Being a conscientious artist in 2016

For the betterment of our society

To make a long story short and to start the new year on a more personal note… I have two lovely nieces living in Barranquilla Colombia, aware, bright and beautiful, Maria-Virginia (11) and Maria-Jimena (9). While having supper, the latter drew a face on the cork of a just-opened bottle of wine and then showed it to me, since I am her North American Art Historian uncle. Of course, I said “beautiful”, but I add (in very simple words) that art needs today to be pushed one or two steps further. Art needs “contextualization” or it becomes a mere imitation of reality.

Drawing workshop in Colombia
The young artist in Salamanca National Park, an area which will be certainly submerged if we do not take care of the climatic change.

In 2016, responsible conscientious artists have to tap their “contextualization” from the many events which happened in 2015 and will be happening, and more important, they have to do it for the betterment of our society – and this advice is also valid for a nine-year-old artist. And what a roller coaster 2015 was; from the “worst pessimistic” (the Middle East crisis) to the “best optimistic” (COP1) the Paris Conference on Climatic Change where finally a general agreement was reached.

Having said all of this in much simpler words to Maria-Jimena, I then asked her about what preoccupies her the most. Her immediate answer, “The ice cubes melting in Antarctica and the consequent flooding of the world”. “Ok” I replied, but now, what can you personally do with this little cork to transmit your worries about the climatic change that we are currently living? Do me a contemporary work of art.” Of course, we talk a bit more and after a short question-answer session, she ended up with her own plan.

Her plan is the following. Around 50 little corks with sad faces would be put in a depression of the uneven small Washington Park (her choice, not the Country Club pool with its limited audience). Suddenly the water rises because of a water hose hidden somewhere, underneath. As the water fills the depression, the little corks are floating in despair. Of course, she will have to determine the configuration of the flooded area (because everything conveys meaning), the time of the day, the media and the public being invited and, how long the project will remain in the park. It is what we call a site-specific work of art.

In 2016, let’s remember that art is the projection of our self showing a specific subject through the means of the metaphor. Art has to engage actively its audience in filling in the blanks of the unsaid, usually pointed by the specific societal context in which the work of art occurred. The result can be beautiful, ugly, controversial, deeply moving, deeply stressing, etc. Even at nine years old, an artist has to be a responsible person, aware of her/his environment. Today, a young artist cannot simply draw her/his famous hero, or stuffed animals, since it would be mere representation devoid of truth.

In 2016, I urge all the primary schools to teach the following art notion: “the integration of context”. The pupil’s own context, since it is the context that gives meaning. Teachers, make sure to underline that there is what we call “illustration” and that there is also “art”. A work of art without meaning is simply not a work of art, but a mere representation of a “mirror-ish” reality. Of course craftsmanship remains important.

I will do the same this coming July when we will all be painting the landscapes of Tuscany and Provence.

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