The Responsibility of the Artist

2 Nov 2009 jane

For many people the C Words season raises questions about the responsibility of artists and creative practitioners in the context of the social and environmental challenges which our society faces. Last week’s Embedded conference sought – in part – to explore this issue.

For some – Art sits outside a frame of responsibility – Art might be seen as a-moral and as such artists’ primary, if not only responsibility may be to aesthetics. Yet this model sits uneasily alongside a political discourse which has begun to accept that each of us shares a degree of responsibility for climate change in the form of our own greenhouse gas emissions. That being the case, we must all shoulder a share of the burden in cutting emissions and bringing climate change under control.

C Words uses the language of Climate Justice, and opened with a quote from the Indian writer and activist Vandana Shiva: “The energy and climate-change crisis stands as a unique social and ecological challenge… Those least responsible for climate change are worst affected by it.”

We live in a culture, a society which finds it difficult to take responsibility, the concept of climate justice represents a huge challenge to this norm. Any just framework for addressing climate change forces us each to take responsibility both individually and collectively. We must be the change we would like to see in the world – as Gandhi put it.

To expect someone else to clear up our mess is essentially infantile. If we accept that each of us must take responsibility for our own actions as human beings, why should our responsibilities be any different as artists? If we take responsibility as human beings how can that not shape our artistic-practice? There is an overlap between politics and aesthetics.

No one asks whether engineers should produce work which is relevant or useful. Engineering makes things, it is assumed that it should make things that help to solve the challenges faced by society. Similarly, the arts can be viewed as a manufacturing industry: Artists make things. Sometimes a sculpture or a painting, sometimes a story or a performance. Why should we treat the artist differently from the engineer? Surely the creative industries must equally help to solve the challenges faced by society?

C Words Co-Realizer.

Focus Areas