1. The foundational background of all engagement is culture, the one we’re embedded in, the one we seek to promote. Culture is the practice in equilibrium of the ways in which we encounter the world, and each other. Social engagement is a proposal on the contents and context of (that) culture. It’s not so much an account of a subject matter that one proposes a view to, or a project on “social engagement” as its own subject; rather one just does ones small part in elaborating some views and mechanisms of that culture. You could replicate the world entire if you put side by side every artist, every practitioner, concerned about only one socially engaged premise or account of culture. Art, entire, is that world replicated.
2. Social engagement does not promote the views of the artist. Promoting one particular view wouldn’t stand in good stead with engagement. Instead, social engagement offers the artist’s view as only one view on a chunk of the world, whether a concept, issue, or practice. The fundament of engagement is the invitation to a conversation, to interlocution, and a synthetic account that moves beyond, and updates, beliefs held previously by artists and their audiences. Social engagement must be premised on the view that both the artist and her audience has much to learn, and that we learn best, together, in mutual concourse.
3. The artist’s role is to start a conversation. Another way to think about the artist– if that were ever important– is to think the artist shows up to intervene in a world that may not have needed any intervention, and that through those interventions an artist builds an audience. An audience never exists outside of, before, interventions, and thus, the artist always has a privileged position. But, the artist’s intervention should help along a chain of actions and conversations that might not have happened otherwise, though, of course, that’s no guarantee of the need for that intervention, and therefore of its value. This implies that the artist best have a view on offer that induces and conduces to some public good, where the good is measured in terms of well-being.
4. Social engagement is premised on views and practices grounded in the future. Whatever the present value of an ongoing engagement, the nucleus of engagement turns on how one conversation, one new learned practice changes ones behavior. And the crux of that change lies in what one does in ones so-called “private sphere of action”, set behind her private life. Therefore, the artists’ perceived failure on a project does not exhaust the value of that project; rather, a future grounded view on assessment(s) allows for a plurality of value assessments. Value pluralism endorses the multiplicity of views on the world; however, one should not seek to employ that value pluralism in order to cook up some cockamamie project that does nothing but show out in the world the details of an artist’s studio practice.
5. Social engagement follows a spectrum along an extrema between control and contemplation. A social practice of control looks very much like an artist’s solo studio practice. A practice of contemplation minimizes the artist’s interventions in the world. However, the further along the spectrum away from control, and toward contemplation, the greater the engagement value of a practice.
(I’ll elaborate on each one of these theses in good time.)
–a version of this post was published on Habitat for Artist’s blog.