one woman's view into a world of creativity

Enough of Social Commentary

Recently I read an article by E.J. Pettinger in Boise Weekly that raised an interesting point.  Pettinger’s article introduced us to a light display (“involving laminated glass, stainless-steel mounting hardware and projected light”) in the Boise Art Museum titled “Social Commentary.”  The installation was intended to convey “how we perceive the causes and effects of our present societal environment – war, financial crisis and political polarization are mentioned.”  The author seems to be scoffing at the expectancy of a viewer to translate such deep social commentary from a light display. 

Social relevance isn’t a requirement for art. -E.J. Pettinger

Must art always carry a deeper meaning?  Can’t we sometimes accept it as just a visual aesthetic?  Beauty for beauty’s sake?  Pettinger suggests that the source of this ever-present social commentary may have its roots in grant writing:

It’s as if the language of grant writing has insinuated itself into art.  For some reason a majority of artists and art institutions feel like their greatest usefulness is in the field of critical inquiry.  Their jobs as good culture workers are to educate the public, and critical inquiries are all the rage.  Raising questions is the end all, be all.

As an artist I understand that creating artwork is often an outlet for our own feelings, and our mode of sending a message to the world.  But sometimes the intended message isn’t clear at all, and it’s quite ridiculous to expect an installation to somehow send a message about an entirely unrelated subject.  It would be nice if sometimes art could be entirely straightforward, being what it appears to be without hidden motives of social enlightenment and moral admonishment.  Art for the simple purpose of looking pretty.  I applaud Pettinger for stepping up to the plate and expressing his refreshingly honest opinion about this trend.

Pettinger, E.J.  “Site Specifics: Stephen Knapp paints with light and pushes pedagogy at BAM.”  Boise Weekly.  Jan 5 2011.  Periodical.


Comments on: "Enough of Social Commentary" (2)

  1. Sarah Parrish said:

    In one of my art classes (I don’t remember quite which one), it was brought up that that people are going to look for a meaning in the art they see, whether there is intended to be one or not. The professor was implying that *everything* means *something,* and making art for the sake of it being art is a bad thing. People *want* to identify with your art.

    I have a problem with people always wanting my art to mean something. Sometimes, I just really had a color stuck in my head, so I painted it. I draw my people with no faces *because* they are not supposed to have an identity. If I give them a face, I have given them an identity. I want people to look at what I do and say, “That’s pretty.” The most I ask of my viewers is that they feel a certain emotion, but never that they are supposed to think a certain way. I never do anything that intentionally pertains to society. I don’t like being told what to feel, and I don’t want to tell others what to feel.

  2. […] option to respond to one of two shows: the Lightpaintings of Stephen Knapp (briefly blogged about here), or the collection of works in the show Critical Messages: Contemporary Northwest Artists on the […]

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