Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What's the Biggest Question Facing Artists Today?

In its quest to be all things to sane people, the Guardian continues to be everywhere. More recently here, asking artists, curators, directors (but not critics?), What's the biggest question facing artists today?

Responses vary. Jeremy Deller offers up incredulity's acronym ("WTF?"), while Marina Abramović reminds us that we are "human beings." Most see the present as a dilemma. Tacita Dean OBE RA believes in "balancing a need for the market with a detachment from it," while ICA director Stefan Kalmár is concerned less with functionalism's "balancing" act than in identifying what is, in effect, a Marxist "contradiction."

I appreciate what Stefan has to say about education in the third paragraph below:

The big question for us all – but particularly for artists because it’s more pressing – is, essentially, can we bite the hand that feeds us? The economic make-up of the 21st century has forced us to shy away from more fundamental questions. An artist is now someone who sells work through a commercial system, to people they might not know, whose political and social affiliations they might not know. As a director, you wonder how long those contradictions are sustainable. Your exhibition might be sponsored by people who you oppose.
How many galleries in the US have Trump supporters as their major donors? How does that sit with the more progressive curatorial decisions? Equally, how does the ICA behave with those contradictions? I mean, at least we can talk about them, rather than pretending they’re not there.
Then there is the question of education in general, and art education in particular. Why is it that a society that largely communicates through visual media then deprives generations of young people of an arts education? To do so essentially produces a visual illiteracy, so people can’t understand or read the world. They cannot understand that the world projected at them has social, economic preconditions and interests behind them. In a world that is saturated by image, where ideologies talk to each other through imagery, it is a basic human right to understand how images are produced, circulated and distributed. It’s like learning a language or learning the alphabet. Isn’t looking after the people the basic foundation of any politics? Why would it ever be interesting to introduce tuition fees and reduce people’s access to education? The same for healthcare. Why should it be difficult? Shouldn’t it always be government’s prime mandate to produce a well-educated and healthy society? We could get more political and say, “Why is it always conservative governments that do this?” There isn’t a liberal or social democratic element that would do that. You very, very rarely get well-educated fascists or racists.

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