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The Fate of Man, By Pilar Arthur-Snead, 2009, All right Reserved

An artist I know recently made a post on Facebook denouncing a video that exploits feminine sexuality, specifically, the sexuality of lesbians. She posted the video and suggested that as an artist she did not want to talk about this particular issue but she felt that she must raise the issue, that she had a responsibility to do so.

Now, I will be honest, if I had seen this video without seeing her comments I don’t think I would have necessarily questioned it’s contents because her perspective is not always my own frame of reference. However, after seeing her post and seeing the video, I changed my mind and was able to see her point of view. I am glad she shared her thoughts on an issue that was important to her and that she educated me and raised my awareness and sensitivity to this particular issue. I respect what she has to say as an artist and just as a person.

This whole interchange got me thinking very broadly about art, artists and social responsibility. I do not believe that ALL art has the ability to evoke social change. You may disagree. But I do believe, however, that all artists have the ability to change people’s minds whether through their work or through simply voicing an opinion or taking a stance on a particular issue. And I would go so far as to say that ultimately artists also have an inherent obligation to create change be it social or cultural.

Does that mean picketing at the local Occupy rally or signing up to do a documentary piece on Green Peace or just simply creating work that goes just a little bit beyond the sublime?? It can mean some or all of these things. It’s undoubtedly a personal thing as to the “how”.

But whatever the medium, as an artist you are doing something that many people wish they could do – that is to say everyone wants the ability, the freedom, to what is meaningful to them. Bob Dylan once said, “I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

What do you think?? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Change, Change, Change

  1. After musing on this, I’ve come to realize (or believe, really) that art is created for its own sake, regardless of its intent. What I find magical about art (in all its forms) is its unique ability to inspire an individual to think on – and, in some cases act on – social change and cultural change. When I hear Nina Simone sing “Feeling Good,” it inspires me musically, artistically, and also socially and culturally. It’s a tremendous song, well crafted, deliciously simple and yet complex in that it’s joyous words and a joyous key but with an undertone of blues. And then to think of the artist’s intent as she lived her life, breaking boundaries by singing her truth – that’s the cultural and social change aspect that inspires me to do the same.

    I guess art (to me) is an exchange of energy – whether I’m creating something or experiencing something created by another artist. The artist’s intent, be it political, social, spiritual, artistic, or cultural, may be well-known, and how it is interpreted or received is left to the imagination of the receiver.

    In terms of the responsibility aspect, I believe that artists are responsible for presenting their view/vision of their world as honestly as they can. We have a responsibility to tell our stories and show our lives through our work, with the understanding that our intent and our truth will be interpreted and analyzed (or ignored, or derided, or embraced…) by the receiver, filtered through her/his life experience. That’s the magnificent thing about art: it’s ability to be interpreted in myriad ways, and to have those interpretations change over time. What was historical in one era may be hysterical in another, and vice versa.

    And one final thought/comment: I love that your blog is asking these truly fascinating questions!

  2. Your thoughts very closely coincide with my husband’s thoughts on this issue. Specifically: “that art is created for its own sake, regardless of its intent. What I find magical about art (in all its forms) is its unique ability to inspire an individual to think on – and, in some cases act on – social change and cultural change.” We had a very lengthy and heady conversation about this very topic over the weekend!! He feels that ART IS sublime and therefore by its nature is the catalyst to change.

    I tend to be more situational or have a more situationally contingent view on arts ability to change. But neither point of view is right or wrong. Probably both points are right and wrong. Its an age old debate, right up there with WHAT IS ART? Try answering that question!!!

    I agree also that art and its interpretation are a key component. Because whatever I intend the chips are going to fall where they may. My personal work relies heavily on viewer interpretation. I don’t like to tell the viewer what it is I think they should be seeing but rather I want them to interact with the work and come to their own conclusions about what they think a particular piece means to them. For me, my intent is only important in so far as it motivated me to create…without it I might just sit idly by.

    I appreciate your comments! Healthy discourse is also a great catalyst for change!!! Let’s keep on creating art and change!!

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