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Art and Capital

Ana Patto


What is the relationship between art and capitalism? Beyond a work of art’s value in conjunction with its role in the market, the relationship between art and capital centers on a much more essential point: the production of subjectivities. First of all, what is art? According to Gilles Deleuze, the function of art is to produce precepts; that is, blocks of sensations, ex- pressions that create means of feeling in the world. Art refreshes passions, builds ways to experiment that are based on sensitivity, based on encountering the world (other).


And what about contemporary capitalism? Globalized financial capital- ism seems to place the creative dimension of life at the center of its production, as well as the general intellect, affections (relationships with others), and means of seeing and existing in the world publicity serving as an exemplary mechanism of this operation. It appears to appropriate subjects that art claims as its territory, the creative forces of our relationships with others with what affects us, with sensitivity. In neoliberalism, cultural creation, the production of subjectivity, relationships with the other, take on a central importance in the general production of capital. It is the subjective forces knowledge and creation that make the system work.


As Suely Rolnik reminds us, by the 1970s, we had a type of subjectification based on the subject’s identity, on rigid categories that demarcated a subjectivity. It was the era of discipline, of representations, of the Fordist production system, in which the creative imagination remained within the margins of production. Movements in the ’60s and ’70s established a crisis in this kind of subjectivity production, forcing the system to accept a type of “more flexible subjectivity.” In this countercultural movement, it is possible to experience other possibilities for living in the world, for feeling, and for being affected by the vast heterogeneous exteriority that is creative power itself. Such a movement problematizes identity politics, control over life, bodies, and sexuality. It creates forms of expression that place subjectivity and means of subjectification at the center of the problem, in the nucleus of the struggle. 


What has come of this flexible subjectivity? Do we live, then, amid positive experimentation, one that generates new subjectivities? Where subjectivities embrace desire and continually revise, in their institutions and works, the real potentialities of our passions? Has countercultural experimentation successfully spread to production such that it works in favor of imagination? Has imagination come to power?


On the one hand, the movement revealed that the old ways were no longer working, that disciplinary subjectivity was in crisis a legitimate crisis in which existing potentialities were brought up to date on a vast scale. We no longer live under an identity based, disciplinary, Fordist model. What was required with respect to drawing forth imagination, desire, sensitivity, is even visible in our publicity example: publicity sells us ways of being, not durable objects. But on the other hand—and as a subject of equal importance—
I cite Rolnik for the precision of her words:


In the present, the most common destiny of flexible subjectivity and of the freedom of creation that accompanies it is not the invention of forms of expression motivated by an attention to sensations that signal the effects of the other’s existence in our resonant body. What guides us in this creation of territories for our post-Fordist flexibility is an almost hypnotic identification with the images of the world broadcast by advertising and mass culture.1


What, then, would be the function—or, better put, the possibilities—of artistic creation? As it creates blocks of sensations, means of feeling and being affected by others, its power to confront capitalist lies in creating forms of expressivity that can be applied to emotions, to the other’s experiences, to the other’s evolution. Creating new emotional territories that don’t wander through spaces prefabricated by the capitalist apparatus. Exposing the intolerable, the potentialities asking us to make way, saying Enough! In this sense, art is political by nature that is, it reveals invisible forces, creative and inventive forces; it distributes possibilities, across the social field, of how to feel and be affected by the world.


Art, as the politics of emotions and affections, feelings and encounters, as the continual update of sensitive potentialities, enables the exposure of existing forces, the powers that encircle and traverse us, and the new possibilities knocking at the door. A policy of sensitivity and affection is an essential prerequisite for creative action. To be affected doesn’t mean an unanswered passivity. As beings, we are affected all the time; we are made of affections, and this is our nature: open, resonant bodies, the multiplicity of infinite relationships, founded by different emotions and affections. These affections make us active; these forces make us move. Thought is affected first, then activated, then rendered creative. It doesn’t create out of nothing. The creative act involves constant affecting and transforming. 


Confronted with the means of capitalist subjectification, art is able, again, to uncover new kinds of more desiring subjectification, coinciding with real potentialities, the capitalist means growing intolerable. To expose the forces of the present is to expose the fact that our ability to create, our most intimate power, appears to occupy the center of the productive system’s attention. Art, therefore, has neither died nor lost its function. On the con- trary: today it is of seminal importance in the creation of new ways to exist. 




1 Suely Rolnik, “Geopolítica da cafetinagem,” Ide (São Paulo: 2006), Vol. 29, No. 43, pp. 123-129. English translation by Brian Holmes. 

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