Our last Commquote of 2014 comes to us from Amos Vogel, eminent film historian and member of the Annenberg School faculty from 1973-1991. The quote is from his famous essay that appeared in Sightlines in 1974 (Volume 7, Number 5), “Film As a Subversive Art” and reprinted in Paul Cronin’s beautifully edited book in his honor, Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel (SYNEMA, 2014). In this passage, from the essay he talks about change, in aesthetic terms.
On the one side, we have institutions, rulers, the Establishment, academicians, festival directors, museum directors, critics, politicians – all of these, in a sense, holding back, perhaps ever so slightly, but holding back because of the inherent conservatism of all institutions, even the most liberal, which, once they themselves become established, begin to exist to project their own status quo. On the other side, we have the “out” – the ones without power, the rebels, the have-nots-with no stake in the status quo. Partly as a result of this they constantly attempt to push forward, broadening concepts of content, confronting previously forbidden subject matter, destroying old forms and immutable rules by new approaches to style and to structure. In this context, the artist – thematic, political, sexual and aesthetic subversive of cinema – is seen as the catalyst of inevitable social and intellectual change. In the end, every work of art (to the extent that it is original and breaks with the past instead of repeating it endlessly) is subversive. By using new form and new content, it opposes the old if only by implication and serves as an eternally dynamic force for change. It is thereby in itself in a permanent state of “becoming.”
While art can never take the place of social action, and while its effectiveness is often seriously impaired by the power structure, its task forever remains the same: to change consciousness. When this occurs, it is so tremendous an achievement (even if it occurs in only one human being) that it provides all necessary justification for art. But if the task of the artists is to change consciousness, their tragedy and challenge is that as soon as they succeed, they are immediately superseded or are in danger of themselves becoming the new Establishment and the new conservatives; we have seen this happen. By acting as artists, they act as necessary links in the eternal chain of subversion, the eternal, never-ending struggle for – and here I must once again use another unpopular word – human freedom. To be able to open us (on a flat, two –dimensional, ridiculously artificial canvas) at least to the possibility of change and progress, in however limited or puny a form, represents to me the potential glory and inevitability of the independent film, and compels me, with much pain and much pleasure, to remain its proponent.
–Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel, pp. 191-192