Art As Entity/Art In Aggregate – A Tipping Point Reflection on Belonging To Art

We’re here at the Hancock Museum, which is a fabulous inspiration for a conference looking at the social/political impact of Art, because of what Museums are.

Not many people think of museums themselves as ‘art’. They contain art and ‘artifact’, but the artistic role of curator is that of the story-teller, a metanarrational exploration of meaning and theme through the aggregation of artifacts, laid out in a way that tells a story.

And that role is one that has shed some light on a question I’ve been struggling to articulate for the last couple of days – that of the contast in impact and purpose between ‘art’ singular – a “work of art”, even the work of ‘an artist’ – and the impact of ART, writ large across cultures, woven through history, reflecting and directing the development of language and our sense of personhood beyond words, encapsulating the inexpressible sense of belonging we feel within families, communities, cultures, nations and species. Disrupting, upsetting, challenging, scaring and inspiring. Participated in by everyone – wittingly or otherwise.

Here, we’ve been mostly talking about ‘our art’ – the art we make, the artistic practice we do. Our motivations, the way it interfaces with the issues and impetus of our scientifically-understood concerns about the implications of man-made climate change.

But that sits underneath a layer of belonging. A creedal commitment to be “a part of art”, to acknowledge that we belong to art, to a global community of artists, of people exploring what it is to be human by tapping into countless millennia filled with human attempts to express truths bigger than we can contain in facts, to explore Aslan’s ‘deeper magic’, and hopefully inspire ourselves and others while acknowledging that it’s not solely our job to change or save the world. It’s OK for Picasso and LiveAid to exist in the same human experience.

The change of art is a consequence of us – collectively – allowing art to inform the human journey and challenge us to something bigger than numbers, bigger than self-interest, bigger than the fatalism that sees the destruction of the planet as something we can’t respond to positively and bring about a better future.

So, not a call to ignore representative, political art, certainly not an excuse to ignore the challenge of bringing about real change through art, but hopefully a release to allow ourselves to belong to art to, as Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov says of happiness in Crime And Punishment, ‘contribute our stone to the building up’ …of the sum total of art and its pivotal role in our human becoming.

- Steve Lawson

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