Monday, 8 January 2018

Questions regarding where (art) academia meets activism meets real life

This line of thinking is perhaps particularly pertinent, at least for me, with regard to the history of art. Working on a PhD in this field at the moment, I find myself questioning the place of art within world and the ways in which it contributes to it generatively. How can art bring criticism to life and how does it affect people? How can we make sense of the difficulties the general public may have with modernism and how can we find an art practice that is affective, emotional, political, formal all at once? Or, is it ok that different works of art propose different effects on its viewer? How do I explain my love for a Josef Albers painting from his series Homage to the Square? How to explain that these works make me feel something phenomenological or otherwise outside of colour theory, outside of the intellectual return to Malevich’s Black Square? What is art supposed to do?

Turning my mind then toward documentary, a form of making that has always been an important part of my research and art historical practice, I admit that in certain respects, it has always been easier for me, in its realism over abstraction, to reckon with as political or partaking in activism. Yet, Rosler and Sekula’s theoretical writings on documentary show that this medium too fails time and again to be truly documentarian, to be truly political or to have true impact on the world, bringing real change.

As a young scholar in art history, questions on the involvement of my work in real life have begun to haunt me and I write this post to try to explore my efforts to find meaning in my scholarship and to remember this moment of confusion so that I might always return to why I feel art history is important. But perhaps more on that another time.

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