Art as a process

Williams and Hall, in reassessing the meaning and relations of the base and superstructure, allow art a place within culture that to me is far more satisfying and nuanced than the idea of art within Marx. Although Marx doesn’t address art specifically in any of the passages I have read, I assume that it is a part of the superstructure that is determined by the base, that it cannot escape the dominant ideology. There is a contrasting view that Williams addresses in “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory”, in which literature and art are what propel societies forward—they are “emergent” cultural practices: “It would be easy to say, it is a familiar rhetoric, that literature operates in the emergent cultural sector, that it represents the new feelings, the new meanings, the new values” (44). From the orthodox Marxist point of view, art cannot escape the dominant ideology, whereas from point of view of the “familiar rhetoric”, art presents us with the most innovative, “creative” ideas.

As it turns out, art is both of these things, when we conceive of it as an active process in time instead of an object. As Williams writes: “We should look not for the components of a product but for the conditions of a practice… The recognition of the relation of a collective mode and an individual project—and these are the only categories that we can initially presume—is a recognition of related practices” (48). Like the base-superstructure relationship, which Williams insists should be hegemonic—the base being a selective process instead of a relationship between an objective base and another group of objects—the superstructure—determined by the base, we should conceive of art as a process, because, like the rest of society, we interpret it for ourselves.

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