Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Responsibility of Art Is Not Just Internal

When I was sitting at the Dynamic Adaptability conference a couple months ago, at one point an artist got on stage ostensibly as part of a panel on how to raise money for individual projects. He led a rousing 10-minute example of how to engage an audience to donate money to a hypothetical project and encouraged audience members to shout out questions about the project, things like “what is your budget,” “what is the format of the event,” and some variation of “what is the point off this event.” And it’s this last one that caught me, because in response, without hesitation, and to the great joy of the many artists in the audience, the speaker said, “Art does not need a reason to exist; art does not need to be justified.”

As an advocate for the arts, and as a person with a mind for marketing, I find this line of argument both reductive and damaging. Of course art needs to justify its existence, just like any other potential investment opportunity – to claim otherwise is simply to say to claim that art sits above all other aspects of the world. To argue that the simple existence of a piece makes the world a better place, regardless of the quality, message, aesthetic and form of that piece is the same as saying that the mushroom scrubber is in fact a useful invention simply for the fact that it exists. And ultimately, I think such an attitude, of choosing to say “if you don’t get it, too bad” as opposed to trying to puzzle out the intricacies of translating the vocabulary of an artist to that of a lay person, is at the heart of a lot of the perceived irrelevancy and marginalization of the field in the larger population.

I get extremely agitated when I hear a person in one sentence say that they make art from a personal place and feel no need to understand how it engages or doesn’t engage with the community, and in the next sentence say that they want to (or, often, “deserve”) to make a living doing just that.

When it comes down to it, I feel that there are certain people, the greatest artists of all time, for whom such an attitude might be true (although, to point it out, many of those artists did not in fact make a living off of their work during that time, and were instead only celebrated later). And I don’t claim to be able to judge which of the many thousands of individual artists in the city are the ones most likely to be the next great, society-touching savant. But I know, for me, that I love being an artist – taking photographs, designing quilts, writing short stories, painting, drawing, doing theatre – and I don’t especially feel a need to create that work with the world at large in mind. The difference, I think, is that I also don’t have any expectations that a room full of people will throw money from the balconies at me simply because I tell them to, nor that were I in that position, I would not have to answer that person in the third row who shouts out, “Why does this deserve to exist?”

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At May 20, 2010 at 4:02 PM , Blogger Karen McKevitt said...

I, too, was at that panel, and when the artist made that comment, the crowd laughed--in part in recognition and in part, at him. My sense is that the artist was intentionally being provocative. And, I don't recall him saying that "the simple existence of a piece makes the world a better place" or "'if you don't get it, too bad.'" But maybe you were using his comment as a jumping off point to make your own point, rather than implying that that's what he meant.

But in any case: so, basically, artists who want their work out there in the world must justify it, but the creator of, say, the Chia Pet doesn't? Because I would love to ask that person why the Chia Pet deserves to exist.

I find it a bit problematic for anyone to tell any artist to justify their art. Audiences can take the art or leave it. Funders can fund it or not. And the artist can choose to listen to those market forces or not. But to imply, as in your example of your own art, that some artists should not share it with the world to begin with if they can't justify it makes me very uncomfortable. Who is anyone to make that judgment? Isn't it the very beginnings of a form of censorship?

At May 20, 2010 at 4:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

An important distinction to make is that the hypothetical situation you reference was clearly an "event". Implicit in that definition (and of course the golden notion that separates theatre from other art forms such as photography, craft, writing, etc.) is that because theatre is an event, it is experienced by a person attending that event (i.e., the audience).

The artist may be fine with saying their event has no point, but in the hands of the audience, who bring their own perception to it, a point will be made. Therefore, the artist can either a)say the point of the event is that there is no point or b)risk being misinterpreted.

(And yes, I consider the statement of "no point" being a point. Along the same lines, a show intentionally designed to have no set, by that intention, has a set.)

At May 21, 2010 at 10:20 AM , Blogger Clay Lord said...

Karen, I was indeed using the one statement as a jumping off point -- didn't mean to imply he'd actually said that the existence of his work makes the world a better place. However, I take your point, and I should qualify that I think it's the rare case where an artist is actively confrontational with an audience in terms of addressing the art's meaning.

I guess what I'm frustrated at, more than the interior impulse of the artist, which I think will continue to exist, and which has created some of the best work in the world, is the feeling of entitlement I sometimes hear from individual artists that they should be supported in the creation of their work without necessarily having earned acclaim from [insert whatever audience you want here]. By extension, I think certain organizations, whether by size or age, feel entitled to continue to exist simply for the fact that they have existed. The validity of this is being challenged by program officers and thinkers as they attempt to address the issue of diversification of voice and art on stage.

I think we in some ways agree -- I find the Chia Pet absurd, and I agree that I personally don't think it deserves to exist. The difference, I think, is that the Chia Pet, by some miracle, has found enough of an audience who wants to buy it that it exists -- by definition, as a for-profit product model in a capitalist system, the Chia Pet exists only so long as it makes money for the owner. And has exactly that size footprint. The artist I referred to in the initial post will continue to succeed because he has a good handle on the particular vocabulary that allows him to speak about his work -- he can engage people, excite people, with what he's doing. But, whether he wants to or not, whether he thinks it's necessary or not, he IS justifying (or perhaps better, making accessible) the value of his work whenever he speaks to people.

Since Roman times, artists have functioned on a patronage model -- those who could find a person or group of people to financially support their work continued to make their work, and those who couldn't moved on to other pursuits (or continued to make their art while supplementing income). In this way, the art world has for a long time functioned similarly to any other enterprise.

Perhaps you're right, that the question is less about justification than about listening (and being able to speak) to the marketplace, less about stymieing creation than about setting out the expectation that repeated work that doesn't connect with enough of an audience to make an impact in [insert funding source here]'s eyes won't continue to be funded simply on principle.

You're correct to say that funders can fund things or not, audiences can attend or not. The market will dictate success. But I have trouble with your discomfort about whether "justification" comes into the equation, in part because I think that, whether they think they are or not, in every conversation they have with whatever patron they're trying to convince to fund them, in every back-and-forth they have with the audience in whatever form, the artist IS justifying their work. This echoes esotericmoogle's point that audiences will always bring their own perceptions, and will always attempt to infuse work with meaning.

At May 21, 2010 at 11:38 AM , Blogger Theatre Monkey said...

Does this little article about the responsibility of ART "deserve to exist?"

Well, yes. Every writer is entitled to her/his opinion, no matter how much one may disagree with it.

However, I too get "extremely agitated" when I read a personal diatribe against ART by a staff member of a nonprofit ARTS SERVICE organization who makes a living, not by actually creating art but by ostensibly serving the theatre community, institutions and artists therein.

The ludicrously simplistic, straw-man arguments put forward here against some unnamed artist and his hypothetical project are laughable and I can only assume that it was the author’s intention to inflame opinion and provoke a response. Well done. Especially the line:

“Of course art needs to justify its existence, just like any other potential investment opportunity-” Clayton Lord

The line of reasoning on display in the quote above is so revoltingly flawed and runs counter to everything that Theatre Bay Area stands for (as evidenced in their mission statement) that it seems irresponsible to post it on this forum as anything other than satire. Except of course, that it is presumably meant in earnest. That is what I find so bone chillingly creepy about this piece. It reeks of cold-hearted corporate capitalism at its best and unbridled fascistic utilitarianism at its worst. How dare anyone say, artist, justify yourself and your art.

Posting such an inflammatory, reductive and inane view of the inherent intrinsic merits of art and espousing such reactionary pronouncements about why art exists on this supposedly arts-friendly blog is no less than unconscionable. The preposterous, pseudo-intellectual, marketing jargon on display here masks an assumption about art that is so fundamentally backward as to completely negate the author’s assertion about the purported responsibility of “ART.”

If the sentiment revealed in this author’s piece is any indication of the level of discourse that we as a theatre community can expect when Theatre Bay Area begins to discuss “Excellence in the field,” then I hope that other voices will take up the call and ask them “Who are you to judge? On what merits do you presume to evaluate our art?” and “Is this service organization being responsible to its members and the community?”

No, ART is NOT responsible to you. ART does NOT NEED a reason to exist…

BUT Arts Service Organizations, their “thought leaders” and their marketing staff and do.

At May 21, 2010 at 11:57 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Theatre Monkey,

I should say that my views here are mine alone, and aren't meant to represent Theatre Bay Area as a whole. We all have opinions here (one consultant, upon exiting one of our strategic planning meetings, was concerned that we were "fighting so much," but we just like honest discourse), and mine is but one. As you can see, Karen, our communications director, really disagrees with my argument, and I welcome that.

Can I ask you a few questions about your post?

Why is the line of reasoning that art needs to justify it's existing revoltingly flawed to you? Is it the equation of art to "investment opportunity" or something else? Can you talk a bit more about what you're reacting to there?

Why is it so affronting to ask an artist to justify themselves and their art (perhaps with the caveat that I am here trying to ask about artists who seek to make a living off of selling their art to others)? Do you feel that the marketplace is an impartial judge? Who, if anyone, is the artist beholden to in this way?

What are you referring to when you talk about my "assumption about art that is so fundamentally backward?"

In your last paragraph, I think you're right, those are exactly the questions we'll be trying to tackle -- who does have the right to judge the worth of a theatre piece? Who sets the criteria that define the merits of a piece? is the role of Theatre Bay Area to facilitate and/or encourage conversation about a difficult topic, or to simply, passively support the current status of the community?

I agree that art is not responsible to me in my role at Theatre Bay Area. But I would say that art, especially publicly directed, pay-to-see-it art, is responsible to me as an audience member, donor, and member of the theatre community. Whether that means it needs to change, or I just need not attend, is another question...

I do honestly get frustrated by the argument, hence my post, but I also want to understand why I get frustrated, and why my reaction has caused such strong reactions in others. I think that the only way we can being to talk about a topic as thorny as "excellence" is if we start poking at these questions and challenging our assumptions -- and if that means setting out controversial opinions and then asking for thoughtful discourse, I think that's a good thing.

At May 21, 2010 at 2:33 PM , Blogger Theatre Monkey said...

Dear Clayton,

Clearly you are an intelligent individual and care about the arts. I am sorry that you are frustrated by the attitude shown by the “artist in question” and perhaps by my response to your post. I truly hope you figure out why you are frustrated. I could hazard a guess, but that would be pure conjecture on my part. Keep poking. Keep provoking. Keep questioning. That is also what an artist does. No justifications are needed.

It is reassuring to read that this is NOT the new official position of Theatre Bay Area:

"Theatre Bay Area’s mission is to unite, strengthen, promote and advance the theatre community in the San Francisco Bay Area, working on behalf of our conviction that the performing arts are an essential public good, critical to a healthy and truly democratic society, and invaluable as a source of personal enrichment and growth..." *** but only as long as the artists we serve can justify their existence and defend the excellence of their art. ***

All I will say in response to your thoughtful questioning is this... I am simply challenging your assumptions about the nature of art and I think that "that is a good thing." I must respectfully disagree with the notion and your assertion that art needs to be justified.

Put simply, artists make art, not widgets. Even the "excellent" artists may die unknown, unsupported, impoverished and forgotten. Now THAT is frustrating. I'm sorry that it may seem to you a frustrating idea that not all artists are beholden to some ancient Romanesque patriarchal model of indentured servitude in return for the art. But to my way of thinking, to say that they must somehow justify their existence and their art is quite frankly the height of arrogance.

Ask Bach to justify an elaborate fugue. Ask Picasso to justify a woman with four eyes and three noses. Ask Beckett to justify the existence of Crap and his tapes. Art is. It exists. It has no meaning other than being the thing itself. No justification is needed.

At May 21, 2010 at 2:37 PM , Blogger Theatre Monkey said...


That post sounded a bit snarky... Sorry. Civil discourse is what you asked for... I will try to reply in kind.

I have nothing against you or your intentions in writing your piece but what I take offense to in your argument is the implication that there is a "justifiable" type of art, a "responsible" kind of art. NO! Art is by its very nature irresponsible. It is unaccountable to those in power, those with wealth and those who seek to control public opinion.

When will artists stop being asked to do everything from educating our kids to redressing the myriad social wrongs inherent in this capitalist society, rather than just being allowed to create their art? Never, if people keep insisting that an artist must "justify" their existence.

It is a dangerous notion that artists are somehow unworthy to pursue their art because it somehow doesn’t appease the powers that be or conform to some proscribed notion of responsibility. At least in the current cultural climate (in this country) we aren't being imprisoned for our art. But to say that art must somehow be deemed "responsible" is simply another sort of insidious censorship.

"Excellence" is also a slippery concept that when applied to art is subjective beyond belief and for TBA to attempt to apply some arbitrary set of criteria to measure an artist’s merit is more than merely a "thorny" proposition, it is (simply my opinion) fraught with inherent inconsistencies and unspoken biases. I look forward to further pronouncements about that topic with both trepidation and amusement.

History is often the ultimate arbiter of excellence and theatre is one of the most ephemeral of all the art forms. It is written in water and evaporates with the wind of audience opinion which blows both hot and cold. You vote with you feet and butts in the seats. But to speak of ART in broad terms as a mere commodity to be counted or invested in is (again, just my own unshakable opinion) antithetical to the very concept embodied by the word ART.

I have appreciated the opportunity to clarify my last post… but now I must get back to the frustrating act of earning a living while attempting to actually create art, assured in the knowledge that I do not need to justify it. So rather than further some hypothetical discourse on the topic or respond to some more baiting "controversial opinions" about it, I bid you good day and good luck in your own search. I hope you find answers to the questions you seek.

At May 21, 2010 at 2:43 PM , Blogger Clay Lord said...

That is an awesome response! As we move forward with these conversations, I hope that they're as thoughtful as this one -- while I'm sorry my writing offended you, I can't tell you how invaluable it is as I (and, I hope, we) keep puzzling through these questions to get such great thought back. Thanks again - I hope you keep reading!

At May 21, 2010 at 3:51 PM , Blogger Vera said...

I think the phrase "justifying art" may have understandably triggered some strong feelings from people, but I think I see what Clay's saying, and, if I do, I agree.

If an artist wants to make art just for the sheer enjoyment of making art and doesn't care if that art successfully reaches an audience, then while I don't understand that and it completely contradicts what I personally think the purpose of art is, it's certainly that artist's prerogative to do so. I don't think anyone is saying that such an artist shouldn't be allowed to work that way and call themselves an artist.

If, however, that artist is creating art to engage and communicate with an audience, and moreover if said artist wishes to enjoy financial benefit from their work, even if only to 'break even" and continue with said work, then they do need to be intimately concerned with why their arts matters. Why audiences should patronize it. Why donors should fund it. What, among all other art, is unique and meaningful about theirs.

I agree with Clay that I think far too many artists in our area feel that they deserve an audience and financial rewards simply because they make art, and I think that attitude is tremendously damaging to the integrity and general quality of our artistic community.

At May 21, 2010 at 4:13 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Art does not need to be justified; yet the question of "Why does this exist?" comes along because when we don't gravitate towards something or care for it, we want to understand why others might like it. We, being curious human beings, want to know why the artist (or group of artists) created something we did not like (like the Chia Pet, or the Snuggie, or American Idol). The question comes from a place of "I didn't like it, so why would other people." Just like most critics, audiences use themselves as the barometers of what works of Art to enjoy. And since Art is subjective, there would be different reasons why some people like something and there would be different reasons why some people didn't like something. Therefore, the question is not outright offensive or invalid (at least to me), yet it is a question that need not (or in some cases cannot) be answered. Art exists to entertain, educate, beautify, push buttons or even just to feed the soul.

Also, in these uncertain economic times, when you are talking about presenting in front of potential funders or making a living or a profit off of your Art, it is not unreasonable to hear the question because people out there are being very cautious about how and why they are spending their money. Is it the perfect situation for a struggling artist? Far from it. But it is part of the reality.

But, once again, Art does not need to be justified. The makers of the Chia Pet do not need to tell us why they invented it (even though several inquiring minds want to know!) and American Idol does not have to justify to me why it is so popular (But being curious by nature I think I will always wonder!).

At May 21, 2010 at 4:23 PM , Blogger Jacob said...

May I quote Oscar Wilde? I think I will:

"Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

Truly yours,

Oscar Wilde"

At May 21, 2010 at 7:23 PM , Blogger Karen McKevitt said...

Yes, Jacob, yes you may, and thank you. That puts a wonderful lens on this.

"Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower." Arts marketers are trying to sell the flower. They are the middle man between the artist and the audience. Is Clay frustrated because audiences for theatre are dwindling, and therefore he turns to the artist/flower and says, Justify yourself? That is, help me sell you?

Vera also brings up a good point about intention. Let's go back to Wilde. "A flower blossoms for its own joy." Perhaps some people organically find joy in that blossom (that is, they found the art on their own and enjoyed it without needing a commercial from the marketing department or justification by the artist). And the flower is happy with that. But when the flower starts saying, I really want thousands of people seeing my beauty, and I want a bunch of funders to give me money, isn't it at that point where this debate starts? Does it imply that the artist is unsatisfied with the result of his/her art, that the artist wants more? Is it at that point that the artist must start listening to market forces?

But I do disagree with Vera about if artists want to engage and communicate with audiences then they should be concerned with why their art matters. Here's why: Last October I produced a play called The Creature. Why? It was my husband's play, I believed in his work, and there were amazing artists who loved the project and were committed to it. That is, we were all doing this art because we believed in it. We didn't do market surveys. We didn't talk to audiences in advance to determine what they would like. My husband did, however, apply for a CA$H grant and didn't get one. What happened? We produced the show, got a "wildly applauding" Little Man and sold out the run. Oh, and we got like 4 or 5 Critics Circle nominations and won 1. And nowhere along the way did anyone ever ask us to justify why we were doing what we were doing, nor were we particularly concerned with communicating with an audience other than to try to create the best art we could on our own terms. But we engaged and communicated with audiences anyway, even though we only knew (or thought about) why the art mattered to us, not why it mattered to them.

So, sometimes the art comes first and communicating with audiences follows. Sometimes something like The Creature works out, and sometimes it doesn't. But to say that artists who don't think about why their art matters to audiences won't be able to create art that communicates with audiences is a fallacy.

At May 21, 2010 at 8:09 PM , Blogger Trevor Allen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At May 21, 2010 at 8:11 PM , Blogger Trevor Allen said...

Hi Clay,

Wow. So, yeah. You certainly started a conversation. ;-)

I think I get what you're saying about an artist being responsive to market forces etc. I just don't think that I agree with your use of the word "justify" when art is concerned. "Explain?" Maybe, if I have the time and someone is really interested in my work? "Apply" or "report back" to a funder, if granted? Sure, the "responsible" thing is to tell them how their funds will be or were used. "Pitch" as in to a potential director? Alright. "Respond" in a talk-back about a play I've written? Yep, I'd be happy to. Audiences are smart and they want to be challenged. But should we playwrights be asked to "justify" our work? Really?

I kinda think the work comes first. Whether you call it "art" or think of it as a commercial property with cash cow potential. But "justify?" I dunno dude, it seems a bit harsh. I think communicate is a word I'd feel more comfortable with. Because we do that as artists don't we? Isn't that what the work really is? A means of communication? But I don't think I could "justify" it to you or anybody else. I can't be bothered to try.

I loved your work on The Creature postcard, by the way. ;-)


At May 22, 2010 at 8:59 AM , Blogger Vera said...

But Karen, you did just say why that work mattered. A bunch of talented artists got together to tell a good story, striving to do the best possible work. And you did go to the trouble to communicate to the public, press, and funders why it mattered. I also have serious doubts that in creating that work, you didn't concern yourself with communicating with an audience. I'm sure that no one actually whispered to anyone else during intimate scenes, or played entire segments to the back wall as the mood struck them, or wandered around outside their light, etc. And, the proof being in the pudding, audiences did come, and they did enjoy it. Success.

I think that's a big part of why the flower analogy (which even Wilde himself, a very successful and independently wealthy artist in his own time, admits is pretty out there) is ringing so false for me. Maybe it's different for visual or literary artists, and I certainly wouldn't know anything about that, having never been a visual or literary artist. As a performing artist, though, I care very deeply about sharing my work with an audience. I'm not an insentient "lily of the field." I'm an artist whose art is to tell stories, and an integral part of my art is having someone to tell them to. I have no interest in talking to myself alone in a darkened room, and that doesn't feel, to me, like art.

If someone wants to create a piece of theatre without caring why it matters to anyone but themself or concerning themself with the audience's experience, then they shouldn't invite anyone. There's certainly plenty of theatre out there in the world that essentially amounts to dress-up, scripted role-playing games among friends. If people want to do that kind of stuff, more power to them. But they shouldn't sell me a ticket as though I should want to see it or ask any community foundations to write them a check as though their work matters to anyone but themselves.

If the theatre arts in America were patronized by enough people to be self-sufficient, or if we were having an easy time making up the difference with foundation gifts and private donations, then we wouldn't have to "justify" ourselves, for lack of a better word, and I admit that the word is problematic. In that scenario, we want to share our work with the public and have the means to create it, and the public wants to see it and fund it. We aren't in that place yet, though, and to not concern ourselves with addressing that disconnect is to say that we don't care about continuing to do our work as professionals.

At May 23, 2010 at 1:52 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Art does not need to be justified. To Justify art is the first step in Censoring it! Does love need to be Justified? Does wonder? Does life?

Art doesn't need to always make sense or even be liked. History shows that many artists weren't "Justified" until years after their death. who’s to say that what might be passed off as garbage now, won't be seen as a treasure in the future?

At May 25, 2010 at 9:56 PM , Blogger An Honest Critic said...

What a frothy conversation. I believe I must comment.

Of course, I would hate to have to justify my comment, or explain why it deserves to exist. Even if either was requested of me, I would abstain from calling anyone a fascist or a censor. I suppose those questions allude to a curiosity, and even a frustration, but I think the real question is 'why?'. 'Why?' is such a wonderful question. I would think any Artist, who presumably has a familiarity with 'why?', might enjoy answering it. I suppose, however, if the Artist were afraid, if they perceived a threat, real or imaginary, then perhaps fear might conquer their more generous instincts and the words 'fascist' and 'censor' would surface. It occurs to me that I daily engage with fear, curiosity, and frustration, and I try to meet them at the point of their inception, in the graceful arcs of the limbic system, where grand words like 'fascist,' 'censor,' and 'why?' are experienced like a soup-du-jour.

There are just so many words in this conversation that I think beg for attention like shy children. They want us to watch them, but they're too embarrassed to speak up. 'Justification,' 'Deserve,' 'Reason' and most glaring of all 'Art.' These are the words that have consumed philosophers, and this conversation seems to toss them about like stuffed toys. If I were an idea as complicated as 'Art,' I don't think I would want to be a part of this conversation. I don't blame the words for not speaking up.

But if the words themselves say nothing to us, if we confine them to the children's table so we can discuss politics unfettered, then there isn't much point, is there? The meaning, the feeling, the thought and action of it all swiftly escapes us. The whole conversation becomes a war with no exit strategy.

For those of you waiting for a more direct response, you wont find anything more direct than this sentence: I think 'Art' is like the wind, some of us will study it, some of us will harness it, some of us will build walls to take shelter from it, and some of us will spread our arms and let it take us. And most of us will do all of the above, depending.

At May 27, 2010 at 6:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree quite a lot with Vera. And I believe what she captures is what Clay Lord was probably trying to say.

Mr. Lord, I do think you need to do a better job justifying yourself, because I don't believe your product (this post) was really understood by much of your audience, at least, not much of your commenting audience.

Aaron Andersen

At June 8, 2010 at 12:20 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

One could state that your assertion that art needs to be justified as an investment opportunity is reductive and damaging.

Not just one. Many could state that. You're blending two vastly different constructs, and the influence of one on the other often corrupts it.

Having worked in commercial, not-for-profit and self-produced arenas, I've seen that commercial theatre is risk-averse. Art should either be risk-unaware or risk-taking.

Life exists. Art exists. Art is frequently humankind's response to Life, be it for pleasure or provocation.

Do I have to justify life? No. Then why should I have to justify art?

At June 20, 2010 at 12:32 PM , Blogger moedigs said...

I'd just like to say to Vera: word.

Also: flowers have purpose. They attract birds, mammals and insects that help with pollination and ensure the continuation of their species. That strategy has been pretty successful, since it's encouraged humans to breed plants for their blooms.

Even if art's only purpose is to exist, so that people can create and express themselves, to ensure, as it were, the survival of its species, that is itself a justification.

Any time you're asking for money, though, you do need to justify your art. The justification can be "I think seeds are fascinating and want to make art about them." Why not? Because, unlike the Chia Pet, you're not paying your own way. Answering the question is important. Not answering the question smacks of some
kind of totalitarianism. Give me money, because I asked for it.
Why not get funding to sit on the couch eating popcorn? No need to justify that. Most everyone does it.

To question our basic assumptions about culture, to ask "why is this necessary?" I think is indicative of a vibrant and open dialogue-- the very OPPOSITE of censorship.

In addition, new studies are coming out every day that indicate the positive effects that art and art-making have on our communities and brains. That's an answer right there.

And yeah, self-righteousness is really annoying. There are people who are starving: why is what you do important? It's important to answer, and the justifications are not in short supply. I think artists that can articulately defend their profession will serve it better than ones who insist their actions not be questioned.

Thank you Clay, for sparking an exciting dialogue.

At June 24, 2010 at 1:28 PM , Blogger Clay Lord said...

Hello everyone,

Karen has continued this conversation in a new blog entry that we just posted a day or so ago -- it references an article from the Village Voice to argue the opposite side of the coin, that sometimes audiences have TOO much input in the art. Take a look, and throw in your thoughts!

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