Discussions of Day 1


  • I have been in and out of this discussion several times during this first day, wondering why I am finding it so difficult to contribute. Especially as it interests me greatly. There is something about the general direction so far that bothers me, and I would like to share it - not to tell you that YOU are all wrong, but maybe to ask whether WE are all right - or whether we may be searching around in the wrong room. The question is: 

    Are artists and intellectuals sufficiently part of the political di...

    What is nagging away at me is that we seem mostly to be trying to address the question in a way that puts ourselves at the centre of the discourse: 'are we'/'aren't we?', 'should we?'/'shouldn't we?' etc. But what if the centre of the question is elsewhere, i.e. in society today and the broader questions about the directions it is moving in, who is responsible for these directions, why? how? whether we agree with these directions, individually or as part of a wider collective perspective, and so on, and so on...

    Our connection with such questions is as artists/arts practitioners, yes, but is this really the centre of it? At what point do we ask the question how (or even whether) we see ourselves as citizens who, as such, connect with these broader social questions in a whole variety of (more or less direct) ways? Do we feel these questions affect our lives? Almost certainly we do. But do we feel any desire or responsibility as citizens towards responding to them - maybe reinforcing or challenging them? That is where things become more complicated. We may or may not feel inclined (or able?) to engage with the discourse (which is ultimately a political discourse), but we cannot easily deny that the questions are there and real, or even that SOMEONE should be taking them on - preferably someone with whose aims we have broader sympathy. Our individual and collective answers to such questions and discourses of course influence our response but, in the end, it is down to each of us to choose whether to get stuck in, or to leave it to others.  I cannot in this respect make a distinction between one citizen and another. The broad question is, it seems to me, the same for us all, whether we may be 'artist-citizens', 'teacher-citizens', 'homeless citizens', 'homecare assistant-citizens' young or aged citizens, indeed, 'politician-citizens' etc. etc.. Do we care? Or do we care enough to try to do something about it?  And THIS is where I add to the mix the relationship between the discourse and all of us as artists and arts practitioners. I am wary of debates about art and politics that focus on how hard it is for us as artists to effect change. It is hard for EVERYONE to effect change; that, regrettably, is the nature of political discourse. Of course most of us have limited influence; that too, regrettably, is the situation of most people - most fellow citizens. Over and above this, then, we come to the question of our art and political discourse. Maybe we connect the two; maybe we don't. It's partly down to the nature of our work, and the context in which we make it. But it's also down to whether we care enough, and about whether we have the will to take our practise (in our case, as 'artists') into the murkier corners where much political discourse takes place. From my viewpoint, most (though not all!) of us prefer to 'talk politics but make art'. OK. That is our choice, but don't say we didn't have the chance to explore and make the connection. There are a million ways to do this, and, as artists, we have the great powers of imagination and feeling that enable us to invent a million more - and to communicate these with our fellow citizens. Whether we do so or not is (except in the most repressive of regimes, and even then...), basically our own choice.

    There. I have managed to say something. Back to you all.

  • In the UK, the structures of state support for the arts - the Arts Councils - form a systemic barrier between artists and politicians/policymakers. This means that policy is not attuned to the reality of grassroots arts practice. It's at the grassroots level that artistic impact upon communities is most profound and where its civic potential is most manifest. Artists need to be in direct contact with politicians and policymakers so as to set the agenda in ways which are productive and sustainable.

    There was a time when state funding of the arts existed in order to protect artistic freedom from the worst effects of the market. Now, artists who cherish their artistic freedom, do everything possible to avoid seeking state funding. The public's money gets siphoned into a rarefied ecology of arts patronage, recipients being those who have mastered the game that is set for them. It's infrastructure, not patronage, that will release cultural energy into the heart of public life. 


  • If we want to see Art to change Society, then we have to turn to the Social Arts and have them shape a form of citizen empowerment. Citizen empowerment and communalism can do for society a lot more than politics, that has become a corrupted ritual of inhabiting power. 

  • I think the idea 'art that really responses to an idea of radical political change' is definitely worth of investigating a bit...  a historical example would be Gustaf Metzger https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Metzger ; - e.g. his art strike was directed towards the art world as a strike of three years during which artists would refuse to work/collaborate with art institutions - according to Metzger it would take 3 years that the system would collapse. http://www.thing.de/projekte/7:9%23/y_Metzger+s_Art_Strike.html ; As far as i know his proposal was published in late 1970s in some of the major art journals.

    • This is the problem of symbolical act – especially done by well known figure. On one hand you refuse to work/collaborate with art institutions, but on the other institutions (major art journals) will write about it and incorporate the protest back to institutional framework, for their benefit.

      • yes, completely agreed - it shows the two sides of the issue. However, it does push out the question about if radical political change is possible through art?

        In case of Metzger - the intention was good and interesting, but if others dont play along... it falls short and becomes symbolic.

        • I think that is very important question.

          I think any change needs creativity, so in this sense there might be some room for art – at least theoretically. And on the other hand we have seen how big impact 20th century avant-garde had socially and culturally – although, perhaps not in a way they wanted, but anyway – so we have some empiric evidence or potentiality of arts.

          But it think the problem of art is that it is not really about creativity, rather it is an institutionalized form of creativity, just as religion is institutionalized form of spirituality. But this can be changed. Therefore I think there is still a bone to pick with institutional relation of arts, even though this conflict was seem to be sorted already in 80's. We just have to think creativity outside of the context of arts and stubbornly claim it is art.

  • From my point of view there are 2 kinds of politics. Roughly speaking, the first is a reproduction of the social reality, and another is something that changes it. In this sense artists and intellectuals are always integral part of political discourse, as anyone else is. Thus, there is always a political substance in any activity (and passivity) of human life, including the work of artists and intellectuals.

    If we change the topic to talk about content of politics of artists and intellectuals, the question becomes more complicated. To be honest, I have not seen much art that really responses to an idea of radical political change. Most of the art is ideological rather that actively changing anything. This is a problem – perhaps a problem of common definition of politics, that more or less saying that if you are able to point out a social problem you are political. For me this does not guarantee anything, and is often just part of societal reproduction – which is opposite for change.

    I think artists are too keen to representations, and thus does not really even act on the sphere where political change could be possible. I think art should redefine itself and go beyond of its temporary nature and sole representation and try to find aesthetics and expression from practices that actually causes something in material and social reality – more than just usage of typical artists tools, devices and relationships.

    On the other hand most of the arts are totally engaged with existing power institutions and infrastructures, and it seems that the actual creativity – that artists are famous for – is not present if we look outside of artists mind; when thinking how artists are oractically relating the world and what kind of social and material dependencies their work implies.

    • To finish with limitation of art only to the role  of representation, it would be good to take into account the "ethics of listening" discussed by Mika Hannula. At least, when working with community art projects.

      • Bun unfortunately often politeness only supports the discourse of privileged, the one who in first place established division of power – often with very impolite violence. I think this is why bourgeois started to demand good discussion habits from the oppressed. Because it is restricted way of expression and keeps the politics in a tight predefined framework.

        But I agree "ethics of listening" makes sense when working with community art projects with some mutuality and affinity with those involved.

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