So flight, the new motif, habit, even ideology, has captured a class of unmoored aspirants not (yet?) prepared for what we would blithely call “freedom”. How then did this happen, and why?
If there is answer it lies in the first and second thirds of the previous century, when art was a state industry, artists ostensibly workers in the service of the State (“people”) whose propaganda requirements both abroad but also at home were manifest and need for prestige equally pressing. A pattern first emergent in the USSR, then, Japan, and finally (after 1949) in the People’s Republic. A game thus of trans-border proportion, already embodying flight. Except that the flight it sponsored was not one of individuals. It was, rather, a colonizing of and by the intellectual classes (“brain workers”) by and of themselves, across but also within borders, whence new univocal political and aesthetic production became more fluently engineered, sustained by a sense of rightness in conformity. Souls soared, inflated with genuine feeling for the revolutionary newness of it all, but there was no Plan B to deal with what happens when large flocks of birds take to the air at a time. There must be an obvious and adequate place to land and replenish.
Except that after 1966, such a place ceased to exist. The Icarus’s had no place to recoup or recalculate: landing privileges were suspended sine diem. Children took their titles and mangled their art. Teaching and passing on ceased. This had it seemed been a fool’s euphoria.
But the roots of this experience are better understood if we look backward in time a bit, to see how Revolutionary Art (as a program) became an orthodoxy in the first place.
Greater Asia’s Triptych of Neo-imperialisms took shape soon after World War I: Imperial Japan, the USSR, and the re-expanded Republic of China. They were not friendly neighbors: neither treaty nor ideology induced cooperation or trust. But one thing was shared from the moment of their birth and over their subsequent lifespans, days of glory, stretching into the ’80s. That was an intuition that the 20th century concept of art as keyed to subliminal messaging or encoding had enormous potential as a political tool. Very consciously in the USSR and in the Japanese colonies of pre-WWII vintage, the co-optation the “new” art and of its practitioners was vigorously pursued and funded so as to add to the arsenal of controlling devices, as tool of both internal persuasion and external negotiation. Indeed, so much so that its induction becomes a way of differentiating “neo” from “original or organic”accidental” empire.)