A while back, I asked you, “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?”
Now, with Election Day in the U.S. less than 24 hours away, I’d like to not only revisit this conversation but also expand it from the individual artist to the art museum. In “Voting Against Ruffled Feathers,” the New York Times addresses American museums’ tendency to tiptoe around politics, raising such questions as:
Should public museums be places where political argument happens? Why is this so rarely the case, especially when compared with politically engaged programming in museums in Europe, Mexico, South America and even parts of the Middle East?
Says New York artist Jonathan Horowitz, whose election-based “Your Land/My Land” installation is currently on view at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina:
“I wouldn’t say that museums have a moral obligation to engage in political discourse any more than artists have a moral obligation to make work that does. I will say, though, that hermetic art about art is generally not of that much interest to me, and this seems to be the direction that art is trending.”
How do you feel about art for art’s sake?
Shrinking the dialogue back to the individual artist:
It may, however, also speak more fundamentally to the role of the artist in American society in the 21st century, a role whose political authority has eroded along with that of novelists, poets and philosophers. “The figure of the artist can still be heroic, still an outsider and still transgressive in Europe and many other parts of the world, whereas that’s seems less and less the case here,” said Negar Azimi, a writer and editor at Bidoun.
The article does consider certain factors that may have contributed to this difference, reasoning that “structure and history account for U.S. museum programs that, by and large, address a very large public,” which is “why they find explicit political pronouncements so difficult to make.” It’s also careful to end on a less cynical note, with Horowitz’ belief that “it is possible for the institutional art world to help people think more critically about the country’s political future.” That said…
What are your thoughts on the subject? What do you think the art museum’s role within society should be?
(Also, make sure you add your voice to last week’s discussion about how you view art!)