Tuesday, April 20, 2010

There is No Democracy in Art

The former San Francisco Opera general director Kurt Adler was said to have said once that there was no democracy in opera. Obviously, Adler was talking about the conception and presentation of an operatic work, rather than forbidding the intermingle of opera and the democratic topic.

Stretching his argument a bit further, one can also say that there was no democracy in painting, sculpture, poetry, novel, and play, etc.

Artistic creation is a lonesome process. It requires the creator to conduct a deep dialog with oneself. A successful creation requires the brutal self-revelation from the creator and absolute honest. If not so, it would show and the audience, viewers or readers know. Artistic creation is not meant to be pleasurable or community bonding.

During The Great Culture Revolution in China, many works were created by committees and they are not artwork. The most absurd story I can tell was an oil painting depicting the declaration of the founding of the People's Republic of China, by Mao Zedong and his comrades. The work was officially finished in 1964. Over the years, several of his comrades who share this large canvas (233 cm x 400 cm) with him was denounced as traitors, foreign agents, or capitalists. Whenever his comrade fell into disgrace, the poor painter, Xiwen DONG (董希文) (1914-1973) had to erase that comrade-turned-enemy from the canvas. When the comrade was rehabilitated, the painting would have to put him back. The latest of such request to change, alas, came too late - the painter had passed away. His widow refused to allow other hands to temper with the painting - at least as it was, it was by her late husband's hands. Therefore, in the national museum, on display, was a stand-in painted by imitator completely. Even the State Founding Ceremony told no truth. If it is not honest, it cannot be art.

"State Founding Ceremony" by Xiwen DONG, 1964

Someone in this country, would love to have that authority over the artists, don't you think?

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