If you’ve ever asked yourself how strict ideological pursuit–especially from the Left wing– can lead to absurd constructs you will do no better than to read Tom Wolfe’s 1975 book The Painted Word. I’m just re-reading it and it is as constructive as ever. The book’s essentially about art but, in many instances, Wolfe’s observations can be applied to society as a whole. Take Minimalism, where, as the author points out, theory (ideological underpinning) had become more dominant than ever. In fact, Minimalist art theory became ever more intense, ever more absurd:
“Theory really started to roll now…toward reductionism. In this case: real art is nothing but what happens in your brain. Of course, Greenberg [an ideological art purist critic] had started it all with his demands for purity, for flatness (ever more Flatness!), for the obliteration of distinctions such as foreground and background, figure and field, line and contour, color and pattern…”
In the social realm probably the best example of how theory really starts to roll can be taken from “the artist of death” Pol Pot (Saloth Sar) of Cambodia. Of course his mentor had been the radical Frantz Fanon, a radical psychiatrist of the fifties, who conceived the idea that violence is not only necessary but beneficial to transform society into a classless state. It wasn’t long before the Southeast Asian artist developed the skill and power and began painting Fanon’s words across the fields and jungles of the Cambodian canvas. His reductionism, his minimalizing of the old complexly nuanced society, the society of bourgeois distinctions, piled up bodies by the hundreds of thousands. Pol Pot, of course, painted only in red.