The Ever-Changing Role of the Artist: An ongoing conversation.

Recently, I was invited to give two lectures at Syracuse University; one to Freshman and one as part of a visiting artist lecture series. Delighted with the invitation (SU was my first teaching gig!), I revisited a number or previous lectures I had given in the past, presuming that one of those would suffice.

But times have changed, rapidly and radically since November 11, 2016.

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Over the years I’ve asked myself the question “what is the role of the artist” or perhaps a better way to say it for me is “what kind of artist do I want to be?”. Then I try to step outside of my preconceived notions of what I think an art career is, and let the answers shape, direct, and sometimes redirect my artistic practice. I’ve also wondered about what the perfect balance might be between art, activism, politics, and aesthetic pursuits.

These questions have continually dogged me, but recently, they have been plaguing me more than at any other time in my life, and I know many others as well. The inauguration of the Trump regime has been making it increasing difficult to do “business as usual”. As a socially engaged artist committed to using my work as a point of engagement, I realized I have a platform, everyday, every week in my classroom, and as a visiting artist speaking with aspiring artists around the country, providing me with the perfect opportunity to ask questions and offer encouragement to step up to the plate and challenge ourselves to not be silent, and to make art that matters.

Even though SU wasn’t a prestigious venue perhaps, like speaking at Yale or Harvard or metaphorically “loud” like the Golden Globes (love you Meryl), my talk wouldn’t be posted on the TED Talk website or YouTube, and it wasn’t going to televised. The first lecture was to a group of freshman in the class “Context Studies” taught by DJ Hellerman, the innovative and energetic new curator at the Everson Art Museum, and the second lecture was to a collective of undergrads and grads required to attend as part of their curriculum. Also in attendance was a smattering of dedicated faculty due to either loyalty or wanting to support artists in general, or their own art curiosity, despite the crush of responsibilities that makes their own personal and studio time very precious and no doubt, dwindling.

So, for Syracuse University, I created a new group of lectures that emphasized our responsibility to speak up, to invite my “young” audience to join me in questioning the role of the artist today, and to use whatever means necessary, (for me that includes the power of the image and the emotional arrows of art) to go straight to the heart of the questions of what is happening today. The enormous ripples of consequence these actions cause will be felt for years to come, and we must utilize every opportunity to invite others to join us in conversation that challenges and questions.

D.J. Hellerman states “one of the most significant [ways that art is important] is the way art brings people together to talk about critical issues that are impacting our lives. For me, it’s about making connections that deepen our understanding of the world and sense of community. Art instigates our imagination and that is where possibility can lead to real change.” Pretty good place to start for a conversation with formative artists.

To be continued….

 

 

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