Sunday, January 01, 2006

Welcome to Politics & Art

This is the website of Alan Barnett dealing with politics and art from the perspective of social justice, participatory democracy and peace.

Since high school I have been a political activist, engaged in doing art and teaching its history along with political science, philosophy and literature as part of humanities programs at San José and San Francisco State Universities. I am a veteran of the civil rights, peace and prisoners movements, as well as being a rank-and-file trade union activist, since the early 1960s. The connection I pursue between politics and art has drawn me to murals, posters and other works on paper, all of these being forms of public and social art that are widely available to people. I have written extensively, my largest piece being Community Murals: the People ’s Art, 516 pages, published by Associated University Presses, 1984. I am currently a member of the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition in Marin County, California.

My thinking and activity have been driven by the conviction of the need to reintegrate work, art and community. It takes as its premise that their union is necessary to a fulfilling and deeply satisfying life. Their divorce seems to me unnatural and crushes the human spirit. I believe that if people controlled their labor, they would work with insight, skill and style for those they care about and build community around that. At present we tolerate the separation of work, art and community not because we do not want to be creative in our daily life but because our livelihood seems to require it.

It appears to me that the greatest violence that human beings throughout history have inflicted on each other is not the intermittent warfare that takes so many lives but the continuous suppression of the talents and aptitudes of most working people by oppressive economic and political systems that control their labor. Indeed, if people could express their creativity in their work, it is likely that they would be less prone to violence.

Politics is about the control of work; it should be about people liberating their talents through the collective self-management of their occupations. Most art throughout history has been produced under the domination of state, religious and now market power. The liberation of the gifts of people requires their controlling their labor and the community nurturing and providing opportunities for what is best in its members. This is why politics and art are necessarily connected.

This website will contain shorter and longer pieces. Some of these will be commentary on current events, some longer analytical pieces on both politics and art.

The graphics on this page come from the work of the Mexican muralist José Hernández Delgadillo (1927-2000). The header is a detail of a mural done in the School of Design and Crafts in Mexico City in 1973.