Editorial Director: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
INFLUENCE OF THE SAINT-SIMONIANS
AND THE IDEA OF ART IN THE VANGUARD OF SOCIAL REFORM
A Revolutionary Aesthetic ? The Politics of Social Art in France
authoritarian socialism of the Saint-Simonian
Editorial Assistant: Elodie Antoine
Translator: David Ames Curtis
If one takes an
interest in the function of art in society, one is bound to speak
of the Saint-Simonians. And often one does so without knowing
it. The English art historian Neil McWilliam deserves credit for
having taken stock of the origins of a French line of thought
that is far from dead and that has been renewed under other forms,
in the past as well as today.
now no longer see themselves as an avant-garde that
would be spreading new ideas by appealing to the imagination
and to the sentiments, this is more a matter of a change
in vocabulary than of a shift in foundations. As Neil McWilliam
concludes in his talk, the cultural system of modern society still
contains, one hundred and fifty years later, quite a few elements
of Saint-Simonianism. Art has expanded into new spheres
that express the metamorphoses and adaptations of these elements,
sometimes to the point of suffocation.
Nothing that was
being thought at the beginning of the nineteenth century is to
be laughed at today when examined in light of what we now know
about arts ability to fit into a postmodern culture. While
the old utopian dreams have been abandoned, the function of art
is really in the process of being redefined within the inflexible
framework of the imperatives of consumer society and of the society
of the spectacle.
The ambition of
this Letter, which we shall publish every two months, is to be
a site of discussion. The discussion will center around the condition
of art, which is henceforth to be viewed in the light of history.
While the debate is already underway, it can also gain by imagining
its historical depth.
Our seminar sessions
at the French National Political Science Foundations Center
for History will precede each publication of this Letter. At least
two lectures will be included every time. And this time, the second
talk, in echo of the first, comes from Eric Michaud of the École
des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Michaud is well
known for his work on art and totalitarianism. We are in his debt
for his investigation into a line of thought that sought salvation
through images and that tended to make art the docile servant
of a unitary and authoritarian world view.