Ideology is the word that Marxists use to name divergences between cognition and reality that are more systematic than contingent error. The term has other meanings (most notably as a synonym for “worldview,” “set of beliefs,” or “political orientation”), but since it is the broadly Marxist or Marxian understanding of ideology that is at stake here, it seems right to linger with it and try to figure out how, or if, this concept might be relevant to the interpretation of artifacts such as paintings and sculptures. The possibility that cognition and reality may diverge implies that, potentially at least, they may also coincide or correspond. Hence the notion of ideology casts as its shadow the possibility of accurate knowledge of reality through science, revelation, aletheia or disclosure, or another kind of truth, as well as the possibility that no such knowledge is possible and hence that there is no “outside” to ideology, perhaps for the simple reason that humans do not have unmediated access to reality. This small set of positions effectively exhausts the epistemological premises of the past century and a half’s worth of Marxist inquiry into the topic.

The richness of this tradition is not found in the what of ideology but rather in the how. How are ideological concepts of or relations towards reality formed, and who or what does the forming? Does ideology serve the reproduction of social classes and relations of production? If so, how important is it—are ideological disputes confined to the “superstructure,” or can they trigger change in the “base”? Can any social formation get along without ideology? Is non-ideological knowledge possible—from what standpoint, by means of what technique or practice? And finally, what role might art and culture play in either the perpetuation or the undoing of ideology? Does it make most sense to say that art is ideology, or works upon ideological material, or is something else altogether (for example, the elaboration of a truth procedure)?…

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