Many artists see themselves as socially engaged, making political points in their work, and involving themselves in programmes that encourage community participation in the arts. Many art galleries have programmes through which artists work with ‘excluded’ groups in the local community. Government policy supports these practices with funding on the basis that art can make people’s lives better. Is this an unalloyed good, or it time to make a stand for ‘art for art’s sake’?
That old slogan begs the question of what art’s sake is. Few visual artists today see their role as simply producing aesthetically pleasing objects, though many do that. Undoubtedly, art trades in ideas. But how is it then distinguished from journalism, or politics, or propaganda even? And how should audiences respond to ideas in art? It is often easier to identify a message and discuss that rather than looking at the work as art. The media, funding bodies, and even arts institutions often seem preoccupied with art’s relevance to social and political questions, and its practical role in fostering community, for example. Does this encourage inappropriate expectations? Can art transform or revivify politics?
Arguably politics has its own crisis of purpose, with the main parties struggling to inspire popular support. Might socially-engaged artists succeed where politicians have failed? Or do they simply refract the vacuousness of contemporary politics itself, espousing fashionable causes in a sort of ideological karaoke, at the expense of finding and insisting on their own artistic language?
Arts & Business, the festival Arts Champion, have invited guest curators to put on an exhibition on the theme ‘should art change the world?’ which will be on throughout the weekend in the Lower Gulbenkian gallery.
senior lecturer, Chelsea College of Art and Design; artist; writer, Art Monthly; member, Freee Art Collective
artist, photographer, filmmaker; books of photographs include Private and Confidential; co-producer and director, Channel 4's Blaired Vision
writer and painter; contributing editor, Critical Quarterly; former senior curator for public programmes, Tate Modern
advisor on arts and philanthropy; former deputy mayor of London for education and culture; author, The Politics of Culture: the case for universalism
|Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)|
|recommended by spiked|