Socially Engaged

The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents

Bishop, Claire.

Claire Bishop’s short paper begins with a curious quote from Dan Graham: “All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more critical, and more real than art” (60). A brazen comment, this generalization gives Bishop’s discussion a provocative start. It also anticipates her assumption that all “real” art is necessarily concerned with aesthetics. This helps to explain her interest in discussing “the social turn” as Art—or, more accurately, a lack thereof. 

After briefly describing both the recent proliferation of publicly engaged art practices and their value as therapy for repairing the social bond, Bishop maps prevailing perceptions of this art as polarized. There are the “non-believers,” the aesthetes who dismiss the art as uninteresting, and there are “the believers” the zealots, the activists who, according to Bishop, “…reject aesthetic questions a s synonymous with the market and cultural hierarchy” (61). Curiously, Bishop fails to identify a third group: that is, the ambivalent believers, who, like Bishop and myself, sit between these two positions. Our group is comprised of art lovers and makers alike who wonder why we ask so little of art? Why can it not be both politically charged and aesthetically interesting at the same time?

Unfortunately, this is not a question being asked enough by critics, in part because critics aren’t asking many (if any) questions of socially engaged practices these days (Though it could well be argued this symptomatic of the death of criticism more generally). Bishop offers two complimentary explanations for this. On the one hand, there is the problem of authorial renunciation. Still rooted in a romantic notion of art, contemporary criticism is easily disorientated by the absence of a single and clearly defined author. Without this figure on which to peg their discourse, critics have instead turned to the intention of the work, specifically its so-called ethical intentions. Forgoing discussion about aesthetic quality, they instead explore the work’s therapeutic value evinced through its working processes.

READ: Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents.”

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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