Art vs Audience


After teaching a class on art and social change, I have held the belief that artists need to consider the responsibility they have to their audience when creating work in public. Taking the cue of what not to do from missionaries and service learning programs that tend to have a “drop in and fix the problem” approach, I always encouraged my students to think long and hard about their artistic presence in a community. To ask themselves a series of questions related to the relevance of their work. Why here? Why now? Why me? Am I assuming to know more than my audience? In short, what gives me the right? These become important questions when you attempt to expose unsuspecting and sometimes uninformed audiences to your work.

For the most part I stand by these beliefs, although a new thought process is beginning to take place in all of this. What about experimental public art? Art that is often being figured out as the the artists goes along (much like me with this blog). Art that sometimes is created as a testing of an artistic hypothesis on the part of the artist.

I do believe that the artist has every right to conduct these types of experiments but I sense some tension when the public becomes the petri dish. One can choose to partake in a concert of experimental music or improvised dance (which if not done well can border on the tenuous line of self indulgence on the part of the musician or dancer). But innocent bystanders in the public realm may not always have that choice. What if they are not in the mood to be accosted by a public performance piece in the name of art? Or try to negotiate the space around the Tilted Arch ?

I fully embrace artistic experimentation and love love love unanticipated artistic encounters for the unsuspecting public. The wackier the better as far as I am concerned and with the advent of new technologies the possibilities are endless. I believe these two methods of working in public can co-exist but I wonder if we should (and if so how?) apply a sort of artistic social code to artists working in public in order to address the difference of art for audience and art for the artists.

Perhaps I should hedge my bet on the notion that all artists drawn to work in public posses some kind of innate desire to share beauty and thought provoking experiences with the world.