Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thoughts on Connection of Books So Far and What is Art?

Nicolas Bourriaud states in his essay Relational Aesthetics that "Art is a state of encounter..." (Bishop, 162). Wether the artist has the audience as art in mind or not is more of a modern art question, he explains.  Bourriaud first posits that the art lives in a realm of what he calls social interstice (a word borrowed from Marx). This social interstice is " a space in human relations which, although it fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, suggests possibilities for exchanges other that those that prevail within the system (Bishop pg 161). He then goes on to explain: 

" An exhibition is a privileged place where instant communities like this can be established: depending on the degree of audience participation demanded by the artist, the nature of the works on show and the models of sociability that are represented or suggested, an exhibition can generate a particular ' domain of exchanges'' (Bishop, pg 162).  

I think this is a very observant thought especially about art's and artists' role in Society. Exhibitions often do welcome the general public as well as art buyers. It does create a physical space for people to make connections between ideas in peoples consciousness through seeing art. These people can then connect with other people who are having a similar experience. Bouriaud cites many interactive modern artists in his essay that use mostly concept and social interaction in their pieces. One piece, by  Gonzalez-Torres', where people can choose to take candy from a huge pile if they want to, examines notions of social etiquette and makes the audience an integral part of the piece.  This relies on other people seeing audience members acting or not acting as focal points of the art.  

            Darren O'Donnell explains that Claire Bishop, as a critic of Bourriand, states that he "ignores the fact that a vibrant social sphere is one that can openly acknowledge and even generate antagonisms -that democracy is dependent on friction rather than feel-good" (O'Donnell, pg 31) and that gallery spaces do not  usually create a cross cultural dialogue about politics or art. O'Donnell then details performances he has done to stretch the comfortably point of social interaction between people in public (and private). He held a variety of "performances" of people interviewing peers, of people being invited to make out with one an other, and of people commenting and gossiping on what they assume other people's lives are like.  

  Bourriand sees conscious incorporation of the audience in a social situation as a modern invention, it could be argued that it is the continuation of a folk art tradition where art and function are usually combined and art is seen as part of everyday life yet also as a decorated and intended action different from the mundane.         

In New Creative Communities: The Art of Cultural Development, Arlene Goldbard quotes from William Morris in the chapter Historical and Theoretical Underpinnings:

  " (T)he chief source of art is man's pleasure in his daily necessary work, which expresses itself and is embodied in that work itself; nothing else can make the common surroundings of life beautiful and whenever they are beautiful it is a sign that men's work has pleasure in it, however they may suffer otherwise. It is the task of this pleasure in daily work which has made our towns and habitations sordid and hideous, insults to the beauty of the earth which they disfigure" (from Commonweal, April 1885) (Goldbard, pg 103).

Goldbard explains that Morris was "associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement" (pg, 102) which was a response to Romanticism's notion of the artist as tragic, passionate, and god-like, above the common man and "apart from social convention and social concerns" (Goldbard, 103). Goldbard found that Morris's sentiment was echoed in modern day community arts activists. They saw art as something to be experienced in an everyday setting made by the participants living in that place.   

It also seems to me that art has many functions and places in this Society and in others. I see art as an illumination of ideas. Even abstract art holds in its form the idea that not all is known; that things are subjective. An artist standing in the M.O.M.A. saying that the fire extinguisher is art (Halm, 1990) has just created with a few words that the ordinary can be beautiful or special. Although sometimes art shines a light more on emotions than ideas, as in my experience of most music. Sometimes art illuminates dynamics in space, form, color, or perspective for the eye or senses and is beyond the brain's analysis.

         One wonderful use of art as explored in New Creative Communities by Goldbard is its use in building democracy. When artists gather members of a town, city, or culture together to have the participants create and problem solve together ideas and understanding is generated. Often the important issues of the group are articulated and presented in a larger context of action and empowerment. When many forces such as classism, racism, and sexism are working against people's voices being invoked and included, art can serve as that jump start.  I hold space for all of these possibilities in art. I started wondering what other artists and non-artists around me thought of art. 

       I started video taping people's reaction to the question "What is Art" and I then invited them to pick up the receiver  of a phone and have an imaginary phone conversation to a personified version of art named "Art". No voice, except one in their imagination was on the phone. Both of these responses were fascinating for me to do. 


  1. Hey all,

    What is this? Are you all in a course together? Some interesting posts.

    take care,

  2. Hello Darren,

    I was delighted to hear that you had posted on our blog. This is a seminar on the question of Insider/Outsider status in relation to community-engaged art practices. We're members of the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College, and I'm the faculty who's facilitating this seminar. I found your book fascinating and provocative; it certainly provoked a terrific discussion among our group (we also have conference calls after each reading). I'm posting this on our blog but will also try to get in touch via your own blog (I'm not all that adept at blogging).

    Thanks for asking!

  3. And Sky, thank you for this thoughtful, wonderful posting! I love the way you referred back to Goldbard and Bourriaud. I also really appreciate the fact that you responded with a creative act, videotaping people's responses to your question. Could we hear more about that? did you do this on the street? In a theater? in what context?

    I have lots more thoughts, but need to get to another class I'm teaching. More soon,


  4. hey Ju-Pong,
    Thanks for checking out the book. I've got a couple of essays that develop some of the ideas further. you can get them here.

    you can get in touch with me at
    better than my blogs.

    talk later,

  5. Hi Sky,

    Your post is wonderful. I also enjoyed how you talked and referred to Goldbard and Bourriaud. I am also interested in your creative act. I would love to hear more about your project. I agree, Art does have many functions in our society and I think is expressed differently depending on where society is at, individuals are at, trends, crisis, and separations etc. It's about the dance between all of the wonderful and not so wonderful happenings, choices, opinions, and perceptions that occur in the many different communities in this country and around the global village. My passion is discovering the key to facilitating communication where equality vs. inequality, accepting vs. nonacceptance, connection vs disconnected. I am thinking a loud but I like these opposites and finding the good stuff or not so good stuff in between may just be the space where energy shifts. These subtle shifts can possible induce a heightened sense of awareness, and create conversations. That is where my vision of art is at this time and next year it might be different. It seems to be a challenge to ride the waves!! I like O'Donnell's thoughts and experience on Artistic Intention and Intervention. O'Donnell says... but an intervention where the artist is barely noticed, and instead of being a creator, is a conduit for already existing energies and resources, redirecting and tweaking them." (O'Donnell,pg, 83)
    The same as what acupuncture does to the body, mind, and spirit. Dr. Carl Jung says(I am paraphrasing) that its impossible to connect our conscious self without connecting our unconscious self as well. Then we can begin to travel the path of discovering the individual first. Then community may have the potential to become a place of shared ideas, concerns, and innovation based on compassion and not the hunger for power through the ego, which leads to violence and greed. Ok, I'm going and start packet 3. You and Susan have given me much inspiration.

    Thanks. Nancy