The top­ic of art and revolu­tion deserves a much bet­ter book than John Molyneux’s The Dia­lectics of Art. This crit­ic­al review explains why.
John Molyneux: The Dialectics of ArtEvery so often a writer influ­enced by Marx pub­lishes a work of great import­ance, not only to the left but to all; a work that inspires oth­ers to fol­low them and explore the new ter­rit­ory they have opened up; a work that is so ori­gin­al and per­suas­ive that even non-Marx­ists recog­nise its value. In the field of the arts, Wal­ter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mech­an­ic­al Repro­duc­tion (1935) and John Berger’s Ways of See­ing (1972) spring to mind.
Unfor­tu­nately, Marx has inspired far more works that are full of pom­pos­ity, self-pro­mo­tion and naked idiocy. Such works leave you win­cing at the thought that they will fall into the hands of people ser­i­ously com­mit­ted to their sub­ject mat­ter, because of the dam­age they will do to the cred­ib­il­ity of Marx’s ideas. It is in this pile of regret­table books that John Molyneux’s The Dia­lectics of Art belongs.
John Molyneux is a polit­ic­al act­iv­ist whose know­ledge of Marx­ist dia­lectics derives from dec­ades of ser­vice as a mid-tier appar­at­chik in the Brit­ish SWP (Social­ist Work­ers Party). That party has a long­stand­ing weak­ness when it comes to dia­lectics, the under­stand­ing of which they bor­row from the high­brow-Len­in­ism of György Lukács in his His­tory and Class Con­scious­ness (Lukács being “one of the greatest Marx­ist revolu­tion­ar­ies”, accord­ing to Molyneux, without any sup­port­ing evid­ence what­so­ever). As is clear from the equally for­get­table SWP primer in dia­lectics, The Algebra of Revolu­tion, by John Rees (1998), their idea of dia­lectics is one in which it applies prop­erly only to the work­ing class as it leaps for­ward to revolu­tion­ary con­scious­ness, and to the mas­ter­ful strategies and schemes (such as why it’s a cun­ning idea to form an alli­ance with George Gal­lo­way) of the lead­ers of the work­ing-class move­ment before then. 
This rot has been dealt with by Frank­lin Rose­mont and Dav­id Schanoes for the Chica­go Sur­real­ists. In line with this clunky tra­di­tion, des­pite the title of the book, Molyneux’s ref­er­ences to dia­lectics rarely go any deep­er here than the ‘on-the-one-hand and on-the-other-hand’-type of formulation.

What is miss­ing in this book is any sense of rebellion

The ‘big’ idea in this book is that art is based on unali­en­ated labour. For any­one read­ing the book who is acquain­ted with Marx’s writ­ings, hear­ing this idea will inspire in you the kind of incredu­lity Ricky Ger­vais evinces when Karl Pilk­ing­ton has one of his brainwaves.

Conor Kostick and John MOlyneux as Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington

I’d like you to ima­gine me as Ricky Ger­vais / Con­or Kostick talk­ing to Karl Pilk­ing­ton / John Molyneux, com­plete with the little gasps of ‘Oh God’ as I laugh so hard I can’t catch my breath:

Con­or: Art is unali­en­ated labour?

John: That’s right. As I say on page twenty, “art is work pro­duced by unali­en­ated human labour.” Tracey Emin’s  Why I Nev­er Became a Dan­cer or the mono­logue at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses are mani­festly affirm­a­tions of our human­ity. Marx says that in ali­en­ated labour, “man does not affirm, but denies him­self”. So these mas­ter­works of art can’t be the res­ult of ali­en­ated labour since they are affirmative.

Con­or: Laugh­ing. Emin and Joyce… in the same sen­tence. Hang on, hang on… So you think there are people in the mod­ern world who are not ali­en­ated? Des­pite Marx’s obser­va­tions about how even the bour­geoise have no con­trol over the world they dom­in­ate? Des­pite how everything, such as the build­ings of the cit­ies we walk through, rep­res­ents our estrange­ment as a spe­cies from our own cre­ations? Yet there are people pro­du­cing art who are free from ali­en­a­tion? That, in fact, this is what makes their work art, this eman­cip­a­tion from an ali­en­ated world?

John: Look, don’t laugh. I’m ser­i­ous. And I address these ques­tions on page thirty-two of my book. Of course many artists have exhib­ited signs of actu­ally being highly ali­en­ated indi­vidu­als: Richard Dadd, Arthur Rim­baud, Andy War­hol, Oscar Wilde and Jack Ker­ou­ac, for instance. But in their act of cre­ation, their labour, they are act­ing vol­un­tar­ily and there­fore express­ing them­selves. To argue oth­er­wise would mean that chan­ging the world becomes impossible. Marx him­self would nev­er have been able to write Cap­it­al.

Con­or: Wait? You’re drag­ging Marx into this? So it’s not just artists who can avoid ali­en­a­tion? Are there oth­er types of people per­form­ing unali­en­ated work in your sense?

John: Well, revolu­tion­ary act­iv­ists, obviously.

Con­or: Laugh­ing hard. Can you see what you just did there? You split the world into a few who are cre­at­ive because their activ­ity con­sists of unali­en­ated labour and the rest of us. Unali­en­ated labour. Don’t you think that’s a rather elit­ist the­ory for a sup­posed Marxist?

John: Huff­ing. Not at all. I’m not say­ing that all unali­en­ated labour pro­duces great art. There has always been any amount of mediocre art, but it is still art. As I put it, “there is Cris­ti­ano Ron­aldo or Lionel Messi, and then there are the lads kick­ing a ball around in my loc­al park, but they are all play­ing foot­ball, just as there is Garry Kas­parov or Mag­nus Carlsen along with myself and oth­ers worse than me, all of whom play chess. It is the cat­egory I’m con­cerned with here, not the quality.”

Marx’s theory of alienation and its relevance

Sup­pose someone declared a great advance in sci­ence: a dis­cov­ery that builds on the work of New­ton and deep­ens it. Let this sci­ent­ist have as their big idea that while the law of grav­ity still holds gen­er­ally, it does not apply to chairs and tables. These chairs and tables appear to behave in a fash­ion that is sim­il­ar to oth­er objects but they have kost­ic­as, and that makes them special.

Now, such a new approach wouldn’t rep­res­ent a deep­en­ing of our know­ledge but it would throw us all into con­fu­sion. As a res­ult of this new idea, we haven’t gained a more soph­ist­ic­ated the­ory of grav­ity, instead we’ve lost everything we gained from New­ton, Ein­stein and more recent sci­ent­ists. We can’t now aspire towards a bet­ter the­ory of grav­ity because the whole dis­cip­line has sud­denly become arbit­rary: why chairs and tables? What about sofas? What is wrong with fold-up stools? Or a chair that was only partly made then thrown away? Or an upturned crate act­ing as a table?

In the absence of a test­able exper­i­ment for kost­ic­as or, indeed, any evid­ence at all that chairs and tables are behav­ing dif­fer­ently to oth­er objects, we would be right to reject this new the­ory. In fact, if people expressed a cer­tain amount of con­tempt for the author of this non­sense, they could be for­giv­en for doing so.

This scen­ario par­al­lels Molyneux’s ‘dis­cov­ery’ in respect to art, which, if taken ser­i­ously, would col­lapse any power Marx’s the­ory of ali­en­a­tion has for under­stand­ing the world.

Here’s the argu­ment in Molyneux’s own words: 

“In cap­it­al­ist soci­ety, the labour of the over­whelm­ing major­ity of people—especially, but not only, work­ing-class people—might be thought in many respects to more closely resemble that of a bee than an archi­tect. By con­trast, cre­ativ­ity, which Marx ascribes to all labour, appears to be the province of a small minor­ity, primar­ily artists.”

In sup­port of a dis­tinc­tion between ali­en­ated and cre­at­ive labour, Molyneux writes: 

 “Marx says of ali­en­ated labour that it is shunned as soon as there is no phys­ic­al or oth­er com­pul­sion. This is not true of ‘cre­at­ive’ labour: Michelan­gelo, Titian, Ren­oir, Mon­et, Matisse, Picas­so and many oth­er artists went on work­ing right up to their deaths and long after any eco­nom­ic com­pul­sion disappeared.”

And he continues:

“View­ing this his­tor­ic­ally, as we should, we can say that ‘art’ as a social cat­egory (in the sense we are talk­ing about and are attempt­ing to define) emerges to cov­er a vari­ety of dis­tinct and diverse activities—painting, sculp­ture, poetry, nov­el writ­ing, com­pos­ing music, play­writ­ing and so on—in ten­sion with and oppos­i­tion to the to the growth of waged, ali­en­ated labour with the rise of cap­it­al­ism. As the bulk of pro­duc­tion, espe­cially the man­u­fac­ture of goods, becomes sub­sumed under wage labour and the rule of cap­it­al, so human­ity, or rather some humans and over­whelm­ingly humans from a rel­at­ively class pos­i­tion, carve out a sphere of pro­duc­tionartnot per­formed by ali­en­ated labour.”

Not only is this the equi­val­ent to say­ing there are excep­tions to the the­ory of grav­ity, it also is like say­ing that the the­ory of grav­ity only applies from a few hun­dred years ago. Mod­ern humans have been on this plan­et for about a hun­dred thou­sand years. Yet by Molyneux’s defin­i­tion only with the rise of capitalism—a brief flick­er of our spe­cies’ timeline—has there been art in its prop­er sense.

Aware of this chro­no­lo­gic­al prob­lem with his the­ory, Molyneux offers two defences. Firstly, art before cap­it­al­ism wasn’t what we would call art: 

“It is clear that the mod­ern use of the word ‘art’ to denote a spe­cif­ic sphere of activ­it­ies and objects, com­pris­ing paint­ing, music, lit­er­at­ure and so on, dis­tinct from oth­er non-artist­ic activ­it­ies and objects, did not apply to many or most of those peri­ods or cul­tures.” Second, “the concept of art, as it is widely used today and as I want to define it did not exist before the bour­geois era.”

Denying Aristotle wrote about art undermines any theory of art and revolution
Any the­ory of art that doesn’t allow for the recog­ni­tion of art pre-1300 CE is ridicu­lous. Noth­ing more need be said on that first point. On the second, let’s con­sider Aristotle’s Poet­ics. Aris­totle had a con­cep­tion of art for­mu­lated c.335 BCE, which Molyneux does not want to allow as being at all like the concept of art he wants to address. Yet Aris­totle dis­cusses, among oth­er arts, fig­ure paint­ing, where he says that “Polygnotus depic­ted men as nobler than they are, Pauson as less noble, Dionysi­us drew them true to life.”

To deny that Aris­totle is dis­cuss­ing art at this point suits Molyneux’s goal of restrict­ing art to post-1300, but it does con­sid­er­able dam­age to our under­stand­ing of the past. If any­one took Molyneux’s ideas ser­i­ously (that art emerges only in oppos­i­tion to ali­en­ated labour) they’d have to revise all the thou­sands of texts on the dif­fer­ent arts from ancient and medi­ev­al Europe, the Middle East, China, etc. and dis­tort them in an hor­rif­ic Orwellian fash­ion to shoe-horn them into his the­ory. This rein­ter­pret­a­tion of art not only under­mines our under­stand­ing of pre-mod­ern art but also the work­ings of pre-mod­ern soci­ety as such. Just as our sci­ent­ist with the new the­ory of grav­ity wrecks cen­tur­ies of sci­ence, our Marx­ist with the new the­ory of art wrecks Marxism.

Does resistance to Capitalism come from unalienated labour?

Molyneux is proud of the ori­gin­al­ity of his big idea: “to the best of my know­ledge, the pre­cise defin­i­tion of art presen­ted here has not been advanced pre­vi­ously”. (Foot­note: “except by myself in John Molyneux, ‘The legit­im­acy of mod­ern art’, Inter­na­tion­al Social­ism 80, 1998”, nat­ur­ally). Over the twenty-plus years he’s been advoc­at­ing for this defin­i­tion of art as unali­en­ated labour, it seems that someone has poin­ted out some of the obvi­ous prob­lems with it, because Molyneux does address some unnamed crit­ics who seem to have poin­ted out that ali­en­a­tion is not lim­ited to those whose labour is being exploited, that it is all-per­vas­ive in mod­ern society.

Molyneux replies that such a view of alienation:

“… neg­ates the pos­sib­il­ity of res­ist­ance and revolu­tion­ary work, either the­or­et­ic­al or prac­tic­al. If there is not a qual­it­at­ive dif­fer­ence between the labour of writ­ing Cap­it­al and hack journ­al­ist­ic work, or between organ­ising a strike (main­tain­ing pick­et is hard work) and work per­formed for and under the con­trol of a boss, if Marx was not really in con­trol of the con­tent of Cap­it­al and the pick­ets are not vol­un­tar­ily and pur­pose­fully organ­iz­ing the pick­et line but are still more or less com­pletely dom­in­ated by ali­en­a­tion in this work, then chan­ging the world becomes impossible. And if Marx determ­ined and con­trolled the writ­ing of Cap­it­al, why should the same not apply to James Joyce writ­ing Ulysses or Pablo Picas­so paint­ing Guer­nica or John Col­trane com­pos­ing or play­ing A Love Supreme?”

We were all poten­tial H‑Bombs

Molyneux divides the world into those dom­in­ated by the ali­en­a­tion of their labour and those (includ­ing John Molyneux the act­iv­ist and writer) who can escape it in the course of their act­iv­ism and writ­ing. But to say that ali­en­a­tion is a fea­ture of the whole of cap­it­al­ist soci­ety is not to say it is impossible to trans­form it. The pos­sib­il­ity of trans­form­a­tion is every­where and in every­one and not just in those engaged in non-exploit­at­ive activities.

One of my first jobs was in the Case Inter­na­tion­al tract­or fact­ory, Don­caster. No one there was Karl Marx but all of us, even the Tory voters and those whose major con­cerns did not appear to extend bey­ond foot­ball, were far more res­ist­ant to the drudgery of the fact­ory pro­cess than you’d ima­gine from Molyneux’s pic­ture of the labour pro­cess. There were those who owned motor­bikes who would smuggle in parts in order to plate them with chrome, using the factory’s time and equip­ment to do so; there were those who read on their own in their lunch break and day­dreamed the after­noon away; there were those who quietly shoved a tool worth over a mil­lion under a tar­paul­in to avoid being caught out in a mis­taken bit of paper­work; there were those wished for the days when the pro­duc­tion line would stop on the pre­text that the work­ers needed cold orange juice; there were those who cared for a row of dying pot plants on a dusty win­dowsill; there were even those who took evid­ent pride in the massive tract­ors that rolled off the end of the pro­duc­tion line. All of those people were in me too. We were all poten­tial H bombs.

You would not ever see a strike or siz­able protest unless a capa­city to res­ist exis­ted every­where and in every­one, not just in those who Molyneux defines as per­form­ing cre­at­ive work.

Capitalism alienates the whole of humanity from society

The ancient Baby­lo­ni­ans cre­ated a reli­gion that allowed for a ‘sub­sti­tute’ king to be put in place to accept the con­sequences of a bad celes­ti­al omen. At the end of a hun­dred days, this ‘king’ (and his con­sort) would be killed so that the real king could resume his role, the dis­aster hav­ing struck down the sub­sti­tute. Sim­il­arly, if a mem­ber of the roy­al fam­ily were sick, they might be swapped in their beds for an anim­al or even a per­son, who was then killed so the dis­ease would be deceived into leav­ing the real sufferer.

Hav­ing evolved this reli­gion and its rules, a can­on of theo­lo­gic­al texts became set in stone—literally fired in clay—and a priestly class sus­tained their val­ues. This was a reli­gion before which the popu­lace bowed, even when instruc­ted to provide a rel­at­ive as a sac­ri­fice for the royals.

Yet we shouldn’t believe that the reli­gion was all-per­vas­ive. There were altern­ate texts. There were priests who offered dif­fer­ent inter­pret­a­tions of the can­on. There were polit­ic­al fac­tions who formed con­spir­acies around the sub­sti­tute king, with the goal of over­throw­ing the ‘real’ king. And there were very many oth­er reli­gions com­pet­ing for the loy­alty of the pop­u­la­tion. Every class soci­ety cre­ates unjust rules that its mem­bers are sup­posed to adhere to, rules that are not just imple­men­ted by force but which dom­in­ate the minds of the cit­izens, and yet there has nev­er been a single per­son who is so utterly dom­in­ated by these inhu­man val­ues that they are simply drones.

Art and revolution is a dynamic that existed long before capitalism

Our cur­rent soci­ety appears more ration­al than that of the Baby­lo­ni­ans, but in many import­ant ways it is less so. If people from three thou­sand years ago were shown the way we allow so much food to go to waste, for example, when there is hun­ger among mil­lions, they would be incred­u­lous. We would have to explain it away as our sac­ri­fice to Mam­mon. Our rule of commerce—that you have to pay to import food, even if that means bury­ing unsold food­stuffs while star­va­tion and mal­nu­tri­tion are rampant—is far less humane than the rule about the sub­sti­tute king. At least the Baby­lo­ni­an gods allowed for the dis­tri­bu­tion of food reserves dur­ing times of crisis.

This is the wider sense in which we live in a sys­tem whose val­ues as well as its eco­nomy are foun­ded upon a deep ali­en­a­tion of people from the world we have created.

In John Molyneux’s mod­el, cap­it­al­ism cre­ates ali­en­a­tion in a very nar­row way: only dur­ing the peri­od of time and in the place in which people work. And as a res­ult, for him, there are unali­en­ated people who are not selling their labour-power to an employ­er. This divi­sion between the two provides Molyneux with the basis for sep­ar­at­ing the sub­lime artists of geni­us from the mul­ti­tude: the Ron­aldo from the kid in the park, the Kas­parov from the play­er in the loc­al chess club. Also, the revolu­tion­ary act­iv­ist from the worker.

Art and revolution: finding the boundaries of art

My objec­tion to Molyneux’s idea has already been stated: it under­mines a Marx­ist under­stand­ing of ali­en­a­tion and his­tory and, iron­ic­ally, of art, throw­ing these sub­jects into a muddle. I have a power­ful sec­ond­ary objec­tion too. If you were pre­pared to engage ser­i­ously with the sci­ent­ist who revised the the­ory of grav­ity to say that it did not apply to tables and chairs, you would quickly get into a dis­cus­sion about what, exactly, was a chair and a table. In the same way, let us sup­pose that Molyneux is cor­rect: that unali­en­ated labour is the key concept for defin­ing art. Then imme­di­ately, we’d want to apply that insight to help determ­ine what is art and what isn’t.

Is film­mak­ing art? When so many of those involved in mak­ing a film are exploited work­ers? Is music art? When the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of music requires non-cre­at­ive labour? Sculp­ture requires someone to quarry the stone and ship it to the sculptor and oth­er people to have made tools. Paint­ing needs paint, can­vas and brushes, pro­duced by work­ers under con­di­tions of exploit­a­tion. How does the require­ment that art be cre­at­ive, unali­en­ated labour help us decide that a cer­tain activ­ity is art?

It turns out that the fine artists that Molyneux appre­ci­ates via his meth­od are exactly the same ones he was intro­duced to at his elite school

Molyneux answers that there is a pro­por­tion of art to non-art in these inter­me­di­ate cases. Appar­ently, Amy Wine­house pro­duced art, while the Mon­kees did not. The lat­ter being essen­tially work for hire, that is, engaged in ali­en­ated labour. But it is really impossible to dis­en­tangle the prac­tice of the arts from the mar­ket and define true art as free from eco­nom­ic con­sid­er­a­tions. Strav­in­sky often was hired for bal­lets, com­mis­sioned for orches­tras etc. So does that mean Molyneux would put him in the non-art cat­egory? Of course not. It turns out that Molyneux’s dis­tinc­tion between ali­en­ated and non-ali­en­ated labour is immeas­ur­able. Instead of provid­ing us with a tool to identi­fy art via the qual­ity of the artists’ labour, attempt­ing to apply the the­ory quickly brings us to an arbit­rary judge­ment of the extent to which someone is being creative.

The res­ult of his defin­i­tion is that Molyneux can pick and choose between musi­cians he likes and those he doesn’t, claim­ing some for cre­at­ive labour (e.g. Leonard Cohen, Shane MacGow­an) and dis­miss­ing oth­ers (Take That, West­life). Sim­il­arly in lit­er­at­ure, the works of Mar­quez and Neru­da are art, but those of the writers of Mills and Boon romance books are not. Some chairs are really prop­er chairs, with arms and plush trim­mings, these chairs have kost­ic­as and are superb, oth­ers only look like chairs but they are actu­ally rubbish.

It turns out that the fine artists that Molyneux appre­ci­ates via his meth­od are exactly the same ones he was intro­duced to at his elite West­min­ster City school by his art mas­ter. As a res­ult of his jour­ney to Marx­ism… noth­ing has changed in the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of great art. The only dif­fer­ence between Molyneux and a non-Marx­ist writer on art is that the same artists as are tra­di­tion­ally fêted are now described as in exactly the same way, but with the addi­tion­al thought that they embody unali­en­ated labour. Where he can, this leads Molyneux to claim the can­on of great artists for the left as crit­ics of cap­it­al­ism, albeit often uncon­scious ones.

Social­ist Work­er, the news­pa­per of the Social­ist Work­ers Party in the UK, used to have a for­mu­laic reviews page: a film, book, record­ing, exhib­i­tion, etc. was good inso­far as it affected the audi­ence to join a revolu­tion­ary party. And the artist, if pos­sible, was shown to be an advoc­ate of the out­look of the SWP, with the tone of the reviews more fawn­ing the more suc­cess­ful the artist and the more the chance the artist might be per­suaded to share a plat­form or sign a cam­paign state­ment. Molyneux’s approach is hardly any more soph­ist­ic­ated and this is shown, above all, in the sec­tion on Tracey Emin.

Tracey Emin has by far the most ref­er­ences in Molyneux’s book. Where­as Wil­li­am Blake, a truly revolu­tion­ary poet and artist, has just a passing ref­er­ence, Emin appears through­out. Repro­du­cing an essay on Emin that he wrote in 2005, Molyneux says that “broadly speak­ing she is on the left. She did work for Ken Livingston’s may­or­al cam­paign. She is anti-racist, anti-homo­phobic and anti-war. My col­league Milly Thompson, formerly of the BANK col­lect­ive, who knows the Lon­don art scene says that in that world Emin is known as a ‘com­mit­ted social­ist”. This com­mit­ment, if it ever really exis­ted, las­ted until Emin declared her sup­port for the Tory gov­ern­ment (the best that has ever exis­ted) and the roy­al fam­ily. A note, there­fore, sup­plied by Molyneux, is added to the end of his essay to sup­pose that suc­cess, wealth and celebrity must have brought about her evol­u­tion to being a conservative. 

The mis­take here isn’t one of a fail­ure to under­stand Emin’s polit­ics, it is a dis­con­nect between Molyneux and any spir­it of rebel­lion, let alone revolu­tion. His choice of artists to write about is as thor­oughly con­form­ist as his the­ory is deeply elit­ist. We have essays on Michelan­gelo, Rem­brandt, Picas­so, Roy­al Academy of the Arts events, Tracey Emin, Pol­lock, War­hol, Bacon, Rubens… and just one out­sider to the estab­lish­ment, Yass­er Alwan.

I’m con­fid­ent that any­one ser­i­ously engaged in the arts or seek­ing to under­stand art will ignore this book. No one will be inspired by it. No one will build upon this the­ory that art is unali­en­ated labour because it is worse than use­less. But the book does achieve some­thing import­ant for small circles of social­ists in Ire­land: Molyneux (as his tone, des­pite his self-deprec­at­ing com­ments, shows) would really rather enjoy being a guru fig­ure to young­er social­ists. This book, unless you both­er to read it prop­erly and think about the ideas in it, appears to con­tain philo­soph­ic­al soph­ist­ic­a­tion (it throws in a ref­er­ence to Wit­tgen­stein to help there) and an engage­ment with the his­tory of art. It might there­fore work to cre­ate a super­fi­cially pos­it­ive impres­sion about the eru­di­tion and import­ance to the left of John Molyneux.

In the end, though, I believe this book will achieve the exact oppos­ite: it will strip away any illu­sions in the value of his polit­ics. By com­mit­ting his idea that revolu­tion­ary act­iv­ism is unali­en­ated labour to paper, we see the out­lines of the fig­ure who whole­heartedly took the side of the Dis­putes Com­mit­tee in the notori­ous SWP rape alleg­a­tion case of 2013. How can the accused or his friends who found no case to answer be guilty? They have dec­ades of cre­at­ive activ­ity behind them. They don’t exper­i­ence ali­en­a­tion in their work. They can­not be biased. They can­not be rap­ists, or rape apologists.

In this book we find sen­tences like, “art, in its many forms, is a kind of spir­itu­al health food which con­trib­utes to the devel­op­ment of the human per­son­al­ity, espe­cially among work­ing-class people – that is, when they can over­come the numer­ous eco­nom­ic, social and psy­cho­lo­gic­al bar­ri­ers to access­ing it.”

What stag­ger­ing con­des­cen­sion. The guru’s per­son­al­ity has been spir­itu­ally enriched by art and he’d like to share his insights with the down­trod­den. What’s miss­ing in this book is any sense of rebel­lion. Sur­real­ism, which lacks an entry in the index, really deserves a full chapter in its con­scious efforts to har­ness art to revolu­tion: —a chapter not framed by the idea that art comes to the work­ing-class from the out­side, to lift our impov­er­ished spir­its. It was the work­ing class that poured into the Sur­real­ist exhib­i­tion in Lon­don in 1938 (evok­ing the scenes of work­ers who ral­lied to Darwin’s idea of evol­u­tion when Thomas Henry Hux­ley presen­ted them in 1859).

The Blindboy podcast is art

Art is con­stantly being cre­ated with­in work­ing-class com­munit­ies and what’s more, art to match any fig­ure who, like Emin or Hirst, for mar­ket reas­ons, gets fois­ted on the pub­lic as though excep­tion­al. When, for example, Blind­boy impro­vises music while gam­ing on Twitch, rely­ing on the crowd-sourced sup­port of thou­sands of fol­low­ers, he’ll nev­er get recog­ni­tion as an artist by the academy or the major media out­lets (though his is very con­sciously an art pro­ject). He most cer­tainly wouldn’t be recog­nised as an artist by Molyneux, but he is one all the same. And Blind­boy is just one tiny bubble in a vast sea of art being cre­ated by mil­lions of people from work­ing-class communities.

Work­ing-class and revolu­tion­ary artists might well use­fully pick up Ber­ger or Adorno. If they have the mis­for­tune to find Molyneux’s book, how­ever, they will ignore it. Because the core mes­sage to such artists is to for­get what they are doing and bow down before the true cre­at­ives: the soul­ful geni­us, the unali­en­ated expert.