Black, white, red

An Essay on Struggle and Dialogue

Piotr Paweł Drozdowicz

War, war! This is war! Shouted by participants in peaceful protests against Gods commandments, especially against the fifth one Thou shalt not kill. Battle cries and phallic gestures. The former radical defenders of the Polish Constitution are walking with vulgarities on their lips and on cardboard placards. Eyes full of anger from beneath black masks, ominous red flashes, cryptic inscriptions marked with asterisks. P******ć [f**k], j***ć [f**k], w*********ć [get the f**k out] this is more or less the programme content you can read.

 

The colours of revolution

 

Media messages coming from TV stations and news portals are creating an atmosphere of universal terror, firing up extreme social emotions (commercials sell well, then!). An atmosphere of revolution. Mixed news reports use tight framing and cinematography as if from a horror movie. Nocturnal settings further enhance the visual drama of red lightning bolts. Red on a black background, red blood flowing, not necessarily from wounds. Black and red these are the colours of this stage of the war. The Polish colours are rather white and red, which evoke a completely different, deeply spiritual, and ideological symbolism.

 

What is this visual spectacle? Yes, it is first and foremost visual, highly suggestive, very visually coherent, too designer-like for a spontaneous social uprising. There are irresistible associations with happenings and provocative actions from the time of the western youth revolts of 1968, which grew out of the spirit of absurd Dadaism and Fluxus. Today, flower children have turned into black ladies, or perhaps widows. How unexpectedly quickly the six-colour trend changed to red and black in Poland. The change from cheerful colours to war colours must inevitably mean some kind of change in the universal cultural revolution. What is this ‘peaceful war? It is not, after all, about economic issues, nor is it about politics, nor is it about respect for the rights laid down in the Constitution. It is about cultural issues. The areas which define the dividing line in culture are philosophical in nature; they are theology and anthropology. The global historical conflict is of a spiritual and world-view nature, and entails the logocentric attitude (Gr. Logos = sign of God and Christ) and egocentricity the human self as the criterion of all values. All ideas, social and political attitudes, originate from the resolution of this primordial division. In culture and art, it is the line between Truth, Good, and Beauty, and absurdity, destruction and nothingness, of which Conceptualism or Fluxus are sophisticated examples. The performance of black “women is one of the visual manifestations of the cultural revolution which is going on in the world. There is a variety of opinions on the existence of a culture war. The proper war only begins when we begin to defend from attack the highest values, faith, and freedom from capture. In 1920, we miraculously defended Warsaw. The next World War began in 1939 in Poland, and not in Austria or Czechoslovakia, because the Poles began to defend themselves. Today we can see that it was worth it. Today we have a similar situation in culture. Every attempt to defend freedom, values, and imponderables, must result in war.

 

The roots of contemporary art

 

The visual aspects of this “war take us into the realm of the visual arts, where the revolution achieved its greatest “official success, where to avoid any misunderstandings everything is simply easy to see. For a century, it has been the plastic (formerly fine) arts which have become the field and the probe of cultural change. The beginnings of the world avant-garde were closely connected with the expansion of communism realised by the Red Army. In 1919, El Lissitzkys suprematist abstraction Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge served as a war poster. Julian Marchlewski prophesied at the time “We will live to see that moment when our Red Army will strike a blow against the Polish White Guards. Then the fate of this war, and with it the fate of the world revolution, will be decided on the barricades of Warsaw[1]. “Lissitzky, in his cartoon story of the impact,  this time of the red square, shatters, like the LIGHTNING of revolution, the order prevailing on earth, and lays the foundations for the red architecture of the new world.[2] After the Red Army lost the Battle of Warsaw, the Soviet authorities recognised culture and art as an important instrument in revolutionary propaganda in Europe, implemented by the Third International (Comintern), which Tatlin commemorated with his constructivist sculpture. The counterpart of the Comintern in the field of art was the Red International of Creative Artists, an organisation spreading the idea of the Marxist-Leninist revolution in Europe, which Mayakovsky called the “Red Artintern[3]. Its Polish representative was, among others, Mieczysław Szczuka. The key to understanding the essence of changes in culture in the 20th century is the fact that society itself has become the material and substance of activities in the field of art. As early as in the 1920s, Szczuka stated, after El Lissitzki, “We cannot imagine the construction of new forms in art outside the process of transforming social forms. Revolutionary “artistic actions were gradually carried out on the living organism of society. From the very beginning, as today, a kind of ideological-artistic engineering has had the same aim: social change. The aim is no longer to produce a valuable, material, object a work of art but to manipulate social relations, and deconstruct, using avant-garde and critical methods, all the important values owing to which it remains a community. Contemporary leftist marches and protests against the basic values of culture are a continuation, and the fruit, of these social-artistic actions on a mass scale. It would be a dream come true for the Viennese Actionists to embrace the whole of society by means of performance, so that at last it would be possible (without any corset of Catholic and bourgeois mores) as part of “art to take care of natural needs, masturbate, self-mutilate, and smear ones own body with blood, excrement, and vomit. This would be the social pinnacle of total art. For now, it takes place in art galleries and special clubs, but often already funded with public money.

In contemporary art and art criticism, leftist ideology has banished perfection and beauty from the realm of art theory as relics of the ancient-Christian world, and has imposed alternative aesthetic anti-values, often in defiance of the natural aesthetic, intellectual, and psychological sensitivity and needs of the viewer. The very notion of MODERN art is an example of the transgression of basic notions. It means that there is a special kind of art, distinct from the rest, which is to have different rights and privileges, and which must be promoted, and dull society, with low cultural abilities, must be made aware of it. Such art has separate museums and galleries dedicated solely to it. Taught today in all State universities in Poland, it has become a heavy, hermetic academism, and functions outside society. It is true that the majority of society does not want to recognise contemporary art spontaneously, so political power and institutional advantage, public funds, have to be applied to make this “boon accepted. Why not simply ART, good or bad art? Because all criteria of evaluation and rational argumentation have been rejected so the domination by force remains.

 

Is dialogue with revolution possible?

 

The only chance for the parties in a cultural dispute to come to an agreement is to develop a culture based on the love of neighbour and the love of truth. Dialogue in culture takes place at the level of creation, and building according to a common vision. The principle of dialogue is the possibility of the calm and thorough presentation of arguments, and the free presentation of creativity subjected to full social verification. Dialogue is possible with the recognition of a common understanding of basic concepts, with the application of clear criteria for reasoned conclusions about reality, and with the will to search for truth; this also applies to the field of art. It is necessary to pay attention to the dangers of the contemporary concept of dialogue. The leftist practice of dialogue (discourse) is one of the manifestations of the critical method, as it serves to dismantle the concept of Truth in order to replace it with post-truth, which is supposed to be the product of social consensus. In practice, post-truth ultimately depends on those who ordain the debates and hold the microphone. In this context, the utopian ideal of universal dialogue emerges, which de facto serves to maintain a state of revolutionary, permanent, cultural modernisation. “Dialogists are modern representatives of conservatism who consider themselves to be more enlightened than others. As a result of hidden inferiority complexes, they graciously renounce declaring values in order to gain acceptance and favour with the revolution, to protect themselves. They think that they will gain respect from the leftist revolution, and be recognised as legitimate partners in the dialogue. The problem is that the revolution, due to its destructive nature, does not recognise the classical formula of dialogue as a method of resolving disputes, and, due to its lack of intellectual arguments, is not interested in it. It prefers violent solutions, annexations, hostile takeovers, it prefers institutional, political, media, and any other kind of domination, in order to establish a specific minority democracy (sic!). After all, it is, as has been said, a REVOLUTION, not a game of hare and hounds. Dialogue without establishing the areas of common values and boundaries in axiology is a utopia, and fits into the postmodern idea of a fluid reality. What is to be done? Lenin asked, and let us ask too.

 

Postulates for the time of cultural war

 

What should be done so as not to go with the flow of the tsunami of the cultural international? The contemporary cultural “war raises anew the question about the model according to which culture should be built in Poland. At this point it is important to add that we understand culture in classical terms, as analogous to cultivating a garden, in which we are not bound by revolutionary historical determinism, but by the laws of nature. In our garden it is important whether pigweed, couch grass, or roses grow. After all, we have criteria for usefulness and beauty according to which we cultivate our garden, also drawing on the tradition and knowledge of previous gardeners. Today, having rejected the classical principles of world-building which have been discovered and tested for centuries, despite the development of civilisation and science, it is almost impossible to equal the aesthetic achievements of the past in architecture, painting, or music. However, the history of culture and art not the history of art in the postmodern interpretation shows that, regardless of the epoch, the prevailing philosophical ideas, political systems, or régimes, true works of culture, masterpieces of art, were created spontaneously. Art needs little genuine FREEDOM, not anarchy, and fair and genuine support from State patronage. Real, good, art was, is, and will be created spontaneously from the bottom. To begin to notice it, it is enough to free oneself from discourses, newspeak, meta-narration, and superstructure. Above all, it is worth rejecting the terrorising paradigm of modernity as a relic of the 20th century, as a manifestation of another historical “style which has passed. We should reject the postmodern, post-avant-garde, neo-Marxist ideological corset, and cease the selective recognition of artistic creativity.

 

A key task in Poland should be the restoration and development of classical cultural education at the secondary and academic levels, based on the universal values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Following the example of other countries (Canada, USA, Sweden, and Italy), in order to achieve at least a minimal counterbalance, at least one art school should be established with a classical[4] (non-avant-garde) programme of art and thought about art. Artistic and scientific institutes should be established in Poland, which would deal with a kind of classical study (an analogy to gender study)[5].

 

It is wise to get rid of inferiority complexes towards foreign countries. After all, not all of us have complexes towards the Artworld, not all of us want to hide the national, native, character of our culture and soul at all costs. We have our own language, faith, traditions, wonderful art. We dont even have to be a rich country, because we have everything to build a healthy culture. Dialogue in culture is the implementation of a proper and tested project.

 

It is worth trying, and then we will invite anyone willing to join us in this dialogue. Knowing our worth, we will differ beautifully. The Christian vision of culture is affirmative towards reality, despite its recognition of evil and sin. The Christian heritage, enriched by our national character, still remains a distinctive, well-defined, project, linking antiquity with the present. Perhaps this is the last moment for such a constructive dialogue.

 

 


 

Bio

Piotr Paweł Drozdowicz is a Poznań-based painter. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań under the guidance of the conceptualist Jarosław Kozłowski, graduating in 1998 with a degree in mural painting. In 19981999, he studied at the École  des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, France. He earned a PhD in fine arts at the Faculty of Painting of the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts in 2014. Since 2009, he has been teaching drawing and painting at the Faculty of Architecture of the Poznań University of Technology.

 

Drozdowicz works with oil painting, watercolour, and mural painting, specializing in wet-on-wet techniques such as KEIM A. He designs and executes site-specific frescoes in architectural spaces. An author of historical-painting reconstructions and frescoes in Poznań and in France, he accepts the existence of transcendent Beauty and believes in the continuity of great painterly traditions. He produces harmonious painting compositions whose subject is the human being in the context of space.

 

Author of the book Między muzeum i prezbiterium [Between the museum and the presbytery] that won the Łukaszewicz Prize, the main award of Poznaniana 2017. He combines his experience as a visual artist with the practice of choral singing, performing with the “Poznań Nightingales Choir of the Poznań Philharmonic in Poland and abroad (since 2016).

 

www.pdrozdowicz.pl

p@drozdowicz.pl

[1] Quoted after T. Żenczykowski, Dwa komitety, 1920-1944. Polska w planach Lenina i Stalina [Two committees, 1920-1944. Poland in the plans of Lenin and Stalin], Paris 1984, pp. 24-25.

[2] El Lissitzky, Suprematiczeskij skaz o dwu kwadratach, Witebsk 1920 - “De Stijl, 1921 Berlin 1922.

[3] after: Czekalski M. Międzynarodówka Salonów Automobilowych i hagiografia rewolucji: Mieczysław Szczuka na rozdrożach nowej sztuki [The International of Automobile Show and the hagiography of revolution: Mieczysław Szczuka at the crossroads of new art], in: Artium Quaestiones, Vol. 9 (1998) pp. 75-109.

[4] I understand the term classical, classical aesthetics, not as old, traditional, but as present, but deprived of paradigms, spirit, principles, avant-garde-dadaistic methods, together with all its post-mutations and contemporary regressions. It is about such phenomena in culture and art which are created as if the avant-garde did not exist, or was only an outdated style, a trend of the past.

[5] A separate article is necessary to explain the concept of classic study in art.