Jerry Fresia [who also, it turns out, has a doctorate in Political Science from UMass!] asks two very interesting questions, which I shall try to answer. Here is what he says:
"Two questions: Regarding Marcuse, you seem to be suggesting (or perhaps it is Marcuse) that the very presence of constraint is necessary for the "sheer, sensuous beauty" that follows from their transcendence. Is this so? If so, why?
Second, when you write about the practice of making art (I'm a painter), both here and in your tutorials on Marx, you seem to suggest that the art in question stems from an idea and that the quality of the result itself (a painting, a fugue, a book, etc) is the payoff or measure of the expression. There seems to be no emphasis on the process and what it does for the artist or no sense of praxis. When I paint, I am having a visual conversation with what I see; it is sensual. The measure of the painting is the feelings I have as I do it. The payoff is in the moment of creation (I feel "larger, more powerful, more beautiful" to use E. Goldman's words. The product (painting, score, book, etc) is a by-product.) The "life better than the network of compromises in which I am enmeshed" is precisely that sense of being larger as I do the activity. The measuring of the results, awards, etc, happen along the way, but not only are not thought of during the process, they must not be thought of if I am going to experience the liberation Marcuse seems to be referring to. What am I missing?"
With regard to the first question, the answer is that Marcuse is saying this, and I agree with him. Why? The infantile fantasy of instantaneous, perfect fulfilment of one's desires is repeatedly frustrated by reality, which imposes limits, requries deferral of gratification, demands effort to achieve even partial gratification, and so forth. Artistic creation can overcome those real-world constraints while simultaneously satisfying them, thus keeping alive the hope of liberation that fuels real world struggles against surplus repression. Seemingly effortless gratification unassociated with the overcoming of contraints, as for example through the use of drugs, does not have this character, and hence leads not to political action but to inaction.
The second question is fascinating. I think I understand what Dr. Fresia is saying, and insofar as I do, I am certainly prepared to acknowledge the truth in what he says. The act of artistic creation is itself fulfilling, just as -- Marx would argue -- the act of production can under the right circumstances be satisfying, in addition to the satisfaction obtained from the completed artwork or the product of the process of production. That is why merely commanding, with money or some other form of power, that food or clothing or shelter be made available is not fulfilling in the way in which engaging in the production process can be. The ultimate corruption or debasement of this central human experience is, of course -- shopping.
Would you agree, Jerry, that in the activity of artistic creation, there is a process of externalization, of making real on the canvas or in the stone or in words of music what starts as ideas in mind? Perhaps you would not. If you have a mind, write a comment and explain how you experience the activity.