Attending the Global Warning Symposium during SJ01, I was struck by the unguarded honesty of a question posed by one of the teams competing for the Climate Clock contract: “Where is art necessary?” That simple query got me thinking about the current art status quo.
Decades ago, a respectable fine artist would never be so crass as to have a message. The coercion and psychological manipulation of people to change their behavior or buy certain products was the territory of commercial artists – those who sold their talent to the advertising trade. Propagandists. Mad Men. This was art that had a single overriding communications objective. And it did not hang in museums.
Not anymore. Today we expect art to have content, purpose, a reason to exist. Activism and servitude to a cause are once again acceptable inspirations for art making – similar to periods in history when artists served the Church or State. Artists worldwide are talking, singing, writing, and painting about humanity’s drift towards disaster.
The environment is a big theme across the arts these days. Having an environmental conscience is fast becoming de riguer for visual artists, especially if their livelihoods include public grants.
The result has been the development of guild-like communities of co-creators, a focus on multimedia, interdisciplinary explorations, and the use of the spectator as a critical component of the art itself. Furthermore, eco art is not restricted to the hallowed walls of museums and galleries. In fact, it is often displayed out in the community, where it is more accessible to the public.
One positive thing to come of this greening of the arts is the increased dialog between artists and scientists. The scientific community believes the arts have a major role to play in saving the planet. Artists can translate scientific jargon so that it’s easier to post on Twitter or Shutterfly.
Artists can not save the world, but perhaps they can remind us that it is possible to make a difference.