Tag Archives: Pan Afrika

Dare I ask? Just what IS the role of an artist in society today?

I think I just heard a strange sound…..must have been the sound of a can of worms being opened.

I pose this question in the wake of being accused by a local “arts advocate” of not participating, of sitting on the sidelines and criticizing instead of “rolling up my sleeves and making change by participating”. And all along I thought I was participating! So I started wondering, just what exactly is it that is expected or desired of a artist in our society/community today?

Let me begin by saying that I am as confused by this question as anyone. I could come up with some eloquently waxed statements on the matter. It of course leads to other questions-such as, “What is the role of ART in society today?”. And the omnipresent question “What is ART?”.

Let me start small. Sometimes nibbling around the edges lets me figure things out as I go so I’ll just start by saying that making things with my hands seems to be embedded deeply in my DNA. Also, that I’m not really convinced that I am an artist. See I told you I was confused. If I ever had to go out and get what my parents termed “a real job” it wouldn’t quell the deep need I have to create things. Perhaps a 12 step program or a religious conversion would do the trick, but I doubt it. It’s just there.
So I have gone along with it since I was a child and worked it out so it could pay the bills.

Here are some other questions that come up:
Does everyone need art in their life?
-probably not, of course there are many cases one could site on this one.
Are we happier as a society with art and artists in our midst?
-I think so……
But why?
-here is where it gets more difficult. More subjective.

Does the artist’s role change in relationship to the changing needs of society? If you read this book, What is Art For? by Ellen Dissanayake you might be led to believe that making and responding to art is simply part of our human nature. Or that
we as humans have a need for beauty be it in the context of nature, our surroundings, or by creating it ourselves.

Furthermore, by definition, the term artist can be construed to mean many things. Many artists I have met (and from here out I will use this term inclusively and without judgment ) create because they cannot NOT create. Are you an artist because you created something? 5 things? 10,000 things? Is there a point at which your productivity becomes so great that you are no longer considered an artist? First you are an artist, then you are an artist with bills to pay. You become a production artist. Overhead increases. Now you are a Manufacturer. Well, you can see it starts to get a little messy here. I have been in all of these situations.

Back to the question. The artist’s role in society. Do artist’s have a responsibility in society? Should they create beauty for others to enjoy? Should they lead by example? Should they share their vision and their creativity with the public by teaching? Should they communicate with other artists from around the world? Should they all participate by dictate and attend meetings hosted by tireless arts advocates?

What would you do?
Here are some things I see other artists doing-
This is an easy one- Phil working with Pan Afrika featuring Master African Drummer Dramane Kone of Burkina Faso at a local preschool last week. Dramane is a Griot from the famous Kone family of Burkina Faso and Mali. a Griot is a West African poet, praise singer, and wandering musician, considered a repository of oral tradition.:

How about Jane and her work over the past two years at Mundo Lindo (Beautiful World) which is now coming to a close.

And if you know me you may be familiar with Elementary Art .

Please feel free to post links to any you know here in the comment section (this could get pretty lengthy!).
Of course we are only scratching the surface here but the bigger question really is would the community rather see the likes of us at bored meetings or out doing stuff? It’s somewhat disingenuous to say you want our ideas and opinions yet when we give them and you don’t like them tell us we aren’t part of the solution because we aren’t playing by your rules. Artists and musician types often make great sacrifices in lifestyles in order to choose these paths as a career. It’s not 9-5. There are no paid vacations. You often work 80 hours a week. You almost never get paid what you think you should. Forget about health insurance of any real substance. Bottom line, if I’m not gonna get paid for my volunteer work, would I rather be in a bored meeting or in a roomful of children? I think you can guess my answer.

If you want my ideas, feel free to email me. No meetings required. Until further notice, only paid gigs are being considered though.

Countdown to Chicago continues…..dyeing and processing the last of the silk for the show. Just booked a series of workshops in Claremont over the next 5 months. More details will be posted shortly on the classes and shows page….gotta go and get busy now!
mata-ne!