Irresponsible or Superficial?

February 22, 2009 at 6:06 am Leave a comment

Ship 2007, Ewa Kuryluk

In reading Ewa Kuryluk’s article A Plea for Irresponsibility I was struck by the following passage:

Should society expect a painter to be more responsible than a shoemaker? Should a poet show a greater deal of social awareness than a dentist? Until the French Revolution the answer was mostly no. The shoemaker was thought to be responsible for good shoes, the painter for pretty pictures, the poet for memorable verse.

While I’m actually interested in the question of whether shoemakers and painters should be held to different standards of accountability in terms of the work they do, it seems to me that Kuryluk misses the point.

Even though I agree that artists have a responsibility to themselves, I hesitate to equate that with painting pretty pictures. I’m not sure that painters ever just painted pretty pictures and Kuryluk’s history seems particularly naive in this regard.

Even assuming that within pre-revolutionary France the shoe makers and painting makers in question are subject to similar economic, social and political forces is something I hesitate to do. But for argument’s sake, I’ll roll with that assumption and say that on a fundamental level, these shoemakers and painters both put something in to the world.

While a shoe may never retrieve anything “from the river of blood and time,” it is fair to say that the responsibility of the maker in both cases is to act from a position of clarity as to their intention; to be accountable for what they put in to the world. That’s the point that I think Kurylik missed. Because from that moment on, the essay takes many a wrong turn.

For example, when she concludes her essay by saying that “the art that’s best for you–now and in the future–is not a commodity but an inspiration,” not only does she reinforce the myth of the Byronic genius she rightly tries to discredit, but she reproduces the logic of totalitarianism with regard to what’s valuable and indeed allowable within cultural production. After all, Socialist Realism was supposed to be an “inspiration” albeit one in service to the State.

-MDR

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Most challenging art could be survived…. fromcrow

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