According to Vivienne Westwood, the way to combat climate change is –

“To thine own self be true.”

This was one of the many messages contained within  her Manifesto: Active Resistance to Propaganda, launched publicly today at the RCA.  Written two years ago, following her attendance at an apparently disenchanting “Conference of Culture” held in Paris, Westwood felt the need to find a new voice to speak to the younger generation.

Ironically, there was little new in the Manifesto.  It contains an eclectic mix of references, from Diogenes to Alice in Wonderland, and takes over half an hour to present.  This is not a message I expect will reach many young people.

Furthermore, as Christopher Frayling of the RCA pointed out, some of the messages were modernistic, if not very traditional.  Particularly her reference for a greater appreciation of artistic “greats” and history.  She also called for self-discipline in the artist and a dismissal of the self-indulgent artist who relies “now on presentation skills and self-promotion.”  This may have been the only challenging offering she made.

(Apart from her reference to the institutionalisation of art and Descartes as some of the worst things “to happen to the planet since Jesus Christ.”)

Perhaps the youth of today do need to learn more about cultural history, the arts and have their “non-stop distraction” challenged.  And how does the Manifesto suggest they do this?

“Read a book instead of a magazine, go to the art gallery instead of watching TV, go to the theatre instead of the cinema.”

Well, I think that has cut access to the very audiences she wishes to attract!  To her credit, she does want to find ways to make her Manifesto more appealing than the “semi-dramatic read” that it was.

Westwood did prompt consensus from the panel in her proclamation that “the artist has no responsibility to culture or to us:  He serves art alone.”  She went on to say that it is in this pursuit that “he” gets closer to both his true nature, and to the creation of a “microcosm of the whole”.  Her reason for this was to promote Art as the opportunity for us to see our “Representative Human Nature” – the core that connects us all.  This is the sign of “good art” and that such art will shape culture.  But more importantly, that Art will also reflect the culture and humanity of the time.

The weakness of this proposal is that art, and artists alike, are culturally configured:  And contrary to the RCA’s panel, art is not “the creation of something from nothing.”  This would be magic!  While great art can appear as magic, it is both materially and culturally constructed.  This raises the lovely dilemma of the quest for self-determination in society, as well as the tricky balance of self-indulgence and discipline – from whose eyes do we make such judgments?  Well, when it comes to art, if it captures our “Representative Human Nature”, then it doesn’t matter!

(In her truly contentious style Claire Fox then pointed out, that it is a great ambition to accept Art, even if its from the most “misogynistic” or “fascistic” artist.  Its a pity she didn’t mention paedophile in that phrase too…)

Back to Westwood’s point: That it is in the pursuit of this art that we become the Active Resisters that  we need to be in order to save the world.

She said her Manifesto was crucial given the impending crisis that there will “only be one billion people left at the end of the century.”  While this was not unchallenged, she went on:

In the pursuit of art you become automatically impervious to Propaganda.

And crucially to Vivienne, it is propaganda of consumption that is destroying the planet.  However, we can overcome this by being true to ourselves in the pursuit of art.  In doing so, we will become more human – like Pinocchio – and shake off our deadened stupor and rise above dangerous conformity.  The outcome, she hopes, is a more alive, adaptable and courageous humanity that can overcome the challenges proposed in The Vanishing Face of Gaia.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the launch was Claire Fox‘s rejection of the premise – that it is human beings that are killing the planet.  Fox said that Westwood was in fact espousing  “greenwash” propaganda and in danger of doing the very thing she wished to prevent!

Fox used the opportunity to say works, like Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, were “counter-productive scare-mongering.”  Instead, she made a stand for “Man as the measure of all things,” and that we should celebrate our inventiveness and power.  While  she agreed with Westwood that the artist had no responsibility but to his art, she did not think man should be intimidated by nature.  Instead, Fox called for ways to make humans see their greatness  and not charge against them with a Big Green Stick.

I myself think we can both celebrate our inventiveness and power, while being aware of the possible consequences.   But it wasn’t all contentious, Fox and Westwood want people to be actively engaged in their cultures; and both saw art as a way of doing this.  In the inspiring words of Marx:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”