Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Artist vs. Activist

Would you consider yourself an artist or an activist?

I get asked this question all the time, and I cringe every time I hear it. Why do I have to label myself as either? Which one means you will take me seriously, respect me and my work and maybe consider what I have to say? Both have their negative connotations. Both have their positive connotations.

I thought I had kind of figured it out, but I don't think I have.

I was asked this question at the HighWaterLine wrap party and here is a paraphrase of an answer that I gave.
"I would have to consider myself an artist. I approached this project from an artistic point of view, I considered the aesthetics as equally as important as the message. I also come from an artistic background. I'm not really an activist, I attended my first ever rally of any kind this year, and that's mostly because I knew the people organizing it.
"I was recently on a panel that specifically discussed the role of arts in environmental issues and the challenges in visualizing the difficult information put forth (it's the Eyebeam Eco-Visualization Challenge). We were talking about art and its power to inform and incite. One of the panelists, Michael Mandiberg asked the question 'Why can't art do something?' Historically at the same time that Duchamp was removing the function from items in order to create art, Russian contemporaries were using their art to foment revolution. So why can't art do something?"

Even this answer left me feeling uneasy. It wasn't helped by my friend Ellen Driscoll coming up to "put a fly in the ointment" to say, why do you have to chose between art and activism? Why can they not coexist. I think she and I may need to sit down and hash some of this out in further conversations, because I do agree with her. I think my above answer was the easy way out.

I am equally as influenced by Wangari Maathai as Agnes Denes. Majora Carter instills in me the same inspiration as Joseph Beuys. Shirin Ebadi, Magdalena Abakonwicz, Jane Jacobs and Ernesto Neto. My circle of friends includes artists and activists. And some, who are both. How do we, both the artists and the activists bridge the gap.

Ellen and I joked about coining new phrases such as "action artist" or "active artist" - as in not dead? I asked.

What is wrong in the art world with being an activist? Would I not be taken seriously as an artist? Is there something wrong with being an artist in the activist world? Are you not given due respect for ideas?

I promise you, more to come on this.

1 comment:

jenn said...

awesome post. miss your insight and wisdom! jenn su!