Is art still able to change society? Can art bring on a revolution? Is art useful against capitalism?"
I have been pondering this question some more, for it is indeed an important one, and I had to conclude that in the end there is not that much revolutionary about art as such at all. Or, let me put it another way, revolution in the arts is appreciated at a much slower rate. When art in the past was truly revolutionary it was not labeled revolutionary at all. When Duchamp presented his famous urinoir as a work of art, it was at first thought of as completely ridiculous, a statement of anti-art. Little did the intended audience know that many years into the future this way of presenting art would become a fixture of contemporary art, even of culture in a broader sense (reality becoming entertainment). It is even doubtful that Duchamp himself thought that far ahead.
In art, as in most cultural and social matters, the revolutionary aspects of the event are most likely to be felt long afterwards, while a revolution in the sense that it is mostly thought (like the American independence, the French Revolution, Khomeiny taking over in Iran, that is, a political revolution) is almost instantaneous, a moment in time, an event.
So, in that sense art can never be truly revolutionary. It can only be revolutionary by subverting the common codes. Then after all, Lynch's movies could be called revolutionary. But it remains to be seen whether his way of making movies will have a lasting influence on cinema in general. Maybe Lost Highway or Eraserhead will be considered revolutionary in 50 years, but the point is that we can hardly judge that fact hodie et nunc. And even then it remains a question of knowledge and interpretation. But, and this is the imminent danger, a slower rate of influence can also result in the fact that by the time you start to influence you will be forgotten.
I remember that a former flatmate of mine had watched Citizen Kane, which is in all respects a truly revolutionary film compared to the movies of that era, and that she did not in the least appreciated those aspects that make it a forward-thinking and influential movie (and she was a film buff!). So many generations of habit have gone over those innovations that they are no longer recognized as such and the possiblity for subversion has gradually been erased. It is even more likely that is has been appropriated by the system and turned into a harmless everyday gimmick. As such David Lynch's now famous and idiosyncratic dreamy interludes (as in Twin Peaks and Mullholand Drive) may in the future become an integral part of pop video technique. A long shot maybe? Eisenstein made a revolutionary tool out of D.W. Griffith's editing techniques. Hitchcock grabbed them and made them a staple of shock horror. Now people may remember Hitchcock's Psycho, but who, apart from the most obsessed film students remembers Birth of a Nation or Battleship Potemkin?
Even worse is what happened to Brecht's famous Verfremdungseffekt. As Kinofist's Owen showed in his brilliant piece the powers that be quickly smothered it, because they saw its revolutionary potential. Godard, who was one of the few successful directors who tried to ressurrect it has been indeed very influential, but even then you will see that his inventions have been turned into commercial Hollywood fodder. And I honestly do not think that one episode of Buffy will remedy that situation.
Then there is another factor playing. As I have remarked a few posts below it is in this age and time extremely difficult to still be influential at all because these days almost every movement is condemned to be limited socially, culturally and even geographically. This coincides with society's extreme individualism where it is no longer needed to belong to a large group to construct yourself an identity. These days an identity does not even have to be group-related.
If in former days, let us say the fifties, you were a rocker, you belonged to a rather large group that probably shared a lot of social and cultural characteristics. These days being a rocker can imply you liking punk rock, indie rock, post-rock, hardrock, black metal, noiserock and what do I know. And it is very doubtful that people who like indie rock feel an affinty with people who like black metal. But - and this is the important fact - at the same time it could very well be that those two people, the one liking indie rock and the one liking black metal, do indeed feel an affinity on a cultural and social level. Nothing is sure anymore. That same fact, by the way, accounts for the endlessly shifting and changing ways perceived groups are targeted by advertising.
I mean, just look up a random Last FM page and check out the so-called 'neighbours', that is, the people who supposedly have 'the same taste as you'. Even within the group of neighbours the differences are extreme and even greater than the similarities. Even if I compare my own musical taste with the people consider to be musically like-minded, there can be a huge gap in listening habits.
So it is not at all unthinkable that even if a work of art were truly revolutionary, that the revolution will pass by the majority of the public. The niches are so small, the groups so fragmented, the stimuli so overpoweringly numerous that these days you are bound to make a choice. And maybe in making your choice you will miss that one true revolution happening.
And if you continue this reasoning to its conclusion it is, on the other hand, equally possible that in 50 years someone will discover a particular artist and decide that, in retrospect, (s)he was incredibly revolutionary. Need I add that this future revolutionary artist may just as well be an artist that is now considered by the cognoscenti to be marginally artistic, even rightout shite?
But is it not equally possible that by that time we will have succombed under the myriad of new stimuli and have long forgotten about what happened 50 years ago? Some may have proclaimed the end of history but that seems to carry the implication with it that people start forgetting about recent history much quicker. Today, what happened 10 years ago might, because of the incredible amount of information that is fired at us at a daily basis, just as well have happened 30 years ago. And influence, let alone subversion, is all very well, but you better hope that by that time you will not find yourself buried under the endlessly exponential growth of information that will have passed by since.