What Are Artists To Do Now?

by Ariane Roesch January 17, 2017

Polar Bears

I’m going to start 2017 with a confession: I have lost my faith in art. With everything that’s going on, putting a pencil to paper, or a brush stroke on a canvas—or whatever your medium—seems like a frivolous activity. Why create something in the reclusiveness of your studio only to then show it in the sanctity of art spaces to other like-minded people? How is that creating the change that is so desperately needed now?

This idea of “desperate change” or “making an impact” seems to be filling the air inside of my own personal echo chamber. We all need to “take a stance,” “rise up,” and be “agents of change.” We need to end hunger, work against climate change, and stop the massacre that is happening in the Middle East. So let’s make a collage! Let’s take some National Geographic magazines and glue a bunch of polar bears on a lonely iceberg drifting in the ocean—maybe that will get everyone’s attention when it is shown at the hip XYZ gallery space that calls itself “progressive” and holds a group growl at the opening in honor of the polar bears. The real impact will happen when it actually sells. At $300, it will put $150 in my pocket, enough to buy more National Geographic magazines and glue because there seems to be a market for this polar bear stuff.

But enough with the attitude: ours is a real predicament: What are artists to do now? What weapons do we have in our arsenal that can initiate change? Others are searching for it: Hyperallergic held Art after Trump, a two-day event of two-minute responses. You can read some of them here. Pratt held a post-election artist discussion where one of the prompts was “Is art capable of contributing to the immediate, tangible change that we are now even more aware is so urgently needed?”

The butterfly effect refers to the idea that small changes can have a big, outwardly resonating impact. We shouldn’t be thinking of a linear cause and effect, because sometimes you can’t trace everything back to one or two simple decisions. But the complex mixing and sums of our everyday decisions do matter—collectively they have the power to alter the shape of things to come.

Yes, we should sign petitions, we should gather at city buildings in protest, but we shouldn’t let our lust for instant gratification get the best of us. The pursuit of change can be frustrating, and there will be setbacks. But with each small change we commit to in our daily lives we must believe that we are altering the course of the future—if not for us then for generations to follow.

So how am I going to regain my faith in art and the art world in 2017? Through a small but consistent and ongoing gesture: by being present. No grandiose actions are needed. There will be change slowly bubbling up to the surface—the only thing constant is change—and I want to be there when it happens. Someone somewhere will do something or make something great. I want to be in the front row to applaud it: art needs (and often deserves) feeback and an audience. The sign at a middle school in my neighborhood reads “80% of life is just showing up” and this will be my motto for the New Year. We have to show up because it’s too simple to just say ‘screw it’, and the populist forces who want art to go away would love it if we all just stopped showing up.

Go See Some Art

As you can see from Glasstire’s event listings, there are lots of things happening all over this state. “GO SEE SOME ART” is what we say every week at the end of our Top 5 countdown video. Since I work at Glasstire, and probably because of it, I have to say I’ve never paid a lot of attention to the phrase—it’s just the gimmicky quip we say smilingly into the camera, or put on our promotional koozies. But those four simple words might be the key to regaining our faith in art and in this crazy world.

Support your local art scene—the people and spaces that encourage conversation. Attend an opening. Maybe bring a friend who has never been. Be there for an artist nervously talking about their work. And if you like their work, tell them! Stay curious. Cram into theaters and lecture halls, into row houses and warehouses to listen to someone discuss something new with conviction. And if you can, make genuine art that matters to you—not to the gallerists or collectors or grant reviewers. And have some fun while you’re at it. I think we all need a good laugh.

We need to refocus on where we can make a difference, and have faith that in the end these small, intimate interactions will affect the larger outcome for the better. If 80% of life is just showing up then I’m going to be there.

Here’s to an active 2017. Go see some art. I know I will.



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Jim Malone January 17, 2017 - 12:15

Ariana. Nice article and good reasons to keep working. I also think it important to keep a level head during these times of change and making and seeing art helps a lot Plus jumping off a cliff doesn’t seem productive.
Also I think a t shirt with a Glasstire logo and the slogan to Go See Some Art would be fun to see everywhere. Plus you all could make a pile of money to further the good work you do.

neversnowflake January 17, 2017 - 12:32

lol pathetic. You lost, get over it babies. If you tie your art to politics in the hope that you will change something, the only thing you will change is that you will totally piss off half of the viewers (potentially more if you consider that most wealthy people are republican). Also, timeless art is not reliant on the political issues of today. First world problems.

Gene Elder January 18, 2017 - 16:56

The ARTS never loose. Get over it.

H January 17, 2017 - 14:25

I would think to “piss off half the viewers” might be one of art’s great capabilities.

Meredith Jack January 17, 2017 - 15:17

I think Jim has a good suggestion, put the polar bears on the front and the slogan on the back. I’ll take three of them, size large please. Snowflake sounds typecast.

Iva January 17, 2017 - 18:52

Political art could potentially “piss off half of the viewers”. Yeah, that’d be a pretty low approval rating.

joel Sampson January 17, 2017 - 21:29

2017 is going to be a GREAT year for art and much more. The economy should start to improve. Despite what the media reports, most areas of the economy have been slow the past 10 years. With lower tax rates, people will have money in their pocket. And I plan on earning some of it! It’s going to be huge. . .

Gene Elder January 18, 2017 - 16:55

Wellll, I guess Meryl Streep has set the tone for the arts for the next four years. That is if Hamilton hadn’t already. The gauntlet has been waived.
But what is working for me with this recent tit for tat between Streep’s speech and Trump’s Tweet is that freedom of speech is not in jeopardy of taking the back burner or threatened with leaving the room.
Trump has written the play book. He has said what he wants, where he wants, when he wants, how he wants, why he wants and doesn’t want, to whom he wants, about anything he wants. So, that leaves the arena open for the rest of us to do the same.
And as you know the art world is real good at doing that.
So I declare Political ARt Month has just become the Political ARt 4 Years.
Gene Elder
San Antonio, [email protected]

Gene Elder, San Antonio January 18, 2017 - 17:00

“Ask your doctor if political art is right for you.”
May cause hindsight, nausea, projectile vomiting, heart palpitations, sweaty palms, bowel irregularity, dry mouth, high blood pressure, blurred vissssion, violent laughter, and other uncontrollable irritations. But relax it’s only art.–GeneElder

Gene Elder, San Antonio January 18, 2017 - 17:09

Make America ARt Again
Here is something that I bet you haven’t thought to anal-yze about the elections and the outcome. What part did all the political art play in this? We heard great political satire from pundits like Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver. And there were those five nude Trump sculptures strategically placed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, and New York City that got our attention, also newspaper cartoons, etc, etc. Don’t forget Saturday Night Live.
No, I am talking about two important TV series here, The Walking Dead and House of Cards. Walking Dead was recommended (by a policeman, of all people) and I kept viewing out of curiosity and wondering why this was such a popular tale and also trying to decide if there was any redeeming social value to all this nonsense. But what I discovered while analyzing the plot is that this is just a contemporary cowboy movie. Obviously we can’t portray our Native Americans as the villains, like movies did in the past and we can’t demonize the Russians, the Germans, or the Japanese like we grew up on. Films, now, go all around the world so it is important that we not stir up any ill feelings with some country or government we are trying to do business with. And the military gets mad if Hollywood doesn’t make them look good. So who is left? Hey, dig up the dead and use them. Who can object to that? Where is the ACLU when you really need them?
Walking Dead has the sheriff leading a pack of displaced people through terrible violence to an uncertain future. I enjoyed thinking that The Walking Dead was secretly about the Democrats and the Republicans with the living being the Libertarians. But this line of thinking gets even better when we come to the serious matter of Washington D.C. in House of Cards. After 4 seasons of a steady diet of Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright showing America how devious, controlling, and self serving the Democrats are in their tireless conniving climb to the top of the political mountain definitely had its effect on viewers. There can be no doubt. Just like Hollywood denies that a constant menu of gun violence and explosions doesn’t really affect the psyche of American youth, they overlooked how convincing their excellent portrayal of politics combined with their powerful art-magic seeped into the minds of impressionable voters; providing insight into the slimy underbelly of the Underwoods. (Can this be classified as “fake news”?)
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I’m seeing that this brilliant acting, writing and directing did more to undermine Hillary than all else combined. All the reasons that have been served up laced with confused questions have overlooked the obvious. Blaming the defeat of Hillary on: they don’t want a woman, Bernie, gay rights, the 2nd amendment, the emails, or the Russians, what did I leave out? Here is the irony: House of Cards and the Democratic film/art community did more to stop Hillary than everything else put together. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were dead ringers for the Clintons. And a constant diet of corruption and mistrust by these two brilliant actors persistently worked its way into the subliminal mind of America. The message is very powerful and it worked. It can’t be overlooked. Like guns, violence and rap music, the power of House of Cards was the hidden traitor. That is the irony. Interesting how political art affects us, don’t you think?
And I hope we don’t have any more fake news about fake news. Boy if that isn’t a false flag!!! Also, I know the real reason that Hollywood used dead people as actors in the Walking Dead. They don’t have to pay dead people. Well, I never.
Gene Elder
San Antonio, Texas


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