Benefit Oriented Socially-Engaged Art

Jing Yang

Over the past half century, numerous art practices have expanded the field of art production across disciplinary boundaries and become more involved with non-art social institutions and organizations. These practices are often undertaken beyond the conventional venues such as galleries and museums. Focusing on dealing with social and political issues, these practices depend on, and value, the collaborative participation of people in communities. This unprecedented tendency has changed all aspects of art making, perception and distribution. These practices together demonstrate a multiform and contingent nature. Under the umbrella term “socially engaged art”, there are a variety of projects that differ from each other based on their purposes and, consequently, working methods. This dissertation sets forth the concept of benefit-oriented socially engaged art (BOSEA). Based on in-depth case study of the Art for the Disabled Scheme, and the Art and Culture Companions, this dissertation develops a better understanding of benefit-oriented socially engaged art practices within the framework of socially engaged art and their position within the whole scene of contemporary culture and art. Benefit-oriented socially engaged art practices aim at bringing benefits to individuals and communities through art-based services. These practices are often ignored and excluded from art discussions due to their practical purposes and functional mechanisms. This research reveals that although situated on a fuzzy territory between art and non-art, between art and social work, benefit-oriented socially engaged art practices still embody aesthetic value. The blossom of these projects reveals a new thinking about the relationship between contemporary art and society—art is used as a service to enhance the well-being of people, and a new way for artists to adopt creativity for providing holistic solutions in order to make social change on the grassroots level. The study of benefit-oriented practices points to an open future for art, and reveals the possibility to synthesize different research paradigms into a more unified worldview based on new understanding of the function of art and artists. 

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