The Laws of Nature

Monday, December 13, 2010

Art - Order - Society

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)

Image: The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili

We live in a world in which there is an immense amount of organization, but it is an external organization, not one of the ordering of a growing experience, one that involves, moreover, the whole of the live creature, toward a fulfilling conclusion. Works of art that are not remote from common life, that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified collective life. But they are also marvelous aids in the creation of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity.

Here, Dewey offers us a view of the dynamic and symbiotic relationship between society and art. Order is imposed upon art by society and art provides greater order to society. I have never considered this relationship in these terms, but it makes sense to me. After all, artists are part of society and also influence it. Works of art are deemed worthy or unworthy by society, but they also have the ability to influence and mold future generations of societies.

Does this mean that the individual artist is charged with the moral and ethical responsibility to create work that imposes greater order and unity upon the community? My personal opinion is “no.” I think it’s our responsibility to create according to our own conscience – to be our authentic selves. Society will judge whether or not our work contributes or detracts from the general order; whether or not our work serves to unify or divide us.

But, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I had not thought about art, society and order; most interesting. I agree with you. Artists need to create according to their personal vision. Plus, I think its a good thing when authentic art challenges the public order. It helps us see who we are and enriches are experience.

Casey Klahn said...

I agree with the no answer.

OTOH, my Modernists did contribute to society, culture and history (if you will) in an organized fashion. They had a group message. Same goes for other art movements.

Then there are those pesky Post-Modernists, and the dung painting belongs in that genre, I think. One thing you can say about the PM movement is that it did (past tense on purpose) seek to operate as a corporate movement to do something to culture. Perhaps loosely corporate, yet there is a definitive direction of the movement.

So art does operate to impose something on society. Order or disorder? That may be the question to consider.

Also on the other hand, love it or hate it, the Chris Ofili work is forever a part of the art canon.

-Don said...

I agree with "No".

If you take this line, "...the individual artist is charged with the moral and ethical responsibility to create work that imposes greater order and unity upon the community", and put it into a historical context you will find it to be a pretty darn good definition of propaganda.


Robin said...

If I think too much about why I am painting and what society will think of my paintings I would become inhibited. Is that selfish and irresponsible? I hope not. Society and patrons will determine the worth and value and it's out of my hands. And I am just trying to survive and nurture my creative inner self. Maybe survival mode is a reflection of life and society today! (thinking about Don's last 3-d painting too)

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - I agree. When art challenges us then it becomes even more important to society and its evolution. Good point!

Hi Casey - do you think that the PM art movement is a consolidated effort? By that, I mean to ask if you think that PM artists act more as a unified group than as individuals. I don't see an organized effort, but I do see a generally cooperative or collaborative effort to support the themes of PM art. What do you think?

Hi Don - Yes ... that's the word! Thanks.

Hi Robin - I think that the type of painting we do today is a selfish act because it's self-centered. However, that doesn't mean it's socially incorrect or harmful because our inner reflections that are outwardly expressed can have universal appeal and even a healing effect for others. But, I don't fool myself about it. Above all else, I paint to please myself.

Linda Roth said...

I think we're getting far too complicated. Art's place in society is not complicated. Artists are influenced by society and society is influenced by artists. It's a cybernetic affair of one hand washes the other.

An everyday example of artists influencing society and visa-versa is visible in women's fashions. Young teeny boppers (members of society) are dressing like hos because their rock stars (artists) are dressing like hos. Rock stars (artists) are dressing outlandishly to attract the attention of the public (society).
Then there was the hippy era and the flower children and coutour designers picked up on it that had us walking around in fringed vests, boostiers and peasant skirts. In my eyes, order has disintegrated at the hands of society and then artists. What we see now--look at me, look at me sensationalism--is simply due to over-population.--Andy's "everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame." Society came first, then art. You can't separate the history of art from the history of (sorry gals) mankind.
I do know absolutely that too much thinking about all this kills the artist in me. I won't allow that to happen.

Unknown said...

Hi LW - you make me smile :-)) I'm a bit of an existentialist and like the process of inquiry. To me, life's an exploration of the inner and outer spheres. There's much that isn't relevant to how I make art, but so much that IS. And, there are unintended consequences that I find interesting as well. It's like the butterfly effect, where we do something that ripples through society. It's not that I take all this terribly seriously - I do have a great sense of humor. And, as a child of the 60's, I like to get caught up with the "far out, man" discussions!
Yes, art is the product of society, and society is the product of human interactions.

Casey Klahn said...

I like Don's description - that those words are a good definition of propaganda. But, now we have political art. I consider it propaganda, and, at best, low art.

Kathy, I don't think the post modernists meet at The Cedars and commiserate. But, the impetus of destroying past institutions is a core theme. I'd say that is acting on the culture, and I see a lot of unity there.

My opinion of post modernism dims the more I think about it. But, one could argue against my modernists, too, I guess.

I do see the quote that Don posts as being way, way too narrow a function of art. And, I feel that the fine arts are finer the more universal they become. They belong to all mankind, not one group or two.

Linda Roth said...

Kathrine, at or with? If it's at: I get so tired of talking art. when Art is a silent form of communication, it's something you do.

All of the movements since the Salon des Refuse have given us examples of the many forms of artistic expression there are-- which opened up art making to everyone and made everyone in society able to define art for themselves. "There's really nothing more to talk about." she said putting on her smock and walking into the studio.
But before I go: I do agree with your no answer if I didn't say so before.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - good point! Thank you.

Hi LW - Maybe you're right - there's no more discuss. This is a good time to take a break. Perhaps there will be something to chat about in January .... or, maybe not.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I posted a comment last night which didn't take; it said:

I'm listening and I really like the Ofili work.

Then I googled him and read about elephant dung. I still like the work--maybe he's an early green artist.

Mark Sheeky said...

To me the question is immaterial; an artist has to express him or herself.