Monday, May 25, 2009

The Responsibilities of Art

"In the meantime, Neto's vast playpen is a good reminder that there are art worlds within art worlds and fields of 'otherness' not yet conquered because we stay too focused on what peaks and speaks (or used to peak) in auction houses."

"Many of our artists, suffering the repercussions of this desacralized mentality, have pretended for some time now that painting is merely a way of solving formal problems. The total opposition between art and life that formalism proposes exempts art from its moral tasks."

The first quote is from John Perreault's Artopia blog, and the second from Suzi Gablik's book, Has Modernism Failed?. Twenty-five years separate the two. Are the artists who play in the participatory fields of otherness the same ones who have re-sacralized art by restoring its moral tasks? In 1984, Gablik was complaining about the lack of moral and ethical positions taken by contemporary (Western) art, a lack which resulted from our producer/consumer society in which the individual's desires trumped the common good.

I'm also reading The Invisible Dragon by Dave Hickey. This book is a group of essays on beauty originally published in 1993, and occasioned by "the plague of intellectual dishonesty that infected every aspect of the controversy surrounding the public exhibition" of Robert Mapplethorpe's pornographic photographs. Again, a text about the function of images and the responsibilities of the artist. Would the great art of the Renaissance have remained so great to this day, had it not once addressed the moral issues of its time?

Is art that refuses to address life and the human condition ultimately destined for the trashcan? Does every artist have a moral responsibility to the rest of humanity? I'm not arguing for any particular brand of morality, just making a roundabout case against indifference, and looking for art that engages - intelligently and passionately - what it means to be human.

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