Caroline Levine, Provoking Democracy: Why We Need the Arts

I’m not the only member of my family to have published, during the month of June 2007, a book with “democracy” in the title. My sister, Caroline Levine, is the author of the new book Provoking Democracy. Caroline uses court cases and controversies from the 20th century to illuminate the value of art for democracy–and vice-versa. Her book is full of stories that are amusing, suspenseful, and moving. Here is an excerpt that gives a sense of her overall argument:

Democratic forms of government are typically better at tolerating discord and dissension than other political models; but it has become a commonplace to argue that art for democratic public spaces should reflect current majority tastes and values. The controversies described in this chapter point to a different solution: art that is taken as a reflection of “the people” here and now is partial and inadequate, since democratic collectives are always and necessarily self-divided, productive of difference and capable of transformation. The avant-garde is better than any referendum at capturing a changing and dissonant understanding of “the people.”

4 thoughts on “Caroline Levine, Provoking Democracy: Why We Need the Arts

  1. airth10

    A very thought provoking post.

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote that democracy is impossible without capitalism and the private ownership it affords us, “because private property – resources beyond the arbitrary reach of the state – provides the only secure basis for political opposition and intellectual freedom.”

    I am thinking that the arts have the same relationship with democracy, cultivating and supporting private property as capitalism does. Perhaps, then, one can go as far as to say that it was the arts that helped bring down communism, meaning if you don’t want to destabilize an authoritarian state don’t cultivate the arts, as the USSR did.

    Where are the arts in the Islamic world? They are lacking hence the lacking of democracy. The arts cultivate polyphony, something that is very lacking in autocratic regimes.

  2. airth10

    I am so consumed by the relationship between democracy, the art and capitalism (capitalism is my interjection) that I ordered Caroline’s book. Then I will write my own essay on the subject.

    Thanks for the provocation!

  3. andrew walsh

    Carolyne will join us on our radio show tomorrow to talk about the role of arts in a strong democracy and the pros and cons of a government heavily involved in the art of its citizens.

    We’ll also be joined by Michael Kammen, author of the book, Visual Shock.

    The show is called The Front Porch, and it airs on New Hampshire Public Radio.

    Click here for a direct link to the broadcast.

    Sorry if this seems a little spammy. I just thought folks might like to listen to the show about the book. I’m really looking forward to it.

    –Andrew Walsh, Front Porch Producer

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