I was reminded today, attending the MFA Symposium at the UCA Farnham, of the importance of artists. Far from just putting work out there for everyone else to scratch their heads at in wonderment, good artists research, analyse, interpret information through a myriad of creative filters and then present it, all the time referencing writers, critics and artists before them – because the inescapable truth is that we constantly reference the world around us, our culture, our DNA. The phrase that comes to mind is that we are, as T S Eliot and before him Bernard de Chartres put it, dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, ie we need that which has passed before us to give us an understanding of that which lies ahead of us. So, in that context, I was both impressed and disappointed with my fellow artists in the room whose presentations were aimed at bringing together their research to date, something like a justification of what went ahead and what they were doing in consequence.
Of course, I accept that the artist is also an activist, and satirist, and historian, and archivist and possibly also a scientist and many more other things all rolled into one, but to me the ethical responsibility of the artist is also very important. There was one speaker whose work left me
thinking through many issues all the way home (certainly a good thing) but who also failed to impress me with a clear justification of where she was coming from or where she was headed to and who sadly (and possibly unintentionally) lost sight of potential counterarguments to her own argument. Is this the typical story of someone with an abundance of ideas? Doubtlessly it is, yet I would not mind spending time discussing and understanding her work on a one by one basis instead of amalgamated in a presentation that lost its focus to a cornucopia of content. Because her art was clearly meant to make a stand for important issues, I’d love to see more of her thoughts on world politics and endangered species and the law materializing as art. In the meantime, in the context of this presentation combined with that of another which suggested that images shape and become our reality (I totally love this concept), I wonder where other artists stand in relation to public images being used in a potentially defamatory and libelous way (for the creation of other images).
Do the words ‘social experiment’ or the gravity of the issue we are concerned with outweigh the artists’ responsibility? If I was to compare two types of social experiment, one in which an invitation is launched to carry out an act of interference upon the effigy of another (see #dicktatordon) and one in which the act is to be done to the instigator him/herself (think Marina Abramovic and her Rhythm 0), I would be hard pressed morally to act in either case. However, I make a clear distinction between the two, based on the concept of consent. To me, the first case is more like an instigation to denigratory bullying and a test of the artist’s power of influence over others justified only by the negative connotations already associated with the said effigy, whereas the second is a more accurate test of ethics and social morals without giving raise to issues of bullying, harassment, damage to public image etc. in the same way.
Assuming you have the time to look up the references and draw your own conclusions, I will leave you to consider the two and decide which is more justified. Which leaves you feeling more comfortable when it comes to our own relationship with and responsibility towards (the image of) another?