Monday, May 14, 2018

Defining and Defending Social Practice as a Verb vs. Noun

An example of an amazing artwork that could be considered Social Practice: The Blued Trees Symphony by ecological artist Aviva Rahmani launched on the Summer Solstice, June 21, 2015, with an overture in Peekskill, New York. It is now installed in many miles of proposed pipeline expansions, and each 1/3 measure of those miles has been copyrighted for protection. Learn more about this incredible work at
What is Social Practice? 
Social Practice, the thing we do that we don’t yet know how to talk about.
While no one yet agrees on the term, it’s fledgling form appears as a type of interdisciplinary art, that engages with the social, in ways that aim to create positive change.

This past weekend I attended the Open Engagement Conference, an annual conference that brings together Social Artists, Institutions, Theorists, Educators, Curators, Activists, and others who are both working in the field and learning about the field.  This conference has been active for ten years, and I went for the first time three years ago.  Three years ago there were workshops on the naming of Social Practice. People wrangled with language, arguing over nuance and intent.  Since then, many institutions have adopted the term Social Practice, an abbreviation of Socially Engaged Art, and are now building curriculum with experts and degrees in it.  A quick web search brings up an institution of power, the Tate Museum, defining the term: “Socially engaged practice describes art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work.”

This weekend I heard artist Lucy Lippard dismiss the term as “clinical”.  Artist Pedro Lasch threw it away because “people are not an artist’s medium” which was echoed by artist Lillian Ball who said, “the term implies that people are a material which is wrong".  I found Pedro and Lillian’s critique interesting because it feels that in order for people to be an artist’s material unethically, the artist would need to take the position of director (or dictator) which is individualistic, authoritative and implies manipulation or non-consent of the people, which are characteristics that are oppositional to how I understand Social Practice.

Other thoughts that arise from Pedro’s and Lillian’s disavowing of Social Practice as a term, is the assumption that people shouldn’t be seen as a sculptural form, (Pedro also said for the same reason he disliked Social Practice he disliked Social Sculpture, one of the original terms coined by Joseph Beuys in the 70’s).  I wonder can thoughts be seen as forms for sculpting?  If so, wouldn’t education, religion, advertising, and political beliefs then be Social Sculpture too? According to a quick wiki search (Wikipedia could be seen as a massive social artwork), “a social sculpture includes human activity that strives to structure and shape society or the environment. The central idea of a social sculptor is an artist who creates structures in society using language, thoughts, actions, and objects.”

Personally, I appreciate the term Social Practice and I believe that it is the purpose of all Art—which is to create and inspire social action for good. Why I appreciate the term is that by using the word Practice versus Art, it implies doing and learning and is inclusive.  A practice is something one does to learn, to improve upon something one cares about.  People have practices that include: religion, sport, art, music…you name it and people practice it.  I believe everyone is inherently an artist, but as a result of our culture and public education system people do not recognize themselves as such, because they hold a small view of what an artist is, most often associated as someone who possess natural talents in visual languages.  I believe everyone is an artist because everyone is inherently creative, but some of us are practicing artists and some of us not, and to be a practicing artist means practicing creativity.

The idea of practicing with the social implies the desire and willingness to act creatively within the social sphere. There are many disciplines and types of workers that do this already and do it well, but there is a need for the artist too.  Why I think that Social Practice and Socially Engaged Artists are effective and needed is that they are agents of change by the nature of allowing unanswered questions and emergent ideas to lead action, versus known methodologies to guide.  The world needs both-- always.  The world needs wisdom and it needs creativity.  Artists work with change, with invention, and with failure as integral components to their practices. By definition creativity is the act of bringing something new into being.  Something new means the unknown, and this is the work of the artist to bring forth change.  Society cannot change if it continues to do what it knows.  Licensed professionals are trained to work in ways that are known, quantifiable, and consistent which is antithetical to the artist. 

Unlike Pedro and Lillian, I like that the term implies working with people as medium, I also like the term Social Sculpture.  I think the challenge with all Social Practice is questions of leadership, authorship, and ownership all of which can become oppressive, unethical, and are particularly touchy in a practice which prizes the dissemination of power, dismantling hierarchies, and co-creation.  But can Social Practitioners be seen and accepted as new radical leaders?  Leaders who work creatively across disciplines, pedagogies, methodologies, places, peoples, and practices to actively create positive social change. I think the problems with Social Practice begin when we have consensus on what it is, how we teach it, who the experts are, why it’s valued and how we practice it. Social practice is at its best now, as a verb and an evolving radical practice.

--> -->

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

No Such Thing As Art

It is important to understand a word.  Do we understand the word art?  Or artist?  As an artist, you begin to learn that ultimately you will be responsible to create and define your unique artistic practice, and so you begin chasing your tail.  Tailspinning is a good description for artmaking, as is: tumbling, turning, running, looking, discovering, seeking, making, breaking and ultimately—creating (or cracking).

Creating is a word that can be coasted on as an artist, for a while… until you run into the question of, is what I’m creating art? Is a painting art?  Is any type of painting art, made by any person, or machine?  Is a sculpture art?  What makes a sculpture a sculpture?  Can a garden hose be a sculpture, can a pillow be a sculpture?  Can walking be a performance, can talking be an art experience?  Can a word be art? Can anything be art?  If yes, why?  If no, why?

Then the questions. What does art do?  What is it supposed to do? What is it not supposed to do? Should art be purposeful?  Can it not be purposeful?  Should art inspire, delight, make new knowledge?  If yes, then why not call it education? 

There is a word that I love, haecciety, which means the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing that make it a particular thing.  What is the haecciety of art?  In my own quest to understand my pursuit of art making, I first think it is better said, my art being. I arrived to understand art as everything, in the footsteps of artists like Beuys, Kaprow and theorists like Dewey, but now understand there is actually no such thing as art.  Yes, I believe I am an artist even though I do not believe in art.

How can I be an artist, if there is no such thing as art?  Perhaps, there is art after all—but it is invisible.  Art could be recognized simply as the free impulse to create. Then, perhaps, what we do and make could be considered artful, full of art.  However, I think there are other words applied to what we imagine as artful, such as heart-full (holding the art in the heart) or careful (full of care, and separated out to be are-full) which might be better descriptors of the types of creation we could consider as art.  Is what we create done with heart, or with care?  I would argue that something could be made without those qualities and could be seen or experienced by the artist with heart and care, and then could be re-imagined and reconstructed as art, because of the participants artful lens.

I currently recognize in my own practice definite patterns, actions, and collections that create my body of work, and they include: relics of processes of thought and experiences, educational aids and ideas, re-purposed materials, functional and decorative objects, participatory learning experiences, chance, ritual and devised collaborative improvisation.  I could also say I recognize living as my art practice.  I recognize my studio to include: my bedroom, the kitchen, the woods, the city, my neighbor’s house, the classroom, and (my favorite) the wide barren landscapes of Iceland.

Why then be an artist, versus a sociologist, educator, explorer, activist, writer, cook, gardener and mother?  Because as an artist I am always all of these and all of what I want to be, do, say, and make.  Being an artist is the invitation to live my fullest potential, unrestricted by titles and disciplines.  

As I become more aware of my joy, I recognize my path as an artist will continue to be in pursuit of beauty, truth and interconnection.  Sometimes that will be found in the form of gathering acorns to make place based color, writing poetry, making sauerkraut, creating curriculum, researching, having community conversations, knitting a scarf, developing organizations, taking walks, or collaborating on interactive multi-media methods to translate color to sound.

Knowing that I am an artist creating artfully, the question is less important what am I making, but why am I making or doing it, and is the way I am engaging aligned with my values.  The questions we need to ask ourselves as artists are less about the formal qualities of what we do but rather we should ask, what are my values and principles, and how am I living and creating with integrity?


Friday, May 12, 2017

Ode to Mother Matters

Ode to Mother Matters

I love you mother me
a mother to one son
and a dead born baby
I love you mother of me
now a grandmother
and mother whose daughter died one day
I love you mother of three
billions of lives before me
I love you mothers of mad-men
mothers of good baby boys
and baby girls who cry for mother’s milk
I love you mothers who tried
for babies that died
the mothers that others don’t see as mothers
I love you mothers who wanted to be moms
but something wasn’t quite right
and you never had that delight
I love you mothers who didn’t want your babies
and gave them back to god and to other mothers
waiting stand by
I love you mothers who put your eggs in her belly
or put her eggs in your belly
I love you mothers that decided you would never have a child
because taking care of you was all a mother could do
I love you bad mothers, mean mothers, and bum mothers too
sometimes it sucks, that feeling I know
being you
I love you all mothers
you matter to me

©Dawn Breeze 2017

Sunday, April 05, 2015

I Wish, Ask Anything
I have begun an ongoing art project that needs your input.  Can you please share 30 seconds of your time by answering 3 simple questions--without over thinking this 100% anonymous survey that I created.  Then if you feel inspired to share it with others, please do!  The more answers, the more wishes collected, the more material for the project.  I will announce more about this project later...but for now I am collecting these wishes and these answers and all will be shared back at some later point in a public manner, ALL responses are 100% anonymous, even from me--so be free of concern of what anyone thinks.  Please kindly share your three answers with this small but important survey. As of today I have around 100 responses via facebook and I would love to quadruple that, or quindripple that or zadoople times quadzillion times that!

Here is the direct link to the survey if you want to copy and paste and share anywhere. THANK YOU.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Art +Spirituality in Practice--Tonight's Artist Presentation

'Cross Rose', 2015 (1 image from a group of 16 color 8. 5" x 11" photographs)
Tonight at 6:00pm I will be one of eight Hudson Valley Artist's presenting their work in relationship to Spirituality at a new artist run community initiative, an artist potluck that is open to everyone.  I am really looking forward to it!!!

If you are local(ish) please come, bring yummy dish to share and hangout with a bunch of creative's.