Monday, June 13, 2011

Discussion: Art as political weapon, artist as social instigator // This painting would look nice in my foyer


TED posted a talk by Shirin Neshat in which she illustrates the challenges she faces—as well as the stimuli from which she draws empowerment and inspiration—as “an Iranian woman artist living in exile”:



What strikes me most from Neshat’s talk is her characterization of the Iranian artist as the voice of the people:


We are considered, as artists, central to the cultural, political, social discourse in Iran. We are there to inspire, to provoke, to mobilize, to bring hope to our people. We are the reporters of our people and are communicators to the outside world. Art is our weapon. Culture is a form of resistance. I envy sometimes the artists of the West for their freedom of expression, for the fact that they can distance themselves from the question of politics, from the fact that they are only serving one audience, mainly the Western culture. But also I worry about the West, because often, in this country, in this Western world, culture risks to be a form of entertainment.

Western art, as Neshat sees it, is able to function outside of a political context, but does that mean it should? Does the artist bear a certain social responsibility to challenge the status quo? Or is it enough for the artist to entertain? What, exactly, is the role of the artist?

20 comments:

  1. Art is a form of expression, its intent belongs to the artist.

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  2. Should art be able to exist within a vacuum, or should its sociopolitical contexts be considered?

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  3. I read our role as recorders of the time and place that we inhabit.We, as a people,distrust politics and the impulses that give it expression.At the same time we laud and glorify those same impulses.
    The Post-Modern American artist has been content these past few decades just moving along,making some fair money,not really pushing the envelope much.I think that is going to change.
    I paint as a realist and I see the realistic,visual language as a great opportunity to record.Other schools of art of course.It all depends on the concerns of the day and the artists in place to do the heavy lifting.

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  4. I agree that there are far too many American artists falling into the trap of complacency. What do you think will bring about that change, Ron?

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  5. I think art as entertainment without politics is ok- wouldn't it be great if the masses were watching something besides jersey shore? our culture is so dumbed down (obsessed primarily with buying stuff and romantic relationships) that creating anything that is outside of this box is inherently political enough for me. it is also possible to have "political" themed art that is just existing in an elitist consumer realm anyway... I think in this country we have different obstacles to face than in Iran.

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  6. Could one argue that art as entertainment is yet another way in which our culture is dumbed down?

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  7. Hello Jenny,

    Your question is an interesting one and it hits at the core of being an artist--I say it's not a responsibility thrust upon artists but that it comes out of a natural emotion within the artist to challenge everything that shows any sign of authoritarianism and is anti-creativity. For instance the very act of creating is a challenge to those in power who seek to create an environment free of individual expression such as political leaders, corporate managers, and anyone or organization with an interest in maintaining a status quo of control of others.
    See my website when you have a chance and see the way I challenge all systems that want to suppress the individual.
    http://www.zhibit.org/mayobanex/galleries

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  8. Thanks for your contribution, Edwin. It's interesting that you point out that creating, at its core, is synonymous with defying, and thus those who create, who engage in self-expression, defy. Looking at art, however, it certainly doesn't seem like every artist is some sort of anti-establishment freedom fighter. Do all artists--even those whose art falls in line with convention and commercialism--have that "natural emotion"?

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  9. It's confusing. I'm definitely confused. I can't help but think of the question in regards to entertainment as focusing on the problem from the inside (art as entertainment- ideally subversive in a way that is expansive: not preaching to the choir/ or polarizing) or art from the outside-as a form of protest/openly representing dissent. I feel like that question is hard to answer. in regards to your last comment: I know, it seems like there is a lot of crap out there.

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  10. It's definitely a question for the ages; as long as the very definition of art itself is debated, so will the definition--and thus the role--of the artist.

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  11. Jenny--I think yes, all artists engaged in genuine creativity defy with just the act of creating even if they are involved in commercial art with restrictions on what they can paint and create--creating itself goes against all anti-creative establishment ideas and movements be it political, religious, or corporate. Understand that these three are sometimes the same entity and that they cannot survive under creative circumstances because such an entity requires repression of the individual; so the artist is always at odds with these types of entities whether he or she thinks it or not because to these entities the creator, the artist, is always a threat to its system which has contempt for the creative spirit and the individual mind. The archenemy of creation is ego--the ego of governing social and psychological systems.

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  12. IF that is what the artist wants to do, Art SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY RULES .
    if the artist gets your attention then all the power to them , what ever their reasons for doing so, commerce , politics etc.
    ITS in the doing and then the artist and/or the audience get to the next step of doing, thinking etc .
    If Art encourages social change for the advancement to our better selves as individuals and society, then why not let it just happen .
    And as history seems to show us that art is an instrument for change .

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  13. When has art been an instrument for change? Fashion, maybe. Most art is produced for and
    consumed by the elite.
    Art was created to be a marketable item.

    Artists work with the social prejudices and the environment they developed in--I don't see anything "social changing" here.

    Can you give me ANY examples of art as an instrument of change? Maybe in the design, use of material, more freedom for the wealthy--

    but art for change does nothing--zero--to change the way the world is run by the top 10% while the bottom 90% are enslaved or starving!

    Art is a commodity--like diamonds. Made to sell.
    Thats it.

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  14. Anon, how is fashion an instrument for change and not a commodity/product for the elite/marketable item? Art examples: Political paintings like Goya's The Third of May, anarchist art, feminist art like the Guerilla Girls, the Futurist movement, the recent artivist movement, activist art, culture jamming, different genres of music (folk, punk), just saw this today http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/37411/at-the-sharjah-biennial-getting-to-know-the-intimate-side-of-rebellion/, this post's subject (Shirin Neshat), etc.

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  15. I THINK THE ONLY ART THAT CAN AND IS USED TO DRAW ATTENTION TO PROBLEMS OF THE WORLD IS MUSIC AND THAT IS IF THE ARTIST CHOSES IT TO BE.

    AS FOR ART AS A COMMODITY YES YES YES. IT COULD BE USED TO HELP BUT OBVIOUSLY IT IS NOT WITH SO MUCH POOR AND TOO MUCH RIDICULOUS WEALTH. YOU ONLY NEED SO MUCH MONEY. NO ONE NEEDS MORE THAN ONE HOUSE ONE CAR, SOME CLOTHES AND SHOES, BE COMFORTABLE, STOP THE GREED AND THE STUPID. DON;T BUY DIAMONDS FROM KILLERS ETC.... USE YOUR BRAIN AND FOR THE NEXT GENERATION USE EVERYTHING AVAILABLE THAT IS SUSTAINABLE.

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  16. No one man should have all that [whiskey sour].

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  17. You don't think visual art has the same [power] as music to raise awareness? Is it because of accessibility (e.g. the white cube of the gallery setting)? The digitization and democratization of the visual art world has made it more readily accessible to the masses; because of the Internet, people who wouldn't normally wander into an art space can educate themselves on the arts with a couple clicks. There's also the emerging social media art genre.

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  18. Dr. Kathleen O'C. HoekstraJune 18, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    When an artist has as his or her goal effecting social change, they have become activists who use craft/skills to manipulate others. However "good" their aims may be, they are still in the business of influencing others to accept their viewpoint. When political leaders do this, we call it propaganda. When religious people do it, we call it proseletizing. When business people do it , we call it promoting. And each of these may think they have possession of the truth, and that their truth is good for society. If artists see themselves as different from this, they run the risk of anointing themselves as the priesthood of society, as the bearers of ultimate truth. I think artists should take care to express only what is true for themselves. If this happens to influence social change, so be it. But, once that outcome has become the artist's goal, he or she has moved outside the sphere of art. Anything that can be acclaimed as art is always a personal statement. To the degree that a society is repressive, personal statements--by artists or anyone else--will be seen as more or less threatening to the status quo/elites. This can also been seen at work when socially progressive movements attempt to edit works of art which have come to be seen as threatening to their aims. A powerful example of this potential tension between art and social mores was seen in recent attempts to edit Mark Twain's work in which the artist's depiction of African Americans was considered debasing. So, the question could be asked, "Should even good social aims be allowed to suppress art?"

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  19. Highly recommend a read: Theater of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal. I haven't finished reading it because it is so dense and I have little life interruptions, however it is very insightful of different philosophical, social and political standpoints.

    "Does the artist bear a certain social responsibility to challenge the status quo? What is the role of the artist?"

    I don't propose that artists that are not passionate about social values to attach themselves to a social responsibility to challenge the status quo.
    I am personally interested in this very idea of social responsibility, yet came across very frustrating situations where I just couldn't get other artists to understand why I was concerned with women's empowerment or equality or race issues. The question was, why bring this into critique? We want to talk about art.
    The point is, if you believe you have a story to tell through the arts that can affect positive social change, then by all means create work that is meaningful to you, chances are someone else will relate or be in solidarity with you.
    The role of the artist is to make art. If that means creating work around social justice because it relates to your concerns or you are an ally to a cause, then do it. If you are interested in aesthetics and only that, fine.
    From what I understand though, art has been used to document people's history, beliefs, and ideologies. Sometimes art was a tool for survival, other times art was utilitarian.
    Art can become a very powerful/meaningful communication tool...
    My upfront and personal answer is yes. As a teaching artist I feel it is important to create alternative or even informative media. Will everyone feel as I do...no. Sometimes art isn't just about challenging the status quo, I see socially responsible art when groups of people come together in solidarity to uplift themselves...

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  20. Great comment, Silvia. Will add that book to my reading list as well.

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