Allan Antliff
Freedom, Individualism, Revolution Courbet, Zola, Proudhon and Artistic Anarchism

Artistic anarchism has a long and complex history. Certainly one of its most interesting chapters in France is the development of two competing anarchist discourses about art’s libertarian possibilities during the years leading up to the ill-fated Paris Commune of 1871. Then the paintings of the anarchist artist Gustave Courbet served as a foil for a debate in which Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s praise for Courbet’s “Realist” aesthetic was pitted against the young novelist Emile Zola’s enthusiasm for the stylistic qualities of Courbet’s art. Proudhon encapsulated his views in his last book, Du principe de l’art et de sa destination social (The principle of art and its social goal), published in 1865. [1] Here he situated art production socially so as to affirm the artist’s freedom to transform history. Proudhon argued art was inescapably social, and that the artist was free only to the degree to which he or she sought to transform society. He admired Courbet’s Realism because it pushed history forward through critique, extending the dialectical interplay between anarchist criticism and social transformation into the artistic realm.

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Allan Antliff
Anarchy, Neo-Impressionism and Utopia The wandering of Humanity

“The tramps refused to obey; they abandoned time, possessions, labor, slavery. They walked and slept in counter-rhythm to the world.”

—Anais Nin, The Tramps, 1946

Anais Nin’s encounter-with the homeless wanderers of her day—the tramps of Paris, “in counter-rhythm to the world” reminds me of an enduring duality in anarchism. We stand at one remove from capitalism, attempting in our own way to live in a degraded world in spite of it. In the quest to realize our ideals many of us have joined the ranks of such rebels, who subsist on capital’s margins.

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