I figure I would write about how a 19th Century Political Theorist is helping me as an artist – I hope to write out some pointers so that you can implement these findings in to your practice. Yes, I am of course on about Karl Marx. Despite his revolutionary aura, Marx’s ideas resonate with the artist’s journey and could very well lay the groundwork for an enriching, and resilient artistic practice.

The Commodity: Understanding the Value of Your Art

In Marx’s Capital”, commodities take centre stage. Every artwork you create is, in essence, a commodity. But its value, according to Marx, is twofold – use-value and exchange-value. Use-value is personal, inherent, bound to the joy, catharsis, or message your work brings. Your painting might be priceless to you, but it has a different exchange-value in the marketplace.

Take heed from Marx. Cherish the use-value of your art, let it nourish your spirit and creative drive. Yet, understand its exchange-value, its place in the market. Both are crucial, and neither diminishes the other.

Alienation: Reconnecting with Your Art

Marx warns us of the alienation of labor – a worker estranged from his product, from himself, and from others. Artists too risk this alienation when their work becomes solely about catering to trends, sales, or popular demand.

Marx suggests reconnecting with your labor, which in your case is your art. As an artist, you have the freedom to choose the nature of your work, its pace, its style. Embrace this autonomy, and create for yourself first. In doing so, you reduce the alienation from your work and create more authentic pieces, which resonate with audiences on a deeper level.

The Class Struggle: Forging Solidarity

In a capitalist society, Marx saw the inevitable struggle between classes, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. In the world of art, there’s a similar struggle – between the commercialized mainstream and the struggling independent artists. Artists, Marx might suggest, need to unite in solidarity.

This doesn’t mean sparking a revolution, but rather fostering a supportive community. Share resources, promote each other’s work, collaborate on projects. In a world often divided by competition, Marx’s idea of class solidarity can foster a more sustainable and nurturing art scene.

Implementing Marx: Practical Steps

Now, let’s talk about the practical steps to incorporate these principles into your artistic practice.

Understand your market: Study the market where your art resides. Understand its dynamics, what sells, and why. This is not to compromise your artistic integrity, but to smartly navigate the market while maintaining your use-value.

Create for yourself: Always remember why you started. Let your art reflect your individuality. Strive to maintain a balance between the demands of the market and your creative impulse.

Network with other artists: Join artist collectives, attend art events, be active in online communities. Share your knowledge, and learn from others. This unity can help build a support system that fosters creativity and resilience.

Art, like life, is a struggle, but within that struggle lies the potential for profound beauty and truth. As an artist, you can navigate this world with a better understanding of the forces at play. Marx, despite being an unlikely mentor, offers a perspective that can guide you on this journey, crafting a path that values not only the product of your labor but the labor itself. So pick up your brush, or your chisel, or your pen, and know that you are not alone in the struggle.

Andrew

Andrew Backhouse is a Yorkshire-based artist working with time-based media and digital collage. He is a self-confessed radio geek and he hopes to share his wonder. He also wants to share his naivety and enthusiasm for finding something interesting. Henri Chopin, AGF, and RuPaul influence Andrew’s artistic enquiry. Documenting “The new shiny thing,” Andrew tries to share his excitement for it. But, he also asks about its authenticity and worth.

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