What Do Artists Know? The Art/Life Syllabus

In looking forward to this year’s Open Engagement conference, we wanted to share our response from participating last year which also prompted us to write our own syllabus for a fantasy class on “Social Practice” art. We’ve participated in a lot of conversations where people tear their hair out trying to figure out where social practice begins and ends. As a group, we have certain texts that we pass around to each other or art practices that we get excited about. We wanted to share our own loose and ever-evolving take on what makes this kind of art practice interesting for us.

Defining the actual parameters of “social practice art” seems to be a red herring. Sometimes a dinner party should just be a dinner party, sometimes calling a dinner party an art project makes it a richer experience for the individuals participating. Social practice art doesn’t necessarily create more democratic exchange between art and audiences, often times it creates hierarchical distinctions between artists in art school and ordinary people with creative hobbies and interests that don’t have anything to do with an art career. But while it continues to be problematic territory, the larger anxiety it brings up is pretty interesting. How are artists defining the communities their work operates in, especially when traditional contexts such as commercial galleries, museums, and non-profits aren’t the intended landing pad? If one’s work is about engaging publics supposedly outside the artworld and eschewing art-speak when it comes to creative expression, who cares if it’s called art other than social practice artists? The issue then becomes not how to judge social practice within the confines of other art disciplines, but rather how the value of that work is being defined and by who. If social practice offers us anything, it openly asks not what kind of artist one wants to be but what kind of person one wants to be and how one wants their work to operate in the world.

This article was published in the most recent issue of Proximity Magazine, called “Education as Art.” It was an incredibly exciting issue, we hope you check out the rest of the contributions and buy a copy at your local bookstore. And please use this syllabus and let us know what you think.

Download the pdf here: InCUBATE- What do Artists Know (for the fancier layout with pictures, you’ll have to buy the magazine).

InCUBATE's trivia night with host Randall Szott at Open Engagement 2010

InCUBATE's Romantic-comedy picture identification round at trivia night

The winning team

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