09 September 2008

The Artist's Obligation

The above photomontages are from a series entitled, "Bringing The War Home" by Martha Rosler who was featured in last Sunday's New York Times.

- Herbert Read

I'm not sure I agree with this quote as I've always felt "a decline in civilization" stimulates some pretty important art, as is evident by the amazing work by Martha Rosler (above), whose photo montages display the beauty in the horror of the modern world.

But, the sentiment of Read's quote was what I was getting at when I wrote my 'Open Letter to Jack Johnson.' While, I might ruin it by saying so, the letter was merely an effort at satire and not a serious critique of the man himself. In actuality I respect Johnson's environmentalism and sincerely hopes his message is heard by his huge audience. I also have mad respect for his surfing skills and film making. I just re-watched September Sessions the other day and was again beyond impressed by the filming and surfing.

In saying that, I feel strongly that artists have an essential role in ensuring a healthy democracy, which is to educate, stimulate, inspire, question and challenge. Arguably, barely any worth wile art is entirely apolitical. And if it is, it still needs to be as Kafka said, "an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us." All this applies, not just to the content but also the medium.

In my humble opinion, Jack Johnson's musical efforts are indicative of more conscious efforts to keep the middle class masses in a blissful daze. It is not challenging, creative or stimulating. It is bland yet all too palatable to those not wishing to think about the horrors of certain realities or enthusiastically celebrate the beauty of others.

Of course, one can just tune into something else but I see art criticism as another essential tenet of a healthy democracy. To keep a check on what's being fed to society.

For more on the role and responsibility of the artist, I'd recommend Ben Okri's "A Way Of Being Free," Herbert Read's "To Hell With Culture" and as it relates to popular music the introductory essay of "Keep Your Eyes Open" (The Glen E Friedman Fugazi Photo retrospective) written by Ian Svenonious is particularly valuable.