Provoking Democracy: Why We Need the Arts
October 2007, Wiley-Blackwell
- Covers a broad range of topics, from disputes over public art, copyright, and obscenity, to the operations of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Cold War
- Highlights detailed and at times shocking debates over the role of the rebellious artist within society
1. Democracy Meets the Avant-Garde.
2. The People v. the Arts.
3. Propaganda for Democracy: The Avant-Garde Goes to War.
4. Obscenity and the Democratization of Culture.
5. Originality on Trial.
Conclusion: Artists, Academic Writing, and the Classroom.
- A provocative and compelling exploration of the complex relationship between democracy and the arts
- Argues that democracies require art - challenging art - to ensure that they are acting as free societies
- Analyses the roles of dissenting and unpopular artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Bertolt Brecht, D. H. Lawrence, and 2 Live Crew in twentieth century society
- Shows how artists in the tradition of the avant-garde may once again prove to be effective catalysts for contemporary change
- Covers a broad range of topics, including disputes over obscenity, public funding, and censorship
- Forms part of the Blackwell Manifestos series, in which top scholars offer lively interventions into current debates
"Yes, democracies need art, especially art they don't like or
understand and Caroline Levine's shrewd, eloquent and often
entertaining Provoking Democracy tells us why. From the
controversies swirling around the defacement of Jacob
Epstein’s “Rima” and the demolition of
Serra’s “Tilted Arc” to the obscenity trials of
Lady Chatterley’s Lover and 2 Live Crew, Levine shows how the
avant garde helps defend democracies from its worse excesses--the
muting of marginal voices, the oppression of majority rule, and the
blind conformism of consensus politics. Indeed Levine is to be
commended for negotiating an honorable truce in the culture wars.
Her important new work recognizes not just the right but also the
obligations of the avant garde to act as a permanent minority
working within democratic institutions to ensure a more open and
genuinely plural society."
Maria DiBattista, Princeton University
"Provoking Democracy should be mandatory reading…
certainly in college, if not in high school. I think every
educator, every superintendent, every school board, should have a
copy of this book by their side, should read it, should understand
it, should have dialogues about it, should debate it - because
ultimately we’re talking about engaging the creative minds of
those yet to come."
Tony Trupiano (“The Tony Trupiano Show”)
"In these increasingly barbarous times, it is good and
refreshing to see work that stands up for the provocative - and
potentially emancipatory - powers of the arts. Caroline Levine's
wide-ranging and serious engagement with the question of how the
arts might provoke or even promote democracy, and her realisation
that this question is itself fundamental for us, is a timely and
much-needed rejoinder to the brutish dimensions of contemporary
Thomas Docherty, University of Warwick (author of Aesthetic Democracy)
"Caroline Levine’s Provoking Democracy gives an
extremely compelling account of how Anglo-American law has, in
counterintuitive ways, supported “avant garde” art, and
why Anglo-American democracies depend, in turn, upon such art,
which provides a dissident voice that pluralism and an orientation
towards the future demand. Covering a broad range of topics, from
public involvement in decisions about whether particular pieces of
art should be displayed, to the operations of the House Un-American
Activities Committee during the Cold War, to the role of
originality in judicial determinations of what counts as art,
Levine’s book furnishes ingenious readings of the dynamic
interplay between particular figures and events. In the course of
reading Provoking Democracy, one is shocked at how the CIA
secretly funded the work of Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson
Pollock to promote the ideal of American freedom internationally at
the same time as American publics and media reviled his painting,
but one also laughs at how customs officials categorized Constantin
Brancusi’s sculpture “Bird” as a kitchen
implement. All of these revelations are conveyed in a pellucid and
gripping narrative style. Provoking Democracy is a book that
anyone interested in democracy or the arts simply must read."
Bernadette Meyler, Cornell University Law School
“Levine is adept at selecting eye-catching instances
revealing of the paradoxes that she argues are at the heart of
liberal democracy itself.”
Times Higher Education
"This is an impressively researched and well-referenced
“Impressively researched and well-referenced … .Connects grand theories … to everyday experiences of the arts. Valuable for both policy-makers, and more general readerships." Demos.co.uk