Red Aesthetics offers a new way to think about art and politics, focusing on the revolutionary work of Aleksandr Rodchenko, Bertolt Brecht, and Sergei Eisenstein between the wars. Todd Cronan shows how these three artists’ photographs, dramas, films, and writings—centered on class conflict—differ from current left orthodoxies rooted in empathy. Writing against liberal pieties, Cronan contends, following Brecht, that empathy is not the solution to our problems, but more like the source of them.
Todd Cronan is associate professor of Art History at Emory University.
Introduction: An Exact Picture of the World
Chapter 1: The Great Production:
Rodchenko/Brecht/Eisenstein with and against Adorno and Barthes
Chapter 2: Rodchenko’s Photographic Communism
Chapter 3: Art and Political Consequence: Brecht’s Critique of Affect
Chapter 4: Seeing Differently and Seeing Correctly: Brecht on Artistic and Political Abstraction
Chapter 5: Class into Race: Brecht, Adorno, and the Problem of State Capitalism
Chapter 6: Relentlessness: Eisenstein’s Automatic Writing
[E]ngages in a rigorous Marxist analysis of artistic expression and its relation to society…. Acknowledging in the preface a debt to conferences, symposia, and critical engagement among colleagues, the book reads like an extended seminar. The discussions on Rodchenko and Eisenstein are accompanied by a selection of photographs. Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.
Red Aesthetics is a tour de force, and Todd Cronan is a uniquely significant voice writing in contemporary cultural and art theory. He displays a distinctive ability to drive analytically to the heart of the contradictions that undergird, and are easily obscured within, aesthetics and critical theory. This book, as does all of Cronan's work, delivers brilliantly on his objective to refashion art as a practice that helps us to understand 'the real social forces of capitalism.
Red Aesthetics brilliantly understands the relation between art and politics in terms of the relation between meaning and intention, thus offering both a powerful new account of its artists and a subtle and clarifying model for how to think about the ambitions of political art. Extended to a stunning reading of Adorno’s anti-fascist pivot “from class to race,” this analysis will be a landmark for future work.
Rodchenko, Brecht, Eisenstein: three giants from a world that no longer exists. Avoiding the temptation to smooth their philosophical, political, and aesthetic commitments to conform to contemporary sensibilities, Todd Cronan’s brilliant and gripping account reaches into the inner logic of their work, giving it, paradoxically, at the same time renewed vitality and renewed strangeness.
We can’t selectively highlight the aesthetic aims of Rodchenko, Brecht, and Eisenstein while disregarding their political intent. Red Aesthetics asks us to acknowledge the inseparability of political intentions and formal choices. Developing a capacious, Marxian understanding of realism that encompasses the processual and systematic, abstract and concrete, consciously shaped and contingent, Cronan shows how these artists broke “the hold of inaccurate pictures of the world."