Thursday, September 07, 2006

autonomous activities

I'm dealing with a recurring dilemma about the self-serving and elitist nature of art making, where I doubt my work and the purpose(s) it serves. This is after reading a conversation between Suzie Gablik and Ellen Dissanayake, and Suzie says,

"Well, this brings us directly to the issue that concerns me the most at the moment, which is how our modern understanding of, and models for, art are NOT about participation in the social order. They seem more like a means of escape from the world, as in that Flaubert quote I like using so much: "Life is so horrible that one can only bear it by avoiding it. And that can be done by living in the world of art." Today there is this excessive sense of art - along with everything else in our culture - being an individual pursuit, and autonomous activity that is not connected in any profound sense with the world, but is used more as a kind of solace, or retreat, from it. Like psychotherapy, it's done mostly behind closed doors, without any great concern for the state of the world outside. In his book with Michael Ventura, James Hillman indicts therapy for being too personalized and individualized, and claims that it is actually contributing to the disease of our indifference to the world... Hillman also says that we have become so individualized and conditioned to experience ourselves as separate, we now have an actual fear of community."

7 comments:

Cootie Twoshoes said...

When did the rise of the individual begin? With Enlightenment where science became the method to "conquer nature?" I think it's a problem socially when all members of a community are focused on their individual lifestyles with little regard to how decisions and actions impact the greater population. Doesn't make a very cohesive community.

Similar for the lone artist... the idea that an artist alone produces some priceless work that will be collected by a small segment of the population is so limiting for the artist and the community.

Does an artist have a social obligation? Not necessarily, I suppose, but the lone genius locked away in a studio is a cliche. I think for an artist to be truly visionary the elitism must be transcended. Everyone needs art in some way another.

Cootie Twoshoes said...

When did the rise of the individual begin? With Enlightenment where science became the method to "conquer nature?" I think it's a problem socially when all members of a community are focused on their individual lifestyles with little regard to how decisions and actions impact the greater population. Doesn't make a very cohesive community.

Similar for the lone artist... the idea that an artist alone produces some priceless work that will be collected by a small segment of the population is so limiting for the artist and the community.

Does an artist have a social obligation? Not necessarily, I suppose, but the lone genius locked away in a studio is a cliche. I think for an artist to be truly visionary the elitism must be transcended. Everyone needs art in some way another.

Jessica White said...

i think we as artists might not have a social obligation, but we as people do. does anyone have more of a social obligation than anyone else?

seems like somewhere along the way artists were given the 'ok' to drop out of society and work as so-called lone geniuses. the problem comes when it's assumed, or even expected.

cootie twoshoes said...

Good point about social obligation.

And, why is there a title "artist" anyway? It's popular belief that art is for artists to make and for connoisseurs to understand. Art as royalty. Not for the commoner.

I think that's really weird.

Kids make art all the time, but at some point they're taught that only certain talents are useful in art and so many give it up.

Preston said...

Maybe I am too young to understand, but it seems to me that art is for the individual and no one else. I don't like the idea of art made for the populace because then it seems fake and contrived like pop music. Art should be personal, and like a psychotherapy. I think, and maybe its unfortunate if I am correct, that the best art is the art that few understand--not because it is esoteric, but because it is so personal that it only relates to those who have gone through a similar experience. So maybe the artist qua artist has no social obligation. And maybe the artist qua artist has no purpose, but what is so bad about this? Everyone should be an artist, and everyone should make art for themselves. If other people like it, thats great--but if no one understands your art or enjoys it, well so be it. Why stop making art because you don't feel it is being socially accepted?

Jessica White said...

hmm, i agree with you on this -

Everyone should be an artist, and everyone should make art for themselves.

my problem is when it's expected of artists, that it's an assumed identity attached to being an artist, as well as the art that's made.

i don't think it has anything to do with youth, but i think that the fact that we as representatives of new generations in western culture still buy into the modernist ideals from 50 years ago says something about the power of their persuasion. the autonomous artist branding was destroyed over and over again throughout the 60's and 70's, but for some reason the greenbergian definitions of "art" and "artist" persists.

this is something that the educated elite (meaning us) should be able to see clearly by now, but most of us don't, almost like we're brainwashed. after 2 years of studying art in high school, 4 years of undergrad, and 2 years of grad school, i'm finally able to understand, if only the tip of the iceberg.

so, what's going on? are the artists not educating the public enough? are the art teachers out of touch? maybe i was exposed to this all these years but just didn't get it?

cootie twoshoes said...

This is still happening in graduate level art courses. As was brought up once upon a time in "Manifesto of the Day" on the Bittersweetness & Light website, it is not uncommon to hear art students proclaim that their art is for themselves only, that they don't care what anybody else thinks. This seems to always come after someone asks what the purpose of the work is.

I can't help but feel this is a cop-out. If your art is for yourself only and you truly don't care what anyone else thinks of it, you'd lock yourself away in a room and make your art and never attempt to show it to anyone, let alone enroll in art school. This stinks of modernism... lone genius, starving artist, socially isolated because art is the only way to reveal "truth."

For me it is important to get a response to my work from others. I need people to talk to me about my art, their art, and art in general. I make art partly because it makes me feel good, but the key to that is sharing it with others. It took me a long time to figure that out.