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by Suzi Gablik A new paradigm of an engaged, participatory and socially relevant art is emerging. If you’re out, you’re out - you simply don’t count," the artist Sandro Chia once declared in an interview in Art in America. Referring to the art world, he said, "Anything that happens must happen within this system," which he went on to describe: "I work for a few months, then I go to a gallery and show the dealer my work. The work is accepted, the dealer makes a selection, then an installation. People come and say you’re good or not so good, then they pay for these paintings and hang them on other walls. They give cocktail parties and we all go to restaurants and meet girls. I think this is the weirdest scene in the world." Sandro Chia’s description of the art world as a suburb of hell is all too familiar; it is a world in which artists are defined through showing or not showing, selling or not selling, and through the goals of money, prestige, and power that are so crucial to our whole society’s notion of success. Within the modernist paradigm under which I grew up, art has been typically understood as a collection of prestigious objects, existing in museums and galleries, disconnected from ordinary life and action. Defined entirely in individualistic terms, the modern artist’s quest was enacted within the inner sanctum of a studio, behind closed doors. This mythology of the lone genius, isolated from society, and relieved of social responsibility, is summed up for me in these comments by the painter Georg Baselitz: "The artist is not responsible to anyone. His social role is asocial; his only responsibility consists in an attitude to the work he does. There is no communication with any public whatsoever... It is the end product which counts, in my case, the picture." Recently, when he was asked on the occasion of his Guggenheim retrospective what role he believes art plays in society, Baselitz replied, "The same role as a good shoe, nothing more." And he has stated elsewhere: "The idea of changing or improving the world is alien to me and seems ludicrous. Society functions, and always has, without the artist. No artist has ever changed anything for better or worse." Many of the beliefs about art that our culture subscribes to, that the problems of art are purely aesthetic and that art will never change the
because the hidden constraints of a morally neutral. but rather in some visible manifestation of what psychologist James Hillman refers to as "the soul’s desperate concerns. Such artists incarnate different ideals and a different philosophy of life. social." For such artists. Performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña states." In a similar vein. The environment is disintegrating. for example.world. "Most of the work I’m doing currently comes. in our understanding of what art is. art-for-art’s sake philosophy is that it has led artists to their marginalized condition in society. I think. Danto has referred to this state of affairs as "the disenfranchisement of art". are beliefs that have diminished the capacity of artists for constructive thought and action. Vision is a social practice that is rooted in the whole of being. Recognizing this crisis. art without spiritual content. I feel that more than ever we must step outside the strictly art arena. time is running out. as an artist I can no longer consider making art that is void of moral consciousness. Such art may not hang on walls. from the realization that we’re living in a state of emergency. and since then. Artistic Responsibility Many artists now see their role as sounding the alarm. it may not even be found in museums or beautiful objects. Chicago artist Othello Anderson states: "Carbon and other pollutants are emitted into the air in such massive quantities that large areas of forest landscapes are dying from the effects of acid rain. we are all being called. The critic Arthur C. and environmental life. as we have been trained to believe. . vision is not defined by the disembodied eye." As many artists shift their work arena from the studio to the more public contexts of political. art that carries no responsibility. and not much is being done. It is not enough to make art. or art that denies the state of the very world in which it exists. art that places form above content. I first began to question this mythology myself when I wrote Has Modernism Failed?. many things have happened to change the situation. Breaking with the Paradigm of Vision Writing The Reenchantment of Art represented my own philosophical "break" with the paradigm of vision and the disembodied eye as the axiomatic basis for artistic practice. and have felt the need to alter the direction of their art so that it is more socially and environmentally defined. to move beyond the mode of disinterested contemplation to something that is more participatory and engaged.
Dominique Mazeaud. The instructions were clear: "Don’t even take one garbage bag." she comments." Her activity had subtly shifted. in my heart. Yes. For several years. until it was no longer a systematic retrieving of everything in sight. Because of the snow I was not sure of the conditions I would find but did not doubt a second that I would put in my day.. I don’t count any more. which she calls "The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande River". Mazeaud and a few friends who sometimes accompanied her. and even that of teacher. pick up and pray. my meditation directed me to go and be with the river and not do anything.. here are some extracts: November 19 My friend Margret drops me off at Delgado promptly at 9:00 am. December 2 Why in all religions is water such a sacred symbol? How much longer is it going to take us to see the trouble of our waters? How many more dead fish floating on the Rhine River? How many kinds of toxic waste dumpings? When are we going to turn our malady of separateness around? March 19 1 can’t get away from you river/In the middle of the night/I feel you on my back/In my throat. Part of the work involves keeping a diary. Briefly. Who can I really talk to about what I see?. All alone in the river. she reaches a point where her relationship with the river becomes even more important than her original ecological incentive to clean it. as the artist’s connection with the river deepens into that of friend and confidante.For instance. would meet once a month and ritually clean garbage out of the river. I don’t announce my "art for the earth" in the papers either. I wrote at some length about an art project initiated by a friend of mine in Santa Fe. but today I feel it was buying into the present system of art that’s so much object-oriented. but has become her own . "For the first time last month. Is it because I am saying that what I am doing is art that I need to produce something? Eventually. I pray and pick up. armed with garbage bags donated by the city. July 20 Two more huge bags I could hardly carry to the cans. I have also noticed that I stopped collecting the so-called treasures of the river. entitled Riveries. in which she writes about her experiences. I see what I am doing as a way of praying: Picking up a can/From the river/And then another/on and on/It’s like a devotee/Doing countless rosaries. I find a stone warmed by the morning sun which makes a perfect site for my beginning prayer. It was OK at the beginning.
"where I discover the river is as true an artist as I am. or social work." Mazeaud states. Wisconsin. is to open oneself up to the complaint that what is being described here is not art at all. "I have landed in a new landscape." The hegemony of the eye is very strong in our culture. because in responding compassionately to whatever it touches. Kramer is in the forefront of those who believe that when art is actively engaged with the world. Art and the Return of Soul I’d like to conclude with some pertinent comments between myself and Thomas Moore taken from my new book Conversations Before the End of Time. whereas those who thought that art should be unencumbered by any moral or social purpose were resistant and unfriendly. the beauty of the world. I.personal dialogue with the river. . on the other hand. and taking it out of the more rarefied sphere of professionalism. for me. Do you see art as being an important vehicle for the return of soul? Moore: Probably its most important vehicle. a consciousness of. he proclaimed. beauty is an activity rather than an entity. and to challenge the commitment to its ocular-centric. art is incapable of solving any problems except aesthetic ones. when. everyday world. and reverence for. but environmental activism. Suzi: As I understand your sense of the soulful life. with the force of a typhoon. The river as a living being has something to say. it would mean bringing art back into a more vernacular. on the podium after my talk. consider that such art is often intensely aesthetic. that things with no relation to art were now being legitimized and accepted as art. or vision-centered aesthetic. it is helping to create a more beautiful world. replacing it with a paradigm shift that displaces vision with the very different influence of listening. Many individuals who saw their own ideas reflected in my book’s agenda were enthusiastic and friendly. he claimed. When I lectured together with the critic Hilton Kramer a few years ago in Madison. Artists whose work helps to heal our soulless attitudes toward the physical world have my full respect and attention because. You mentioned in the letter you wrote to me that you are very interested in the role of the arts in the world today. its aesthetic quality is necessarily compromised. because it seemed to undermine the way they see their task.
It’s an erotic activity: psyche and eros going together. in being part of that community. rather than principle and responsibility. though. actually designing the city.. essentially. "and if we know that the soul is nurtured by beauty. that archetypal psychologists are the ones who seem to be taking the lead for a renaissance of beauty in our lives. Suzi: And so. There are a number of ways in which we could bring the artist back into everyday life. that could be a whole new paradigm for a socially relevant kind of art—not precisely in the sense that’s being talked about in the art world now of "political correctness" and social critique. We can’t suddenly begin living a more artful life.. so that there’s a responsibility." That is not a new paradigm.Suzi: Do you want to elaborate on this? Moore: Yes. soul enters life through pleasure. and in everything we see and inhabit. even more than artists or aestheticians? Art in service of humanity . in going into the world and being part of. "You know. in your thinking. which is the avenue to soul. don’t you think. One way would be for the artist truly to feel a sense of conviviality in the society. so that we don’t just have this fringe art world that doesn’t really touch on the values of the way we live. but also beauty that is necessary for the return of soul.." you say in your book. this is what you should be doing. And here’s another point about soul. we’re not moving out of the modernistic world then. if in the public life around us. It’s not only pleasure and conviviality. then we will have to understand beauty more deeply and give it a more relevant place in life.. and a pleasure. Moore: Exactly. Suzi: "If we are going to care for the soul.. Responsibility suggests a kind of outward superego coming in and saying. First. say. I’d like to pick up on this point of yours about everyday life." It’s interesting. there’s so much to say here. but rather a kind of art that celebrates and participates robustly in the life-world.. art is invisible. We’re just feeling we should do something different and more responsible.
He thinks that the desert of ugliness all around us is connected with concentrating our notion of beauty in a great body of works of art to be found only in the oases of museums. the social comment. it’s not art? She’s literally cleaning the river! Suzi: But that’s a problem only if you want to define art as a separate aesthetic realm. it becomes a devotional ritual. You say yourself that it’s not really even meant to clean the river. James. protest exist on one level only. life. Satish Kumar says that in India. about.. Hillman: That’s a very good point. For me. Suzi: The point is. I think. I think beauty needs to come into it somehow. self and world. Otherwise. which is art in the service of. but I do believe it transforms the literal to the metaphorical and mythical. In India. divorced from life and quarantined to the museum or art gallery. James Hillman and I discuss the river project of Dominique Mazeaud in a way that is relevant.. Hillman: We’ve talked about this before.. art was never meant to hang on walls—it’s part of life. and second of all.In my new book. what’s the difference between that artist cleaning the river and l’art pour l’art? Because in the end. Ideas of beauty and metaphor are necessary to what I call art. advocacy. Hillman: I certainly don’t define art that way. Conversations Before the End of Time. without any part to play in the larger picture. Suzi: In another of these conversations. A lot of discussion is being instigated by people now who feel that until—or unless—art can reconnect with life. And only if you want to insist on the Cartesian split between art and life. art is not separated from the normal flow of life. first of all. it’s very difficult to perceive any strong connection or direct influence that art could have on the world... as such. to the issues being addressed in my paper. (But for me the real problem is) what gets metaphorized in her work? Doesn’t she remain in the literal world? And. her art has no worldly effect. it’s going to stay marginal. and I think there’s a problem.. Like the way dance was . politics. because it shows something crucial to this civilization: that the work in the river can be put in a different context altogether. That’s why in my writing I have been drawn to artists who are using their creativity in ways that can have a more direct effect. why that’s art. based on isolated individualism. it’s a way to let beauty into our world by means of the artist’s gifts and sensibilities. that within the traditionally accepted model of the artist. art is dedicated to beauty.
for celebrations or ceremonies. Aesthetics doesn’t serve anything but itself and its own ends. you’re in a fascistic mode—well. that’s where the issue is.. Hillman: Art in the service of something... the notion of art being in service to anything is anathema. If we say that it’s life. of the Balinese village where everything is made to be functional and useful. writer and teacher whose books include Has Modernism Failed?. Suzi: Yes. of money. Suzi: In our culture. Now suppose the question doesn’t become what art should do. Suzi Gablik is an artist. I would like that to change. so we could perhaps change that to which it is in service? Suzi: So the question is what could art better serve than the things it has been serving. like bourgeois capitalism. and if we think. I don’t believe that. So the god that art now serves is the god that dominates the culture. Hillman: I’d like to defend the cleaning of the river. So it is in service. throughout our lifetimes? Hillman: Right! And I think the artist in the river is serving a different god. .. for a moment. it wasn’t dance for an audience on a stage. somehow. Now we don’t have that—we’ve wiped the gods out. The Re-enchantment of Art and Conversations Before the End of Time. This article is from a symposium on The Nature of Beauty in Contemporary Art sponsored by the New York Open Center and the International Society for Consciousness in the Arts in October 1995. which is the god of commodity.. but rather how do we find that which art should serve? Art is already in service. you’re still in service to the gods.. it’s in service to gods we don’t approve of. for instance. It was a dance that helped the crops to grow. When Hilton Kramer says that the minute you try to make art serve anything.originally in the service of the tribal community. I’m going back to what you said a little earlier: it’s the attempt to put art in the service of something.
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