The Walls Speak: Art And The Revolution In May ’68

“Marx had always theorized that socialist revolution would take place in advanced, industrialized societies before spreading to the less-developed corners of the globe.”

“The streets have always been where the masses bring their voices and grievances. It is a practice as old as Ancient Rome. It is when the city rises and a sense of social war penetrates the air that even art itself cannot help but be transformed. This year marks a half century since the great convulsions of 1968, when art itself became the vehicle of capturing and giving voice to the emerging, clashing ideals of that heroic generation. The tail-end of the sixties featured much of the imagery, cultural shifts and pop evolution that define the decade in the world consciousness. Acid rock was in, fashion was taking leaps so colorful and free that trends were established which have not gone out of style. But an aesthetic not readily discussed in the mainstream is the aesthetic of revolution. … In 1968 the number of young people versus the old stood at a ratio of about five to one, as immortalized by The Doors in a famous song in that year. The baby boomers were college-age, yet they lived under the shadow of the century’s two key events, the Russian Revolution and World War II. The political forces unleashed by such events were now being debated and torn apart by the children of the initiators of said events. The Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Cultural Revolution in China, which Mao inaugurated in 1966, the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, and of course the U.S. war in Vietnam, all framed the mindsets of a generation. Marxism and art suddenly swirled in interesting combinations. Film buffs flocked to French New Wave cinema by directors like Jean-Luc Godard, master of the jump cut and for a time an avowed Maoist. Anarchic energies were let loose in movements like The Situationists, heirs to the Surrealists, whose guru Guy Debord wrote classic works on the ‘society of the spectacle,’ making observations about the masses’ manipulation by mass culture still relevant, and perhaps even more so, today. Thinkers like Debord would espouse culture as revolt, art as war against the capitalist order. …”

Marxist artists known as The Atelier Populaire occupied the École des Beaux-Arts during the uprising of May 1968.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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