Politics of Visual Arts Workshop
Tuesday, December 4, 2018 • 4:30-6PM
Columbia University, Low Library, Room 206 (Burden Room)
Closed door workshop
Politics of Visual Arts in a Changing World: New Actors, New Methods
by Vishakha N. Desai, Vice Chair, Committee on Global Thought
Arts have been periodically, but consistently, subjected to political pressures. Generally, the opposition comes from the conservative end of the political spectrum, as evidenced in the Culture Wars of the early 1990s in the United States. Now, in many parts of the world, new voices are clamoring to constrain artistic expressions. Restrictions are no longer the exclusive domains of the dominant or conquering powers, but are also used as tool of protest by those resisting domination. They range from animal rights activists successfully forcing institutions to remove works seen as being cruel to animals ( The Art in China after 1989 show at Guggenheim, a contemporary art exhibition in Lyon, France) to artists or particular ethnic communities insisting on removing works of art from public view or even destroying them for being offensive to their beliefs or histories ( African American artists demanding that a painting of a slain young black man by a white woman artist be destroyed, for example). Arguably, these cases are different in nature, but they deal with the issues of rights of representation vs. freedom of imagination, one group limiting the experience or practice of another.
Simultaneously, politically conservative leaders in many parts of the world are using new populist strategies and social media tactics to put new pressures on artists and art institutions. These days, artists are feeling the pressures at both ends: governmental forces using new tools for greater control over artistic practice and special interest groups arguing for their particular agendas, constraining freedom of expression in the process.
Politics of Visual Arts in a Changing World aims to study new trends that are affecting the creation, presentation, reception, and preservation of works of art in diverse cultural contexts. (Although all artists-visual, literary, or performing—feel the pressure, this project will be focused on the visual arts in all its manifestations, from paintings and installations to films and video.) From preliminary discussions with colleagues inside and outside the university, and in India and Turkey, a number of potential areas of exploration have emerged:
- The role of social media and new technology in enabling and constraining artistic expression
- Processes by which some culturally specific issues become widely recognized transnational issues while others remain locally rooted
- The role of rising populism on the right and on the left in the development of new constraints on artistic expressions
- Relationship between socially and politically oriented art and “aesthetic” journalism
- Freedom of artistic expression vs. rights of specific groups to their own experiences
- Intersection of cultural heritage and creative expressions in the context of ownership of cultural experiences
- New legal frameworks to deal with new actors and new processes by which artistic expressions are being protected or thwarted
- Roles and responsibilities of cultural institutions in dealing with new pressures on presentation and collection of works of art
Embedded in these explorations are issues of cultural appropriation, freedom of artistic expression, authorship and ownership of works of art, and changing legal and public attitudes to creation, reception and consumption of art. Following the newly established CGT methodology, Politics of Visual Arts in a Changing World will bring together scholars from diverse disciplines, artists, and museum professionals from around the world to develop the project. Working with interested Global Centers and other locations will be an integral part of the project. The collective research will include conceptual framing of the issues as well as analyses of specific case studies to illuminate deeper underlying issues. The regional and transnational research will result in a conference (funding permitting), as well as an edited volume and shorter on-line pieces.