Why Isn’t Art Used To Change The World?

- - Art, From The Field

Jonathan Blaustein talks with Jörg Colberg of the blog Conscientious about using art to change the world.

Jonathan Blaustein: I wrote a long article recently about my trip to Reno, and you pulled from it a particular question and posted it on Conscientious. I thought it might be interesting to turn that back on you and start there. I have the question right here on my little note sheet.

Jörg Colberg: It doesn’t look like a fake note sheet like Jon Stewart’s, though.

JB: No, it’s real. I even have magazines here (waving them in front of the webcam.) We’re going to get into all the good stuff. Let’s start with that question, and hopefully it won’t seem ridiculous that I’m quoting myself right now.

“I’m wondering why I didn’t hear more [at the A+E conference in Reno] about how we, as artists, can use a variety of skill sets and methods to expand the reach of our work, to recruit new viewers, to communicate a message in a manner that will speak to more people without dumbing down the art in the process?”

I’m assuming the question must have been intriguing to you, because you quoted it. So what were your first thoughts on that, as a starting point?

JC: There are a lot of hooks in that quote.

JB: Sure. We can start with any little part of it. Maybe I can give a little back story. You responded to a Google+ post that I did on the Reno article, and then you and I started going back and forth briefly, before we decided to flesh it out further in this interview.

JC: I don’t know whether I have the real answer. I have my own personal answer, and that’s biased in all kinds of ways.

JB: Of course. I’ll stipulate to all of your biases, and you can stipulate to mine. How about we start there.

JC: All right. I think the first thing is, a lot of the talking that’s going on online is about artists using their skill sets for social media and promotion. That’s the first thing. There is very little talk (or maybe I’m just missing all that talk) about what you’re talking about. You know, how artists can use a variety of skill sets to expand the reach of their work. Expanding the reach of their work doesn’t seem to get beyond making sure that more people see it to potentially buy a book or buy a print. I could be mistaken, but that’s something that I’ve been rather critical of, more and more. Social media is really just about blanket promotion, because, in theory, it could be about exactly what you’re talking about. Reaching more people, and talking about the work, and what’s behind the work, and how what is behind the work has connections to all these other things that go on in non-artists’ lives.

JB: You went right to social media, and of course social media was the impetus for this talk. Perhaps the rampant self-promotion we’re seeing on the web is finally wearing people out. You agree, I agree. But the exact same infrastructure, the social media infrastructure, just brought down regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The tool itself has already proven it’s power to do the impossible, or at least what people consider impossible.

JC: Yes and no. I think it’s disputed what the real power of social media is and how it contributed to the Arab Spring. But that aside, it’s a little like quoting the lottery winner. These are outlier events. I don’t deny that they’re true, but I think that using outlier events to prove a point is always a bit risky. Even if we stay with the Arab Spring, what brought down those regimes or what made people go to the street is not social media. It’s the willingness of those people to go out of the house and demand change.

JB: Of course.

JC: Social media alone are useless, unless… it’s the same with photography. I’m sorry if I’m hijacking this a little bit right now, but it’s this question, “Can photography change the world?” I don’t think it can, unless we learn our lessons from what it shows us, unless we decide do to something about it.

JB: That’s why I wanted to have this discussion. I’m talking about social media as an infrastructure. As an architecture that can be used, because all it is is a fancy term for the perfect information dissemination vehicle. Free, (sometimes) ubiquitous, let’s call it perfect, or certainly the best the world has ever seen. That’s where I think it starts to get interesting, when we talk about Art. You said, “Can photography change the world?”, and my article was basically written about an event where a bunch of artists were conceding that they could. And that they needed to, because Climate Change was such a dramatically horrific issue for humankind and animal kind.

I come from a background and an age where I’m trying to get over my cynicism about that idea. I feel like, coming up with Post-Modern theory in art school, there was an indoctrination against the idea that art could, or even ought to, aspire to create change. So leaving aside the bigger question of whether it can, we’re living in an age where most people don’t think they ought to try. It’s like a limited set of expectations of what our chosen calling can offer to the world. That’s where I want to start. That’s what the rallying cry was, though we’re probably not at that level where I can even call it a rallying cry. The question really is, “Why aren’t people even considering that it’s worth an attempt?”

JC: You know, I honestly don’t know. I think people make their decisions based on their personal beliefs and comfort levels. I have this idea that there’s this talk about the creative class. You’ve heard that term, right?

JB: Sure.

JC: I always thought that another name for the creative class would be the complacent class. It’s really rude, in a way, but I think it’s true. We’re so complacent about what we do. We want to change the world, and then we don’t want to do much about it. We think, “Well, if just click on ‘Like’ on Facebook for that cause, that’s going to make a big difference.” I suppose it makes a little bit of a difference, but you know, there are no consequences.

There are people who are really going out to change the world. I’m thinking of Pete Brook, who was just visiting here with his “Prison Photography on the Road.” He’s literally taking his blog to the road, staying with all these people and talking to them. He got started on Kickstarter, asking people for money, and a lot of artists donated prints so that he could give something back.

I think you can do something. Why people don’t do more? I don’t know. The situation is, I think, quite overwhelming. Every day, there is some other disaster. Some other drama going on. I guess there’s a sense of hopelessness. Of course, nobody can change all of the disasters and all the dramas, so I think you just have to pick one. But I don’t have a good answer. I don’t know why there is not more happening.

JB: To be clear, I don’t ever expect you to speak for anyone beyond yourself. In my belief as an artist, I find that ideas are often in the air. Oftentimes, you find that different people, in different parts of the world, are working on something similar without any connection. It’s our job, I think, to reach into the Zeitgeist and try to pull out these little nuggets of contemporary culture and then transform them, synthesize them.

In this week’s Newsweek, there’s an interview with Thomas Campbell, the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (By Blake Gopnik) In the headline, it mentions expanding the audience and not dumbing it down. And in the New Yorker, there was another article about the Met, because they’re rolling out the new Islamic Galleries. It discussed how the Met devised a really fancy lighting installation at the edge of the gallery to entice people inside. I was surprised that this idea was reflected back at the highest institutional level, because, in a sense, we’re talking about artists on the street and the power structure as well. Clearly, the idea is out there.

We both could speculate as to why people aren’t necessarily ambitious or political in their content, oftentimes, but I would say that the bigger idea that we can talk about is, how we even consider going about enlarging the tent? What can we do to try to increase it’s power? At least here in the United States. What are you seeing, as far as artists’ attempts to reach across the divide?

JC: The problem in the US is pretty unfortunate, because the arts are pretty marginalized. I grew up in Germany, I lived there for 30 years. I don’t want to pretend that it’s the artistic paradise, because it certainly isn’t. But Art is talked about more often than here. There’s Art education in schools. All the way up to high school, I had to take classes in Art and Music. That was just something that I had to do. I didn’t have a choice. Just like German and English and Mathematics, you’d have a class on Art. I actually learned how to knit in school. That’s completely useless for me, as far as I’m concerned, but I learned it anyway.

JB: Knitting was useless for you, and Algebra was useless for me. We’re even.

JC: Art here has a different connotation. The high falutin’ people with their crazy ideas that are very different from the common man or regular folks. You have that in Germany too, but I know that a lot of people go to art galleries or to museums in Germany that would never go here. I know a lot of people are really interested in Art, and what’s going on here. I go to a diner every Saturday for breakfast, because I like to hang out at the counter. I talk a lot with people, and they are actually interested in what’s going on. The discourse about Art is just messed up. Funding for Art doesn’t exist, or is very minor. And that’s sort of at the very basic level.

One way to really make a difference, and I know it sounds naive, would be to send a letter to your Congressman saying “Why are we not funding the arts more?” Because there are jobs in the arts, obviously, but also because there is something that Art has to offer everybody. That’s the first aspect. The second aspect is maybe related. Art has such a weird standing. A lot of people don’t really like to talk about themselves as artists that change the world. It sort of has a bad feeling to it, and I don’t know why that is. Maybe the people who went to art school know there’s all this Post-Modern bullshit, so I can’t do that. I don’t think that every artist should try to change the world. It’s completely up to them. But I think every artist should really think about this. Do I want to change the world, or what do I want to do? What do I want my Art to do?

JB: I agree with you, but I don’t want this to just be, “Well no, I agree with you.” “But no, I agree with you.”

JC: That would be boring, right?

JB: Exactly. We have to get the controversy in here somewhere, or I won’t sell newspapers. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m not actually trying to sell newspapers. What I’m very curious about right now is…you’re presenting Art in a different context and a different culture, Germany. I think most art-literate folks are going to know that it’s the case. In Europe, there’s more cultural support for the arts. In the US, we acknowledge that the arts are marginalized, and that there is a heavy emphasis on Class and Status and Power within the Art world.

JC: Right.

JB: It’s a separate question to say “How do we go about changing that?”

JC: Really, that’s what it comes down to. I just watched this documentary by Robert Hughes, the art critic, called “The Mona Lisa Curse.” I don’t know whether you’ve seen it.

JB: No.

JC: You can find a version with Spanish subtitles on Youtube. He was talking about how the art world has changed, has become incredibly commercialized. And how that is affecting the way Art is being done and talked about. I think we can, as artists, (and I’m calling myself an artist), we can take that back. It’s just that easy, but of course it’s not really easy. It’s just like Pete. He went on the road, and he’s doing it. There’s nothing, in principal, that can stop us from doing that. Creating something where we interact with people, and just disseminate what we do, and talk about it more. Bringing it to people who might be interested.

JB: I suppose we’re doing it right now. Or at least, the first step. But Art has always been used in service of power and in service of information dissemination. Look at the way it was used by the Catholic Church, or by the Mayan Ruling Class. At this point, I think we could say that at it’s highest levels, maybe it’s been hijacked in service of Capitalism. You said Commercialism, but in service of the Market.

JC: It doesn’t have to be that way.

JB: Referring back to that Newsweek article, it said that the Met had something like 5.8 million viewers last year. Now, it’s probably more than this, but let’s say that 1/3 of those viewers are tourists to New York coming in on the cheap dollar. So let’s say 4 million Americans. That’s not much more than 1% of the US population right there.

JC: That should tell us something, right? The Met is kind of a special example, because it’s the artificial environment that is New York City. I read that there was some talk about where do the 1% live, and there are several zip codes in New York where many of the top 1% of the wealthiest people live.The people that go to the Met, a lot of them are actually well off, as are many people who go on vacation to New York.

I think we should be looking at museums in places like Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. Places that are more regular, or behaving more like the average American city. Let’s see how museums are faring there? Whether people go to shows? Then we should think about what we can do to bring Art to people. I think museums are great, galleries are great, but of course they are environments that are kind of artificial. I think they can be intimidating. They’re certainly making every effort to be intimidating.

JB: I agree. I don’t think that point gets made enough. American’s really don’t like to talk about Class, I have found.

JC: No.

JB: So let’s sit on that idea. Museums in Pittsburgh, or Kansas City. Or, like I speculated in that article about Reno, outside of museums entirely. Listen, I’m a huge fan of Art Museums. I was brought up in suburban New Jersey. It was Bruce Springsteen country. Unpretentious. Blue collar, or at least a Blue Collar Mentality, where you do your work and you keep it real. I was just back in New York, and I’m going to write some articles about it, but I saw this fantastic show at PS1. (Article to come…) I was in New Jersey, talking about it with some relatives of mine.

I thought they’d be interested in the exhibition, as they had some personal connections to the subject matter. I brought up the show, and I talked about PS1 and Long Island City, and they said, “How come we’ve never heard of it?” Actually, what they said was “How come no one has ever heard of this place?” Of course, I said, some people have heard of it. You have to kind of be inside the club, or in the know, to hear about these things. As I was saying that, it just seemed so absurd.

So this is where we have to start. Because once I told them what I’d seen, they were ready to get in the car and drive to Queens. What we’re talking about is, if the mechanism of communication is there, which it is, and I think that the quality of work that one could see in the United States, probably across the country, is really high. So we cycle back to enticing or alluring people to open their minds enough to experience a different kind of media. Isn’t that really what we’re talking about?

JC: To an extent. I don’t think people have to be enticed, actually. I think a lot of people are actually more interested in some of the issues we deal with than we think they are. I think the PS1 problem is a good problem. For example, I don’t know where your relatives live, if they have a local newspaper. But that’s the first problem, is if they still have a local newspaper. And if that local newspaper still has an arts writer, then that arts writer might have written about it. It’s likely that there is no local newspaper any longer, and even if there is a local newspaper, then the arts writer is long gone, because there is no money for that. So it’s no surprise that your relatives have never heard of that show because…

JB: They never even heard of the venue.

JC: Is there a local newspaper?

JB: They live in New Jersey. It’s the New York area, so their daily newspapers are the Times and the Post. But it’s not just access to information…

JC: It is access to information. That’s part of it. But we need to create a culture where Art is being talked about on a more regular basis. Not just as a special section that’s called Art. People have to start realizing that what’s in the Art section is not just abstract paintings of things that nobody understands. It’s a lot of stuff that affects our lives. I guess that’s where we start agreeing again.

JB: Right. It keeps coming back to the How? And in a sense, the Why? Of course it’s about access to information, but I think it is very difficult for people to want to talk about that attitude and air of exclusivity that derives it’s power from keeping people out.

JC: So we have to take that away.

JB: Well, we can say “How” all day long, but maybe by saying “How” we’ll get some other people to think about it. It’s interesting that I got to read about the views of the head the Metropolitan Museum of Art talking about these issues in the same week that we are. When you read this stuff, it comes with this defensive slant. Like, “Yes, it’s nice to get the attendance numbers up, but, God forbid, too many people seeing this stuff means it’s less good. Or, it has to be a blockbuster show. If you want people to come, it has to be Tim Burton, you have to show movies. I disagree. When I first encountered the World’s best Art, and I was very fortunate, before the dollar went to shit and the economy went to hell, I was able to travel to Europe, and I lived in New York. A lot of my passion for Art comes from that physical experience of standing in front of something, and having your mentality shift in realtime. I believe, like you, that if more people were introduced to that experience, without changing that experience, people would get it.

JC: It is a big question. You have to start somehow. I don’t have a magic solution. There’s all kinds of things you could imagine. What it comes down to, literally, is bringing art to people. By showing it, by talking about it. There is no reason why interesting Art should always be in big museums in big cities. You can imagine, something that I’ve always talked about but never done it, is to rent a barn from a local farmer and do an art show for two weeks. Just bring in a bunch of artists, and put up a show, with advertising and everything. People have to drive to the countryside to see it. It’s a beautiful drive out here (Western Massachusetts) anyway. You would visit art, and it would be embedded in a community that maybe doesn’t have so much access to that kind of stuff. And then after two weeks, its gone. You don’t have the overhead of keeping up a museum, and you would take art of of it’s context that it’s in right now. This high falutin’ world with a lot of pretense. With a lot of money. With a lot of expectations, and a lot of stuff. I think it’s doable.

Even the web. Just talking about Art, or making multi-media pieces about Art. I think that’s why multi-media can be good, it is because you can bring the experience of Art closer to people. As photographers, we’re lucky, because photography is an ideal medium for the web.

JB: Sure. Photography and the web changed my life. I’m living proof of how well jpegs can work. Yet that was never my goal, nor was it the optimal way for people to experience my work, when things are meant to be big. But I think you hit on it…

JC: That’s the thing. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but people are worried that that’s not the optimal way to experience their work. Of course, I hear that a lot, because I’m a blogger. People say that it doesn’t look so good on the screen. But that’s totally missing the point. If you get curious about photography, or you get curious about photo books because you see me flipping through a photo book in a crappily made video, you might go out and buy that book, right?

JB: Right.

JC: And then, suddenly, you have the book and you start looking. That’s kind of what I think I can do. Show and say let’s look at this, this might be interesting. The viewer still has to make that step: I’m going to go and see that show. Or: I’m going to buy that book. I think putting it out there, and saying this might interest you has got to be the first step. And with photography, there are books. They’re not even that expensive.

JB: Look, I’ve said this in print several times. The experience of knowing that millions of people around the planet were thinking and talking about my work, it was indescribably awesome. Brilliant. But when I know that the pictures, in my head, and on the wall are meant to be seen at 30″x40″. You can’t experience a 30″x40″ print on a white wall through the Internet. It’s not either or, here, between the Internet and the wall. It’s both.

But the idea that I want to sit with, for a minute, was that you talked about this idea of bringing Art out to the people, and I talked about it in my Reno article. Now Kickstarter is there. Maybe we’re really talking around it, but Occupy Wall Street came from a call from the media, right? Adbusters. I’m not, in any way, about to speculate that you and I chatting via Skype can have even a fraction of the impact. However, maybe it’s something as simple as saying, let’s do it. Let’s try to organize a series of ten pop up art exhibitions in interesting places in the United States, and let’s raise the 50 Grand that’s necessary, and let’s publicize the shit out of it. And let’s take Art to the people. And whether “Let’s” is you and me, or people that we know, or people who read this…maybe that is the start. Is to say, “OK. Let’s do it.”

JC: Why not, right?

JB: Well, I live in Northern New Mexico, and you can bet your ass that people would like to see photo installations and projections on the sides of cliffs. I know I would.

JC: I think it’s actually doable. You could certainly reach enough people. We’d have to plan it.

JB: Of course.

JC: You’d literally make these shows for a week or two. Maybe you could tap local arts organizations. They might be happy to help. I don’t know. But I think that something could be done. Yes.

JB: Yes.

JC: And I think that would be a good start. You do this in ten cities? Just imagine. Even five cities.

JB: Or, as you said, rural areas.

JC: It would be so amazing.

JB: Or maybe it’s both. You just never know. I’m not saying we’re going to light the spark. I’m just saying we can’t rule out the possibility. I think we hit on something.

JC: It’s just something that we have to do now.

JB: Do you want to follow up on this? Do you want to put a little elbow grease in? Or should we let other people do it?

JC: In this day and age, especially with something like this, it shouldn’t be something that one or two people are doing. You have to make sure you get 5 or 6 people together.

JB: Right.

JC: So you sort of have a collective.

JB: Let’s get Art out of the temples, and out into the cow pastures and smaller cities.

JC: I think it’s a great idea. It sounds so populist. It is a really good idea.

There Are 21 Comments On This Article.

  1. Billy Delfs

    On the point of art to the masses and or the acceptence and appriciation of art being helpful to promote change. Look at Cleveland Ohio for one example. Many great things are happening and have happened here over the past few years. I think that has a lot to do with art or rather expression of ideas.

    There was a tax on cigarettes, granted something simple, but it drew a lot of money that was put forth to the city and the arts.

    Currently there is more appreciation in a way and more people interested and being exposed to work. In turn the community has begun development and are attracting more people (a new generation if you will) to this city. It is keeping the ones getting out of school here to stay and others are moving here.

    Now, larger companies are growing and the downtown infrastructure is being transformed.

  2. We definitely need to bring art to the small, rural areas. Downtowns filled with empty store fronts, nowhere for young adults to gather and spend time… that is small town america right now (unless you live in a niche arts community.)

    I became aware of cultural council grants my small town in Massachusetts was giving out. Every year they give money to groups looking to put on acapella concerts and holiday celebrations (which are fine) but no one ever utilized these grants to put something on regarding visual arts that would bring people together. I proposed a photo exhibit of long exposures from around town, of ordinary places we don’t bother to pay much attention to. I got the grant and put on my show. It was a great success and the community is still talking about the photography… good times.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think we need people to stop treating their small home towns as bedroom communities, where they sleep at night, but do everything else for business and pleasure somewhere else (the city nearby etc…) and start making their towns better. Better by bringing the Art to the people like you said.

      • These are simple, direct questions.
        Valid actions, theories, methods are clear cut and testable.
        Science, business, engineering, and many other fields (that DO “change the world” ) use testable, reasonable methods. Almost all the tools and materials ‘artists’ use have been created with methods that require and use testability.

        If we can’t examine and identify this “change” how do we know it has (or has not) happened? How do we communicate this change to others? How do we understand it as change? (‘Do you know what I’m sayin’ man?’ Yeah I catch your drift man, it’s like this…’ )

        If art is such a a strong force for change why hasn’t it (or where has it) been used for change?

        Even if Derrida is dead (whom I’ve never read anyway) how would that change valid reasoning? Newton is dead too, but gravity appears to still be with us. Your reaction doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t represent reason.

        Art is subjective. How people interpret art is subjective. Art falls in and out of favor on a regular basis. Go look in basements of museums, you’ll find all sorts of pieces the curators wouldn’t put on display today. Yesterday it was great, and tomorrow too it may be great. Maybe Derrida is unfashionable now too, I wouldn’t know. Your question, “Why Isn’t Art Used To Change The World?” Could be asked about fashion too, they both share very similar constructs. Art IS used to change the world, but elitists don’t call it ART. Advertising, commercial communication, journalism, design, public relations, pop music, pop cinema, political and cultural lobbying (influence/propaganda) are all forms of art which have changed the world – positively and negatively.

        • I’ve been following this thread (not just this part of it) and have been reluctant to get more deeply involved because I support and admire what both Joerg and Jonathan do and are doing.

          However, on this issue I’d like to raise some points, or, perhaps, more accurately. . .some opinions.

          When I hear about someone wanting to change the world the last thing I would think of as an objective would be “increasing the audience for contemporary art and photography in the United States”. I usually think of things like keeping politicians in check, or helping to stop the spread of AIDS, fighting fascism, stuff like that, as “changing the world”. I suppose I was thinking too narrowly, vis-a-vis how J.B. and J.C.’s discussion panned out and concluded.

          Seems to me that that objective (increasing the audience for artists) is really just a first step to changing the world. . .infrastructure.

          When it comes, though, to whether art (and here I’ll suppose we are talking about Fine Art) can have an effect on the way the future will unroll, I’m a bit more cynical. (See my previous comment down this thread.)

          Seems to me that one reason why the initial discussion settled for what it settled for might be that that is something that can be achieved without leaving the confines of the altars of Fine Art, not really having to get your hands dirty in the rough and tumble world of the street and the real-life back alleys of actual agitation.

          But in the end it has to be admitted that there are all kinds of ways to change the world (both good and bad, it must be said) and I will respect (almost) anyone who puts their money where their mouth is, no matter where their mouth is, the exception being any kind of fundamentalism, which, by definition, precludes dialogue and progress.

          • Hi Tony,

            Thanks for taking the time to push the discussion along. Really, this interview was the direct result of an article I wrote for APE about a conference of artists in Reno who were up in arms about the impending cataclysm of Climate Change, but were totally comfortable preaching only to themselves. So I wondered, in my article, why those same artists were not talking about enlarging the audience for their work, given that said work was attempting to stem the tide of death and destruction. Sometimes, talking only amongst ourselves is not enough. It leads to the factionalization that is so prevalent here in the US at present.

            Joerg quoted me in just that manner on his blog. Why aren’t more artists talking about “enlarging the tent.” So rather than viewing our conversation as settling, as you have, I view it as a linear extension of a specific idea. I admit the headline is a bit misleading. I never said I wanted to “change the world,” because that is such a vague concept.

            I saw from your website that you live in Canada. Here in the US, Visual Art sits at the margins, with a fraction of the audience or attention devoted to Music, Film, and other media. So given that there are many American Artists working on powerful and relevant ideas, (myself included, I’d like to think,) then it seems natural to want to get more people to pay attention. Such an entrenched situation is unlikely to change by itself.

            The fundamental question is whether we as artists believe there is an inherent value to society in what we do. It’s easy to say that aid workers and rape counselors make a difference. I get that. But I believe that art can have a tremendous impact on the artist, the viewer, and a community as well. So I’d like to try to make that happen. I’m having a hard time seeing why this is a controversial idea.

            • Jonathan ~

              To talk to your last point first: I don’t think working to expand the audience for Art is controversial. I hang with folks all the time who are trying to do just that. And, believe you me, I do too. I’m always looking to show my work to people who have not seen it. My blog, as well, spends a certain amount of time showing other’s work and asking questions both of myself and other photographers, the idea being to get folks thinking and, more importantly, questioning. . .
              mostly themselves. I sometimes wonder if I’m too strident. (Then shrug my shoulders and think to myself: “Who cares?”, or maybe: “So what?”).

              re: USA vs Kanadian support for visual arts. We in this country have just acquired a very hard-right nut as Prime Minister. He’s pretty fundamental, a megalomaniac and petty to boot. The arts community is up in arms because of the government’s cultural policy (which I won’t get into here, you can probably picture it). I, on the other hand (being a sort of contrary person) believe that it is in opposition that most meaningful art gets made, so wonder and wait for the frontline artist-folk to pick up their metaphorical swords (or Molotov Cocktails) and get swinging (or throwing).

  3. Billy and Damien,
    Thanks for sharing that information. It’s great to hear.
    Jörg and I are working on some ideas, and will spread the word on how people can join in, as soon as we’re ready.


  4. Stella Kramer

    I think this is a very important thing to be talking about–how can or can art change the world? There are several people I can think of including Pete Brook who are dedicated to bringing art out of the museums and galleries and into peoples’ lives: Jennifer Schwartz with her recently funded Crusade for Collecting, Lori Waselchuk with her Grace Before Dying projects, Aaron Huey–there are others as well. But to take photography out of the realm of career, and put it into the realm of thought provoking medium is something you cannot expect from the majority of people. I say that because too many photographers are solely concerned with making money, not art, and that’s too bad. It makes me wonder what they are trying to say or if they are trying to say anything.
    But there are always those who deal with larger ideas and look for unique ways to bring their art into people’s lives. It isn’t safe to put your work out there in a new way , challenging people and seeing what happens. And while that is exactly what I think art should do, it requires taking a chance.
    I volunteer right now to join you in finding ways to produce art in unexpected places. Let’s continue to expand this idea.

  5. Seems to me that art doesn’t change the world, it reflects it.

    It may be true that that reflection joins in with the millions of other pieces of data and human emotions we bump into (and maybe even contemplate) every day, to shift perspective slightly, to maybe motivate.

    But to put art on that particular pedestal (changing the world) is unrealistic.

  6. If you want to see a small city that has totally embraced intergrating art into the community visit Portland ME. Radiating out from the very good art museum in the center you will find vibrant art in all forms in 90% of the business and throughout the city in public places. Much could be learned from studying how Portland fostered this environment.

  7. Art has a hard time “changing” anything as long as it remains so heavily reliant on the financial funding of those on top. I have occasionally managed to draw attention to the inequities and inequalities of racial representation in photography on both sides of the lens- not once has a major minority arts organization or individual even joined in the discussion, they know where there funding comes from.

    Recently I floated the idea about photographers/artists joining together to boycott Amazon until they start treating their workers like human beings- not one response. Many photographer-bloggers have an Amazon button, others aren’t going to pay the exttra dollar no matter who suffers…

  8. blake andrews

    If by change you mean political change, I don’t think photography has any burden. Why can’t photography just exist in its own place? Why does it need to create change? Someone can write a song or a poem or throw a pot and be perfectly happy to just have it exist for its own sake. Why can’t photography? I love what Pete Brook is doing but I don’t want to see that model applied to all photographers. By imposing such a motive I think you may do more damage than good.

    If you mean change in nonpolitical terms, any great art made in any medium will probably have some effect eventually.

    Or not.

    • Hi Blake,
      As I said in the interview, as far as change goes, I’m personally interested in increasing the audience for contemporary art and photography in the United States. That’s a grand goal, admittedly, but things like that tend to work incrementally. It goes without saying that each and every photographer, painter, sculptor or film-maker ought to make Art about whatever he or she chooses.

      As you can see in the article above, over the course of our conversation, Joerg and I came feel that perhaps we ought to stop bitching about why other people weren’t doing this or that. Action speaks louder than words, as they always say.

  9. A while back I read an article about art shows being viewed in a number of homes spread out around a community. I thought it was a unique idea. It allows average person the access to art they may be interested in. Bringing art to a community is an easy thing to do, put out the call, have a few curators that work with regional contacts who are willing to manage a group to get it out there. Social media can work to bring movement to changing the needed attention the arts should be getting. I threw a link to this up on G+.

    A far as what kind of change art can bring, politically or otherwise, look at the propaganda films made during WWII or even better yet look at Eddie Adams and how his work affect people all around the world. To think that photography or art can’t change the world is only true if there is a lack of persistence to effect that change.

    You guys both said it. it takes action, focus to continue the action, and collective to maintain the awareness.

    Tony Fouhse art does change the world, it gives cause for people like me to go out an create a story about what needs attention so change can take place. IF photographers around the world worked as a collective many changes can take place, at the minimum bring awareness to the masses so they can effect change.

  10. Maybe it’s because they’re not artists. The higher and more refined are entertainers at best and the rest it’s just a circus side show. Together they’re an army of mercenaries, ready to sell anything to anybody for the sake of Holy Me. And, sometimes you get tiny trolls bragging about their high standards of not working with the Tobacco Industry or giving unsold works to some charity in order to free up some studio space. Is this comedy or tragedy?

  11. Even if it means to “deconstruct” i’d like to enter the discussion with some de-construction.
    Where does Art come from? Aura questions aside, representation was needed to ritual (an individual craft in favour of the collective), followed by representation for exhibition (the collective gives the ground for the individual expression, but it’s not a collective thing anymore, even if it looks like one).
    Art for the ritual collective seems nowadays to be reserved for “Burning Man” like events. We can even discuss if the ritual is good/bad (idolatrization or soul quest etc). Since Art is connected between the poles of self-expression and complex integration of that individual expression into collective, there might no be a sure way to tell if it can bring change or to put it differently, what types of change does it bring. In fact Art, when facing the main challenges that everyone does (death, unemployment, broke relationships, disease), doesn’t seem to bring any kind of change or even relief. It’s not to Art that people turn when they need change in their lives, nor individually neither collectively. Is it Art important? It is, but what is the degree of importance that it delivers on a personal and social, economical and political level?

    Everyone already thought a lot about the “change” that the 30’s FSA works brought and all other “concerned” artists that followed. No one never came to a solid conclusion, but pages of history of photography are filled with that mention. Does Susan Meiselas work brings more change than Roger Ballen’s? Why? How? Did Radical Formalism in the Sovie Union change a lot of people, or do we need “isms” in order to sustain our own sense of being and identity.

    One might say that changed when face with this or that work of Art. But what changed? Long term change, short-term? Opinion change? Even if change is embedded in us, how can we be so sure that we changed, and when, and how.

    If the discussion is “let’s bring art to people” because we want to show our work to more people of course we’re already supporting the idea that through exhibition, some information is communicated, some change might occur through it.

    On a individual level i want to take control of the bases for my own change. I need to be conscious about what is making me change, what concepts, beliefs, dogmas or truths i might have to face and what measures i might take in order to make it. Even if Art shows me something, i hardly believe that just be seeing or thinking about it it is going to somehow change in a radical way. My opinion might change, but am i my opinion?

    Alec Soth had an “entertaining” artcile a few weeks ago when we mentioned John Gossage and his “non-entertainment”. Certainly Debord is in the way, but they might both mean the same, Art makes you, it’s “producer”, think, but after you deliver it to the world, even with all your expectations, do others think? Is it your function to make them think? Change starts by you and you only and the main subject of your Art is you. When i attain a skillfull level with your Art you raise above the collective and that’s another matter. Is this system of merit, reward and collective life good for us at this moment? Isn’t what OWS is all about?

    On a collective level we need change. But the problem is that there is NO way of operatinh change outside the individual level. We can see history going in circles here. The paradigm of modernity was change and progress. Am i being too post-modernist? Can we all go to the shrink/healer/fortune teller/whatever starting today?

    Carl Rogers, an american psychologist, humanist father of counselling, defined 3 conditions for enduring personal change (mental & emotional) : unconditional acceptance, emphatic compreehension and congruence. The facilitator had to reunite all the 3 in order to trigger change in the client.

    Can Art serve as facilitator? Can you operate your own change facing Art?

    So many questions i(we) left without answer. But i surely appreciate all our efforts.


  12. Jörg Colberg: “What it comes down to, literally, is bringing art to people. ”

    Art does change the world……one person at a time.

    I volunteer teaching mosaic art to men that are recovering from addiction at a homeless shelter in Detroit. It is miraculous the transformation taking place with these men, who sometimes have never had an art class. Through the simple activity of putting the broken pieces together, the men are creating a new vision of themselves.

    When we as artists support others in developing creativity, we are changing the world. I see it every single week. Here is a recent blog article on the program – http://blog.thedetroithub.com/author/ahennen/