You Kant Be Serious. All Art is Political.

Categories: New Posts.

As you can see from my last post, recently I’ve been chatting up some info I found in  “Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Ideas of Race in the 18th Century” by David Bindman. I don’t recommend the book. It’s a slog and an apology of sorts for European Supremacy. But Bindman has done some important research; a good chunk of which is focused on Immanuel Kant, one of the major figures in European philosophy and known in no small part for his writings on aesthetics, which I think of as the values we use when deciding how we feel about art.  According to Bindman, Kant was the first to define race, which I found shocking, but this is less important than Kant’s European Supremacist analysis of who can see and create the beautiful & the sublime. The “sublime” being an even a higher standard of one’s cultivation. Kant apparently makes some distinctions about who has a higher aesthetic even among European people, comparing the French to the English (the English win),  but he is totally clear that African people could not see or create the beautiful, let alone the sublime. At first this just sounds like Kant is stupid, but then I think about the late 1700s period of African enslavement and colonialization that he was writing in and it takes on a heavier weight. Kant was adding to an avalanche of academic work justifying and facilitating enslavement and colonialization.

Linking Kant’s intellectual production on aesthetics with the Euro supremacist capitalist forces of colonialization and enslavement is important because it helps give even more context and weight to another piece of research that came out recently, Helicon Collaborative’s  “Not Just Money”. Here we learn that 58% of philanthropic resources are going to the large, Western Canon, predominantly European descended arts organizations that make up 2% of the arts organization universe, up from five years ago when this number was 55%. Thinking about the data shared in “Not Just Money”, and Kant as an aesthetic facilitator of the enslavement and colonialization of African people, feels useful because then it helps us see our funding arrangements as built on and revealing a larger framework of European descended supremacy.  To think about the art in that context makes clear that the large predominantly white arts organizations are not apolitical  and “art for arts sake” while the art of certain African descended artists or curators, for example, are creating “political art”. All of this art is political. And when we go to back to the Helicon report, the frame ‘all art is political’, makes plain the current funding arrangement is to support certain politics.  Not to say here that the art of Western Canon is necessarily European supremacist in its simple existence, but that its place in terms of real estate and funding, both private and public, supports and reflects frames of European Supremacist and capitalist politics. And since big, Western Canon art is political, it too can be examined through other kinds of arts assessments such as “Artists Engaging in Social Change: A Continuum of Impact” offered by the good people of Animating Democracy. What would panel meetings, funding formulas, philanthropic staffing or crowd sourcing funding look like if this was the pervading criteria to determine where 58% of philanthropic dollars were going?

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About Justin

Justin is the managing partner of Hillombo LLC i.e. the chief cook and bottle washer and likes to write when he makes time.