Art as an Engine of Social Communication

To deepen the education of its graduates, ProyectArte invited curator and coordinator Máximo Jacoby of the Ricardo Rojas Cultural Center to share his conception of art in a seminar titled Circulation of the Artwork: The Relationship Between Text and Context.” Each Tuesday in May, twenty young artists met with Jacoby to discuss their own artistic vision and their interest in visual arts as a medium.

Jacoby found that describing the local artistic landscape and its function could be an excellent starting point for understanding the value of self-critical discussion among contemporary artists. Different perspectives on the definition of art and its role in society made this sort of conversation highly rewarding.

For instance, the preconception of a viewer who looks at a work of art and thinks, “my little nephew could make this,” reflects an established paradigm that considers only the complexity of the final product in order to evaluate its legitimacy. This modern perception implies that professional artists must have formal academic training and promotes a practice of art based around classical academic knowledge. According to this perspective, the artist considers her artwork as something separate from herself, something that doesn’t need to be personal. This line of thinking plays on the romantic notion of the artist as a hermit who has no relationship to the social forces around him. The creative expression embodied by her perfected technique, it suggests, enables the piece of art to speak for itself.

Yet in 2011, Jacoby explains, our nearly limitless access to information allows us endless opportunities to connect with the world, sparking the contemplation of new methods of artistic training. Understanding contemporary art as a language fed by many streams underscores its power as an engine of social communication. Much contemporary art, Jacoby contends, is in fact relational art, incorporating diverse techniques and interacting with other disciplines in order to shape a broader language. The contemporary artist can thus be a creator with a broader social influence, one centered on the artistic process itself. Consequently, contemporary art aims for heterogeneous practices, making visual art more evocative and diverse ways to express human thought.

In order for an artist to grow, Jacoby maintains, he must remain open, unbounded by narrow aesthetics or by the demands of the commercial art market. Art can thus be a tool that stimulates the thought among artists and the public.

Such an approach invites artists to include their own words and thoughts in the viewer’s contemplative process. That the viewer understands where and how a piece was made, and at whom it is directed, should not to be taken for granted. Jacoby deems it fundamental that the artist be actively involved in shaping the thought processes surrounding her work in order to establish a dialogue that connects the finished product to the world of action. If one thinks of the contemporary artist as a researcher—as someone who digs through mountains of information to distill a unique perspective—then clearly explaining the artist’s creative process becomes central to the impact of her finished work. In addition, the historical context that shapes an artist’s focus must similarly be considered in order for the viewer to understand how that artist has responded to the world around him.

Explaining these important procedural elements through accompanying texts breaks the classical convention of a homogeneous process, because it includes the context of the artwork and the artist’s own thought process in the display of the work. It also poses a challenging question to artists and viewers, asking if the piece has meaning when isolated from these social and personal dynamics. In this way,  Jacoby concludes, conceiving of the visual artist as a thinker who ponders the purpose of art-making and who offers a written opinion of their own praxis transforms the work by tying it to the artist’s—and the viewer’s—social reality.

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