if you are told what to create since then it wouldn’t be a creation but a mere copy of instructions. The most dreadful examples of government art (like Soviet social realism) lack this basic qualification to be art at all.

Sometimes artists succeed in working in the twilight zone of government requirements and their own true artistic instincts. They accept certain formalities but still manage to break out of them in areas that are less noticeable to the state power. Then they can still create art and remain dangerous.

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