Friday, January 29, 2010

art and justice

this post was triggered by An Idea Called Tomorrow, an exhibition taking place at two Los Angeles institutions, as part of a unique collaborative partnership between the California African American Museum (CAAM) and the Skirball Cultural Center. the exhibitions' goal is to inspire visitors to reflect upon the active role we must all play in bringing about a more just, equitable, and peaceful future. to quote from (a really great art enewsletter):

The participating artists’ ethnicities and backgrounds are as diverse as their presentations, which address a broad range of social justice issues of both regional and global relevance, such as environmental sustainability, shelter for all, human equity, equal access and respect, healthy living, reconciliation and forgiveness, and cooperation and peace.

i'm often challenged by the question of art's ability to effect societal change. i believe it can be a catalyst for changing thinking around subjects, but if i truly want to help the poor i'm probably better off doing somethingconcrete. don't get me wrong - raising awareness around issues is important - but at some point i have to be the [active?] change agent. i mean, education by itself rarely impacts behaviour -- information doesn't equal knowledge, and knowledge is useless unless it's exercised with wisdom. that being said, i still think that artists (including visual artists, writers of all flavours, dancers, musicians, performers of every stripe, mimes and graphic designers) have a role to play in seeing justice.

in his book, the prophetic imagination, walter brueggeman writes: the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. further,

the alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on the one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. to that extent, it attempts to do what the liberal tendency has done: engage in a rejection and delegitimizing of the present ordering of things. on the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. to that extent, it attempts to do what the conservative tendency has done, to live in fervent anticipation of the newness that God has promised and will surely give.

essentially, these 2 approaches - criticizing and energizing - encompass the prophetic, or declarative, role of the artist as they engage with the culture(s) around them.

this raises an important question (for me, anyway): how can we, as followers of christ, and as artists, engage with the world -- what issues of justice, ethics and righteousness must we speak about?