What Constitutes “Art”: A Womanifesto

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  1. Art does not exist in a vacuum


Art exists within a social, economic, historical, and political context (Bourriaud, 2002).  In this sense we must consider the interconnectedness of all entities that work together to create our state of existence. We must recognize and acknowledge and even facilitate involvement to show the coexistence of the distinct ways we relate to these dimensions. The intersectionality of these dimensions is what makes narratives complex and relationships and interactions unique. Artists can build platforms that open the stage for dialogue so that others may begin to understand experiences different from their own. Consideration of these diverse circumstances is necessary at all times. The role of the artist is not to direct, but rather facilitate. To create complete awareness of the multiple dimensions under which we interact and create meaning is the ultimate goal of the artist.  However, the artist must remember to remain open to changing circumstances and contexts.


  1. Art is a tool of inquiry


We must use art to critique social norms and question their existence. We must not look to use art to model utopian societies, but rather model ways of living and acting in the current society (Bourriaud, 2002). Maybe these models don’t exist yet, but it is the absolute responsibility of the “artist” to structure these inquiries, to pose questions, to facilitate discussion, and to make us question our complacency. However, we are ever accountable for the conditions under which these inquiries take place. Art can never be justified or qualified by its very nature or aesthetics. In other words, we cannot justify unethical actions and behaviors by saying it is for the sake of art. We absolutely must be held accountable for ethical decision making when it comes to structuring inquiries.


  1.  Art is reciprocity (Art is me, Art is you)


When people question, “Is this an art project” we should respond, “No, this is life- it’s an experiment in understanding who we are, where we are, and everything we’ve touched to get to this very point.” However, we must recognize the temporality of “this very point.” Again, another dimension that art exists within is time and space.  We are constantly changing and adapting according to who we are interacting with and the norms and expectations of the situation. There is no absolute true self. We must recognize this and address the dependence we have on each other to understand ourselves. I am not me without you. “The work of art represents a social interstice” (Bourriaud, 2002). This non-monetary exchange is the glue that holds us all to each other, but it’s not something that we can always touch or see or smell or taste. This exchange is foundation for relating to human experiences and critiquing social norms. We create together by posing questions to each other, uncertain of the outcome.


  1. Art has limits


This is no such thing as art without limits. Art is determined by context. We can create art and put it out into the world, but the outcome will never be predetermined. Circumstances that conspire are what make the moments unfold. The artist does not determine the outcome of the investigation, but has the responsibility for setting the wheels in motion, for igniting the fire. We must recognize others and ourselves in the unfolding of time. There is only one now and there are infinite nows. We must recognize the present and its limits, but also possibilities- possibilities for interaction and exchange. Outcomes will be forever unknown unless the situation is created and the opportunity is presented to the universe. However, the artist must take responsibility for the outcomes, however desired or undesired.


  1. Art is accountable (Kester, 2004)


As stated in the first point, art does not exist within a vacuum. Artists are not void of responsibility to others in the name of proving a point. While it is important to critique the current state of any society and point out its inadequacies, we are responsible for the means through which this is brought to light. We have ethical responsibilities to any parts of involvement or collaboration outside of the consenting self. Even if the self does consent, we must further investigate and consider the conditions under which the consent was given. Was exploitation involved in one way or another? What is exploitation? Do those involved understand the greater implications of their involvement?   


  1. Art is disruptor, but also generator (Bishop, 2004) (Kester, 2004)


While it is art’s responsibility to disrupt complacency and point out inadequacies in democracy, it must not end there.  Art is responsible for then using its creative nature to rebuild and reconstruct. It’s not idealistic or utopian, but rather reaching beyond just pointing out that something is wrong. It is not enough to just be a disruptor. Once you have proven imperfection, you must propose alternatives. This means making efforts to re-conceptualize democracy all together. There is nothing inherently wrong with art that makes people feel better. In fact, it can pull us out of the holes we’ve dug ourselves into where we can no longer see the horizon. Art should hint at possibilities but then pose questions and seek answers as to how we get there. However, there is still responsibility in recognizing and addressing that the art does not end with the smile created, but rather facilitates more questioning as to why that made you happier and if it made everyone happier or just a few.


  1. Art is for everyone


Art is not just for the artist, but for everyone involved in the complex and ever changing narrative. The artist must recognize and acknowledge that this is not just their narrative and that the story would not exist without interaction with the other characters. The artist no longer creates the art. The art is no longer object. The art is the exchange of ideas. The ideas do not belong to one single entity, but are a collection of diverse voices and projections. The artist is merely a facilitator, a poser of questions. The artist is responsible for the responses to these questions and for continuing to pose more questions from these responses.  But the art is never the capital of the artist. If profit is somehow generated, it should be used to benefit the whole. The art does not belong to one single entity. Art belongs to everyone because it is everyone. It is the product of eternal interaction and exchange.

Bishop, Claire. 2004. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”. October. 1 (110): 51-79.


Bourriaud, Nicolas. 2002. Nicolas Bourriaud: relational aesthetics. Paris: Les Presses du réel.
Kester, Grant H. 2004. Conversation pieces: community and communication in modern art. Berkeley: University of California Press.