Some Musings ….
[Reposted 06/29/08. Originally posted 11/08/07]
What is the role of the artist – the intellectual artist – in modern society? If the role of the artist is obviously and intrinsically tied to the role of art, then what is the role of art? In modern society? Or in any society?
Art reflects reality at the very least. Art is humanity’s attempts to recreate reality, to create reflections of reality – and imagination & creativity are part of reality – thus also reflections of imagination; but then what is ‘good’ art? How is it separate & distinct from ordinary or ‘bad’ art?
The role of the artist then is connected to the role of art, in whatever medium – oil on canvas, watercolor, charcoal, pencil, colored pens, other canvas work, photography, computer art, sculpture, performance art, theater, movies, TV, poetry, novels, literature, music, dance, …………… cave paintings, ………
The artist creates the art – but not out of thin air – but within a societal context, supported and buffetted by the conditions of the time – the resources, the technology, the intelligence, the knowledge, the economic, political, social, cultural and religious / philosophical conditions of the moment of the creation of the art.
What is art? Is everything the artist creates art? Is there bad art and good art?
Why does art reflect reality? Is that all it does?
Art projects back to humanity knowledge and awareness of the reality – which in turn allows humanity to understand reality better – better than what? Better than it did before the art. The essence of good art then is that it does this in a qualitative different and higher level than bad art.
Within the context of the conditions of society at the moment of the creation of the art, the artist as a human then through the creation of his or her or their art creates something that if it is ‘good’ art is able to reflect the reality of the artist and the community and project back to that community communication about reality that allows the community to better understand that reality.
If the reality is not a good reality, then the art – the good art – is able to communicate more to the majority of the community than simply an awareness of the reality; it can project ways and avenues to change that reality. Or at least project back to the community of humanity that reality needs to be changed for the good of the community.
What is reality? Is this beyond the question before us? If art reflects reality and can be used to change that reality then we must know what reality is? Art reflects the human conditions of the time – if those conditions or part of them are inhumane, then art can be instrumental in changing those conditions for the better.
Human conditions include the material objective context that humanity finds itself living in, the environmental conditions, the economic, political, social, cultural conditions of the moment, what humanity knows, the knowledge of the time. Of course, humanity does not live in a moment alone; conditions are constantly changing. But there are sufficient time-place equilibriums to be able to say there are historical moments.
The Role of the Artist
The artist then creates the art – in whatever medium – at a historical moment; the art not only reflects that historical moment, it is a reflection of that reality, that historical moment. Through the creation and presentation and then absorption by others within the community of the art, the artist is able to reflect the historical moment and project into the community an awareness of the moment, an awareness of the humane or inhumane conditions of that moment, and an awareness that the inhumane conditions need to be changed for the better.
What about the artist who does not do this, who does not understand this, or does not try to do this – say, the artist who creates commercial renditions of an original purely for financial reasons? Is this an artist? Does one have to create original works of art to be an artist? Is this person not an artist or at least a bad artist who creates bad art?
The role of the good artist, then, is that of one who creates or helps to create good art, that reflects reality, projects an awareness of the inhumane conditions of that reality, and ways to change those conditions.
Is the Mona Lisa good art?
Now we have to qualify and quantify. How does the Mona Lisa project an awareness of “the inhumane conditions of reality and ways to change those conditions”? How can we say the Mona Lisa is not good art? In fact, isn’t it great art that has stood the test of history?
The Mona Lisa is excellent art because it has stood the test of time, that it projects the awareness of the history of humanity, how an ambiguous smile is able to remain so over hundreds of years, projecting back to us an awareness of the history of humanity, that a smile was a smile five hundred years ago. Not all good or great art has to project back to us how to create barricades and topple governments.
If art to be great, only has to remind us of our humanity and our history, then wouldn’t a lot of artifacts and daily instruments of former times amount to that ?
The more the art projects back to humanity its conditions, the more humanity is able to understand its conditions. And if they need to be changed for the good of humanity, then good art can instruct.
The role of the artist then when confronted with inhumane conditions of humanity is to create art that is instructive to humanity so the members of the community can change those conditions. One way to achieve that is to reflect an awareness and understanding of our own humanity, to remind us of our beauty, our fragility, our limitations, our temporal experience, our strengths, our fears, dreams. The Mona Lisa does this – despite a label of solely being a portrait of a ruling class woman – because it does these other things – reminding us hundreds of years of the ambiguity of life.
Why is a movie like “JFK” by Oliver Stone good art?
It reflects a reality back to us – the assassination of a well-liked president – and an awareness of the forces that conspired to pull it off without repercussion. No one ever went to prison for the assassination. Oswald was dead. End of story. Those responsible for the assassination got away with it.The movie delves into the controversy and helps to educate the American people as to who killed their president.
The role of the artist is to create art that helps us to understand our humanity and the historical conditions we live in, and to help us understand that we need to change those conditions and helps us understand even how to change those conditions.
But what about all the different kinds and types of art? How can a simple sculpture, for example, help us to understand that we need to change our conditions?
One object of art need not do all of those things. If a sculpture helps us have a deeper understanding of our own humanity, and/ or of our history, then it is good art.
The role of art is to remind us to reflect on our reality and history, and even to draw conclusions on whether our reality needs to be changed.