[-empyre-] Art and Change

Joseph Delappe delappe at unr.edu
Sun Mar 17 04:58:27 EST 2013

Fascinating the interwoven threads this week.

Johannes, my first post did not include "fiction elements".  My intention in relaying such a prolonged narrative of my path to artist/activist was primarily to describe through personal experience some aspect of the power of art and ideas to transform one life.

It follows that I cannot abide by  your statement, "And i think we all agree that art doesn't change reality too much."  Perhaps I am wrong but I see such sentiments as a self-imposed, regressive limitation of the role of artists in the world. This kind of sentiment lets artists off the hook, allowing us to hide away in our studios.  If one considers the "Art World" - as described in Sarah Thorton's "Seven Days in the Art World", I might entirely agree with your statement.

Yet there is an alternative "art world" that is working in a very different direction from the "Art World",  where artists are concerned with real-world issues, raising awareness and actively seeking to create change.  I think of "The Yes Men", who so creatively "game" the system through actions that are at once political protest, performance art and brilliant media spectacle.  Or Fritz Haeg's "Edible Estates" project (http://www.fritzhaeg.com/garden/initiatives/edibleestates/main.html)  from the website: "Edible Estates is an ongoing initiative to create a series of regional prototype gardens that replace domestic front lawns, and other unused spaces in front of homes, with places for families to grow their own food."  Or Mierle Laderman Ukeles decades of work to both build awareness and change our relationship to our garbage in her role as the long term Artist in Residence at the New York Department of Sanitation, creating such works as "Touch Sanitation".  There are of course many other examples of artists working in such a way to define themselves in large part in opposition to the dominant strains of artistic practice.

It is of course arguable that computer games (whether one considers them art or not) have changed our world - no less so than film or television have over the past century.  Are there examples of artist made games or interventions in games that have changed the world?  Did "September 12th" actually change anything?  Did "Darfur is Dying" actually make any difference? Did "dead-in-iraq" actually prevent anyone from joining the military?  These are difficult if not impossible to quantify.  Yet I would argue that such works at minimum work to change perceptions or provide a kind of alternative consideration of political and social contexts.  Does this eventually lead to change?  Perhaps I am making Johannes argument for him here but I cannot resign myself to believe that as artists we are helpless or incapable of actively working towards changing the world.  Whether it is through our creative practice or in our classrooms, we can offer some modicum of resistance or efforts towards creating change.  At least I hope so.

Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic or willfully blind to the reality of our negligible position as artists in our contemporary time and place.  Yet it would seem if we resign ourselves to such a devalued status in relation to the world, we become complicit.


Joseph DeLappe

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