It’s been a month since I attended the Creative Time Summit in New York and I needed some time to live with the experience in order to be able to write about it. The Summit was my first time
at a professional conference. It was amazing to be surrounded by people working in and talking about social practice. I don’t know if it is because I am in St. Louis or because I am busy engaged in my own practice but I have not had many opportunities to discuss social practice with peer artists. I have my close ones and community members I discuss it with all the time, but that is not the same as conversations across place about the type of work itself.
Hearing artists from all over the world use language similar to my own was very affirming. The organizers acknowledged that many people in the audience could be presenting at the conference and, with all humility, I could imagine NODhouse fitting into the program.
I would have loved a space in the conference dedicated to peer critiquing of socially engaged projects. It is rare to get artistic feedback about the work. People are able to informally evaluate the way social practice work is functioning or not functioning in a community but conversations/critiques about how it functions as art are rare. In fact, I am not sure if we even have much of a constructed language around this in the field. There was little discussion about the aesthetics of social practice at the Summit. I think most of us think about the aesthetics of our produced works and also, maybe even more uniquely, about the aesthetics of our relationships but what does a critique of those sound like?
In our commitment to raising the voices of all the ‘others’ in the world, we can’t let go of our commitment to ourselves as artists. The work is made stronger through thoughtful critiques and discussions of the work and I find that, possibly because the ideas and communities that most of us are working in are so compelling, the artfulness of both the work and the way we are in the world is not discussed enough. Those types of conversations help to feed me as an artist.
I acknowledge that conversations around aesthetics are a challenge across cultural barriers. It comes up in my own practice where I am at the table because I am an artist but I am also at the table because I want to support the expression of others. When our individual aesthetics collide, resolving that conflict in a way that everyone feels heard is crucial. How do other artists approach this? When do we as artists feel we have been successful? How is our work viewed outside of our own communities? We are at a time in the development of social practice when we can create the framework for these conversations and their existence in the art and art historical world. I am inspired by thinking of my work as part of something larger, something that future artists and communities will build upon. I want the building of this framework to be an active, purposeful creation and perhaps, Creative Time gatherings are a place to begin the effort.