Social Practice

Social Practice in regards to art can be looked at as anything that isn't studio practice.

By studio practice I mean the dominate way of making art-spending time in a studio working out personal interests into the form of paintings, or objects, or photos, or videos, or some other pretty easily commodifiable form.

The often unspoken intention for this studio work is that it will go off to a desirable commercial gallery, be reproduced in art magazines, and eventually wind up in museum collections, while making the artist into a celebrity of sorts, and paying all of the bills. That is the carrot on the stick that keeps this dominate approach alive and kicking, even though very few of these studio practice artists ever get their work shown at all, and most just give up and find some other way to pay off their student loans.

I've just started up a Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University. There are currently eight students enrolled. They don't get studios like the other MFA students and instead have a shared office and a shared classroom space. Currently we are looking for a more public version of these spaces possibly in the form of an off-grid alternative energy portable building that might locate itself in different parts of the city in vacant lots and at grade schools, etc.

The students take some classes with the other studio MFA students but they also spend time on projects in various collaborative groups working with the city of Portland, various non-profits, and applying for public art projects in other places, as well as doing their own individual social practice work.

I'm trying to show that artists can actually have sustained and supported careers within the public in ways that aren't possible when the commercial gallery is the primary system that artists are trying to respond to. So far it is going very well.

[Harrell Fletcher]

Image: "Some People From Around Here"
See also: Some People

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  1. Artists as "in-between people", carrying information and communication between all of the different 'areas' of society (there is some sort of body-based analogy here ..). In this sense, when you slip your conventional label (e.g. "I am a scientist, I know about Science") and begin to communicate outside of your area, then you become an artist.

    The term artist is relevant here only inasmuch as it allows us to conceptualise this idea.

    These people maintain the fluidity of a society. Maybe they could be called "societal hermaphrodites" or something similar.

  2. In the 1990s, artists and curators carried out a revolution in the concept of public art. “New genre public art,” as Suzanne Lacy named it, moved beyond dominant conventions of administered “plop art,” or monumental urban decoration. Grasping the possibilities of art conceived as a social process liberated from traditional object production, the new public art questioned the assumptions behind notions of “public” and launched an investigation of the forms of communication and interaction by which artists can reach and engage differentiated audiences.

    The logic of these interrogations, however, if followed rigorously, soon lead beyond the institutionalized conception of art as such and open onto that ultimate question of politics, power and human potentialities: the so-called social question.


  3. Adorno was a thorn in the flesh for people who believe that specialization is the only way forward for knowledge, yet he wrote in a way that baffles and repels the average reader.