I’ve learned something. And in re-reading the comments on my last few postings, I realize our discussion has impacted my actions directly.

Thank you everyone for your wishes of good luck!

I had an opening on Wednesday, the 25th of August, for my solo exhibition Vif! I have come away from the experience a little more able to articulate what I feel to be the responsibilities of the artist, which we were discussing recently. I faced an audience of conservative, rural but wealthy individuals who basically had very little, if no interest in abstract art. I had to find a way to present my work to them so that they could begin to engage. I felt responsible to do justice to my work and to find a way to reach out to the audience to help them understand. I also felt responsible to the gallery owners to do my best to educate this audience because it was the first show of abstract art they had presented.

I feel very strongly that an artist is responsible for more than just ‘being responsible to the work and all else follows’ as David Minton has suggested. I want to say clearly, that I do agree with this statement and I believe it to be very important, but I feel there is more….

Responsibilities of the Artist:

To do homework –

Whether this is the development of technical skills, ideas and concepts, knowledge base, business skills, verbalization of ideas etc. we must be responsible to all aspects in the continued development of ourselves.

To understand the importance of key relationships –

dealers, collectors, press, supporters, curators, colleagues

These relationships (in no particular order) and perhaps others, should be developed and maintained with respect, openness and integrity. They are important to us and we are important to them.

To consider your audience –

As artists we should be thoughtful of those who view our work. We must respect the audience at whatever level they are at in terms of understanding art and do all we can to help them engage with our work. It is always important education when we spark new ways of seeing the world.

To always strive to broaden horizons –

We all can so easily become set in our ways and views. It is essential to have intellectual stimulation and challenge. Artists are particularly good at providing that stimulation and challenge (one of the reasons why art is important).

To realize our relationship to society –

We are in context. We must understand that relationship, how we fit in to it, and why we are an important part of it, even if we feel sometimes that we are not connected and are in no way important, and also, to realize how important the relationship to society is to our survival.

To give as much or more than we take –

The effort we take to address and fulfill each of these responsibilities will return more than we can imagine at the end of it all. Believe in that.

To the work –

Work with integrity – always.

Viewers sense when work is flippant, false or not integral. I truly believe an audience can accept if we can’t answer why we did something or what it may mean to us, but they will not accept being lied to.

To yourself –

Believe in what you are doing, who you are and that your experience is important in the larger scheme of things. We’ve chosen to be artists because we want to communicate something. Finding out what that is and finding a way to say it may be the most important thing we do.

Tell me what you think we are responsible for as artists, I’d love to hear what you think.



And David (part 2), last but certainly not least, as I said above, I do agree with your comment that making art is socially responsible but not all artists see it that way and not all art is responsible. The instruction of social responsibility is tricky because so often instruction is based in fashion, what’s current, and that dilutes the importance of taking responsibility with one’s work. But to never discuss the reasons for taking responsibility with one’s work is perhaps worse. To be allowed to make work in “unlimited and uninhibited freedom to produce and express”, as Benjamin Buchloh describes in his essay is irresponsible on the part of educational institutions. It just sends the message that “you are all that is important” which we as mature adults understand (hopefully) not to be the case.

As you say yourself, “contractually however the supplier is bound to supply what is required” which to my mind reinforces my point that if we expect society to support us and our work we owe a debt of responsibility in what we produce and present to society. Perhaps it is because I am American (remembering the “Contract with America” years of Papa Bush), but I feel we are bound to supply what is required – and I don’t mean just making work that people want like the pretty seascapes you’ve mentioned before. I mean making work that fulfills both our personal needs and that of society. That is not always easy; it requires boundaries and limitations, something a liberal society doesn’t always like.



In response (part 1) to Rob, Justine and David’s comments on my posting #11, thank you all for your comments, I’m delighted to have sparked such a discussion. Forgive me for being a bit tardy to reply, I am preparing for a solo exhibition and the opening is coming up on the 25th, so I’m a bit distracted…..

Rob, what sounds so interesting about the experience you describe with your Soviet sculpture is the location of this massive work. The first thing that comes to my mind is to ask whether this is an example of appropriated art (something David mentions in his comment), particularly given the political history of Northern Ireland.

Another point you make which I find interesting is the question of outdated political works. I must admit, I have always felt uneasy with political artwork, partially for this reason. Times change, society changes, values change, if we make art to last is it responsible to make work that is potentially confrontational or explosive? What does it mean for us as a society when work outlives it’s time and becomes something possibly ridiculous? Do we retire it with reverence or do we forget about it only to see it appropriated (perhaps) and used for purposes which are possibly inappropriate? There are lots of questions surrounding ‘responsibility’.

Justine, I’ve read your blog and that is one of the things I took away from it, was this concern from the workers that your work be more than just self expression. I find this compelling because this is a slice of society, what I mean is, there are as many people who are not interested in art as there are those in society who are. Do we only talk to those who are interested? Rather like preaching to the converted, isn’t it? And if we only talk to those who are interested, are we fulfilling our responsibility to society as David outlines in his comment? I share his idea “that making art is in its self socially responsible”, I feel a keen sense of responsibility to look at issues of existence, experience, of living life itself because I feel continued reflection on what it means to be human is something we and society needs to do, especially in times of increased technological advances and military conflict. I also feel a responsibility to discuss art issues with people who have no connection with art. I feel their grievances against art and artists are important because they are our real critics.

You ask “how can you justify your work as primarily self expression to people who don’t have a way into art; it is seen as self indulgent and useless”. That is a very good question and an important one. Why is self expression important? For me, it’s important because my expression of something interior may touch someone’s own experience. I think this is the essence of connection, it is how we stay connected as a society and one way we keep our humanity. But when people feel excluded from finding “a way into art” the importance of self expression breaks down.

I would be very interested to know what kind of art the quarry workers want from you because what I read behind their concern that you make art that is not just for yourself, is a desire to connect with you and what you are doing and what you produce. It sounds as if they are asking for a way in.


Reading Benjamin Buchloh is like taking a hit to the solar plexus. He doesn’t pull any punches, nor should he.

I recently read ‘Figures of authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting’ published in October Vol. 16, Art World Follies (Spring 1981), published by MIT Press (kindly sent to me by Becky Hunter). Buchloh states,

“Paradoxically, however, both traditional Marxism and standard liberalism exempts artists from their responsibilities as sociopolitical individuals: Marxism through its reflection model, with its historical determinism; liberalism thorough its notion of the artist’s unlimited and uninhibited freedom to produce and express. Thus both political views extend to artists the privilege of assuming their determinate necessity to produce unconscious representations of the ideological world.” Man!

I admit, I don’t fully understand the Marxist side of his comparison, but I understand completely what he is talking about from the liberal side. When I was in school, that is exactly what we were being taught, ‘express yourself,’ to such an extent that it became facilitated self indulgence. It was all about expression, we never discussed any responsibility we were going to have as future artists. Is this being discussed now in art school? I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound like it.

With an art world increasingly run by market dictations, perhaps this is a fundamental question we need to ask ourselves as artists; what is our responsibility to society as an artist? If we expect society to support us and our work, we must certainly, then, owe a debt of responsibility to society through the art we make and present.

What do you think?