“Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for an harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion”
– Leon Trotsky
Whoa, here I go quoting Leon Trotsky, of all people! Don’t worry, I haven’t turned into a Marxist/Trotskyist/whatever-type-of-communism-is-currently-fashionable. I’ve always resisted the idea that art is always about rebellion, while at the same time always maintaining that an escape from everyday reality is an important part of enjoying good art or good writing.
But what Trotsky is saying is that this act of escape is, in itself, a rebellion against current realities. I don’t like the idea that all art is rebellion because not everything needs to be rebelled against, or is worth rebelling against. Sometimes the good can be celebrated too. But most art does point to something lacking in the human reality, even if it’s just in a tragic way (like The Great Gatsby – I just watched the new movie version, by the way!)
So can art be an expression of what reality is lacking? Definitely. Does that mean art is rebellious, since it is pointing out the flaws in reality? Well then, maybe there is an aspect of rebellion to all art after all.
Here’s what I believe, in the end. Humanity is looking for a harmonious and complete life. But the barrier to gaining that kind of life is not class divisions, as Trotsky says above, but ourselves. All of our individual stupid shortcomings and flaws, repeated on a grand scale throughout the whole human race, resulting in everything we know is wrong with the world – war, hatred, evil.
Sometimes we need an escape from this kind of petty reality. Sometimes we need to use art to point it the bad stuff. Either way, creativity and artistic production is important for humanity.
What do you think – does art have to have an aspect of rebellion to it? What should art rebel against?
On a related note – ‘Something Like Friendship,’ Chapter 5 of my Why Polly? serialized novel comes out today! Click here to check it out. Or you can read Chapter 1 free here.