The Necessity of Art
By Graziella Pogolotti
June 20, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
For work reasons, there was a time when I traveled with some frequency to the Isle of Youth, then known as the Isle of Pines. On one occasion, I took advantage of the stay to get to Punta del Este and see the mark left there by the first settlers of Cuba. The famous caves of Altamira keep the expression of a representative art. The caves of Punta del Este, on the other hand, seem to announce the appearance of geometric abstractionism.
Weakly built, our first inhabitants arrived from South America, after traveling in fragile canoes through the arch of the Antilles. They planted yucca, lived in huts, produced articles necessary for life, along with some that were not of a utilitarian nature. These words were incorporated into the Spanish language, to which the word allusive to the most feared natural phenomenon, the hurricane, was also added. Its testimonial mark in the cave of Punta del Este raises many questions about the meaning of the work. Perhaps it was a way of averting the threat of an event of mysterious origin that regularly struck men and destroyed their meager possessions.
In any case, in the beginning, art, philosophy and literature were closely intertwined. With the passing of the centuries, as the division of labor was imposed, they gradually became independent. But artistic creation has not ceased to be a specific means of access to knowledge, indissolubly linked to a conception of the world, to the cult of the dead in ancient Egypt, to the rescue of the human dimension of motherhood in the Gothic cathedrals.
The rise of capitalism led to the conversion of art into a commodity. Like a condemned man at hard labor, always persecuted by his creditors, Honoré de Balzac had to submit to the rules established by the publisher. Each chapter of his novels had to close with a question that imposed on the reader the need to acquire the next publication in order to find continuity and an answer.
He turned that experience into LOST ILLUSIONS. As an aspiring writer, the main character Lucien de Rubempré goes on a pilgrimage through publishers reduced to the condition of pure manufacturers of goods. In the 19th century, gallery owners appeared who would buy works that would reach millions of dollars in value for pennies. In modern times, when the value of money is subject to economic crises, investing in art means acquiring a good with a lasting and often growing value.
Adventure of knowledge, artistic creation explores the conflicts and twists and turns of the human condition. In the words of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, we are a drunken boat rocked by storms of all kinds. In the course of history, the works that retain a living presence revealed to us the serene harmony of the mother with the child in her lap.
The baroque fracture showed the tensions generated by power, the image of the Pieta, a painful mother with her son collapsed on her knees, the passing of the ages in the beautiful adolescent body of David and the venerable old age of Moses, brought to light the underground universe of begging and picaresque, the tricks of the Tartuffe climber, sharpened Quevedo’s satirical whip, while the renewal of the codes of architecture showed the precarious balance between illusion and reality. The incision in the depths of our individual and social being has a liberating function, based on the recognition of what we are and is therefore an indispensable springboard for our full emancipation.
Since the conversion of art into merchandise, capitalism castrates the emancipatory function of art. Under the guise of neo-liberalism, with its imposed hegemony over the media, it advances even further in the perverse sterilization of the role of art. An ephemeral fair of show business vanities, which has become a disposable consumer good, produces shows designed to subject and seduce, from a one-way transmitter, a recipient modeled on their whim. It thus undermines the essential nature of artistic creation, its dialogical character open to multiple meanings, a guarantee of transcending from the local to the universal, from yesterday to today and tomorrow. For this reason, despite the millennia that have passed, we are still moved by Oedipus Rex’s tragic confrontation with his destiny. He had to tear out his eyes because he did not know how to recognize the reality that comprised his existence, that of his family, that of the citizens of Thebes.
In this month of June, we have evoked the 90 years since the birth of Armando Hart, a protagonist of the historical vanguard of the Revolution and lucid manager of our cultural thought. It is about to be the anniversary of the [speech] Words to the Intellectuals, given by Fidel in the National Library. This is not the time for routine recounts. The perverse use of culture with the purpose of manipulating consciousnesses, calls for a broad and deep discussion on the role of art in the struggle for human emancipation. [This is] a decisive issue in these days, when the death of art, the disappearance of the species in a process of accelerated climate change and increased poverty threatens us. Taking into account the current panorama and the experience acquired, it is urgent to design integral strategies to offer an adequate response to the great challenges of contemporary life. I will return to this subject in the next issue.