The biggest questions facing artists today

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We need the arts to inspire us, shake us, connect us, heal us and fire us up. And we need it for everyone. But with funding being cut all around the world (USA, Brazil to name a couple) the arts could become endangered. 

Arts funding is essential in keeping art accessible and affordable for everyone, to ensure our cultural climate is diverse and provide resources for the artists of the future to flourish. 

Snippets of interviews done by journalist Nell Frizzell with some of the most successful artists and art directors were featured in The Guardian today. He had asked them all - "what's the biggest question facing artists today?”

Rivane Neuenschwander, artist

Recently, artists and cultural institutions in Brazil have been censored and subject to attacks by ultra-conservative groups and politicians. This is both very serious and dangerous, putting our already fragile democracy at risk. We are experiencing a period of profound social inequality, times of intolerance and polarisation worldwide, where the discourse of fear and hatred has rapidly dominated and impoverished discussions.The artist must resist and point out diversified paths of deeper reflections, defending their field of action in order to guarantee a place for experimentation and freedom for all within society.

Marina Abramović, performance artist

For me, it is the question of morality. I think it’s not enough for artists to make work, and to show that to the public. We also have to see ourselves as human beings; to ask what can we do in the world, which is really in the biggest crisis it has ever been in. As a human being, how can you help on a human level? It’s a crisis in every possible form. Human beings suffer everywhere in the world. It’s the increasing natural disasters, which have never been so frequent; hunger; the movement of large populations of people; the people who run the government. Just doing art, being in the studio, is not enough. You have to think about what you can do as a human being.

Jeremy Deller, video and installation artist

“WTF?” That’s the question facing artists today.

Catherine Opie, fine-art photographer

My biggest concern is equality for women artists and affordable housing: the practicality of making a living and being a practising artist is daunting. Perseverance, my fellow artists! And be authentic with your practice. In a world in which political upheaval seems to be at every turn, I think one of the larger questions is: what type of artist do I want to be? There is no right or wrong answer; it is important to know that the artist’s voice and work can span a larger discourse in relationship to contemporary culture, politics and practice.

Stefan Kalmár, director of The Institute of Contemporary Arts

There is the question of education in general, and art education in particular. Why is it that a society that largely communicates through visual media then deprives generations of young people of an arts education? To do so essentially produces a visual illiteracy, so people can’t understand or read the world. They cannot understand that the world projected at them has social, economic preconditions and interests behind them. In a world that is saturated by image, where ideologies talk to each other through imagery, it is a basic human right to understand how images are produced, circulated and distributed. It’s like learning a language or learning the alphabet. Isn’t looking after the people the basic foundation of any politics? Why would it ever be interesting to introduce tuition fees and reduce people’s access to education? The same for healthcare. Why should it be difficult? Shouldn’t it always be government’s prime mandate to produce a well-educated and healthy society? We could get more political and say, “Why is it always conservative governments that do this?” There isn’t a liberal or social democratic element that would do that. You very, very rarely get well-educated fascists or racists. 

Oreet Ashery, artist

For me, there are a lot of questions around the ethics of funding and the politics of representation. Who are we representing, who are we taking pictures of or filming, what is the work about? I also have a lot of ecological concerns. I think for a lot of artists, trying to negotiate their position around funding and sponsorship is a minefield. If your work is around climate change, to work with or be sponsored by certain oil companies would be very weird. We can’t fight all the wars, but, if your practice has particular areas that it deals with, then the funding around that has to make sense. Saying that, I don’t think anyone should be working with money that comes from arms dealing.

It's a profound range of concerns and not easily addressed by politics: championing the arts is so often opportunist - a harnessing of celebrity - and compromises the art and the artists involved.

On the other hand, understanding the gifts that art bring to individuals and society should surely be at the heart of any politics - affecting education and social policy? Having artists and creatives involved at every level of political thinking and doing would surely help us address the imagination deficit so prevalent today?  Or help us join up the dots between our emotional and practical needs?