Friday, October 14, 2011

Engagement or Chaos: The Role of Art in Post-Modern Society

One feature of the Phantom Galleries Project, and especially our Red Interactive project, has been an attempt to engage the public. For our open house in September we invited people to wear red and bring something red that could be used in a collaborative sculpture. It thrilled us to see the interaction that occurred as the show visitors engaged in the making of that 3-D red expression.

Today the office-space-turned-gallery at 1410 Tower Avenue will be opened for an hour to discuss questions about the role of art in society today. John Heino and I will be moderators of this brown bag lunch public event titled “Engagement or Chaos?”

The main object of the discussion will be to get clarification on what appears to be a problematic dichotomy in the arts. Is anything and everything art? Or is art only considered art after it has been “blessed” by the appropriately certified critics from on high? Another way to break this out will be to explore these two apparently contradictory propositions.

Perspective 1
This idea that anyone with materials and an impulse can make art is just nonsense. More engagement? Maybe, but it’s a slippery slope to chaos. There are still very valid roles for art critics and art historians and that is to ensure that there always remains something legitimate about what gets to be called “art.”

Perspective 2
What is the art elite protecting? There never have been absolute criteria for determining what is and isn’t art. Now, more than ever, we need to foster engagement and not be overly concerned about what “passes for art.” Would the world end if a piece of non-art avoided detection? It hasn’t yet. Engagement is the antidote for elitism.

According to John Heino, photographer and co-founder of the Red Interactive project, “This is not a mere intellectual exercise. If we agree that some form of art is a desirable component of human existence, then we ought to be concerned about accessibility and practice as it relates to the entire population, not just a smattering of insular cults that are intentionally or otherwise incomprehensible to ‘average’ folks.

I, too, have questions. Is aesthetic appreciation innate, automatic and universal or something that also must be learned in order to be valued? If the latter, can this be part of why elites sometimes disdain the common to some extent? Is there a place for high art, high culture?

The dialogue is intended as a starting point for future discussions about the relationships between the arts, culture and commerce. Red Interactive is a sanctioned project of Phantom Galleries Superior.

Phantom Galleries Superior (PGS) is one of six Phantom Gallery initiatives in the state of Wisconsin supported by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. PGS is a unique partnership between Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments (SPAC2ES) and Superior Business Improvement District (BID), the property owners, the artists, and the community. Use of properties is generously donated by the owners. Additional support comes from multiple artistic resources, the BID, and the Morgan Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

For more information about Red Interactive visit our on online interactions on Facebook. In the meantime, let's keep the dialogue rolling.

Engagement happens.

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