The status and role of art in society Summer Well 2017


For the first time, the 2017 Summer Well was organised so that an alumnus of the Saari Residence was asked to summon people to discuss a current theme. The new arrangement yielded fruitful discussions, genuine encounters and exchange of ideas.

The convener of the 2017 Summer Well was media artist/architect Jaakko Pesonen, an alumnus of the Saari Residence. He invited seven artists and cultural actors to spend a weekend at the Saari Residence. The event at the residence was attended by Kai Alhanen (researcher/philosopher), Saara Ekström (visual artist), Daniil Kozlov (writer/publisher), Jyrki Lehtola (columnist), Markku Pääskynen (author), Saila Susiluoto (poet) and Anna Tuori (painter).

Discussions took place without predetermined topics and goals. Free, relaxed and respectful dialogue was engaged in about the roles of art and science from different perspectives. The Summer Well event gave the group an opportunity to reflect on art and culture in a versatile and comprehensive way. The weekend’s dialogue is a possible seed for future discussions.

The status and role of art in society was highlighted as an important topic of discussion. Media has a tendency, on the one hand, to make art superficial at the expense of the content and, on the other hand, to perceive art as elitist and difficult to understand. In general, people try to define the importance of art using indicators of productivity and business economics. Content and meaning have had to give way to “wow” effects and big sales figures.

Art has not lost touch with social reality; its relationship with reality has never been straightforward or coherent. The role of art is not to follow the preferences of the public but to create content; however, the gap between art and the general public has grown wider.

Reasons for this may include:

– digital revolution of the media has sped up journalism, emphasising the surface instead of content

– increased competition for visibility in an influx of data

– discussion about art is changing into discussion about phenomena and artists

– discussion about art is left to journals within fields of art

– the language of the discussion is often alienating and does not reach consumers of art

– there is no significant, generally understood platform for reflection on the content and meaning of art

The gap between the general public and fields of art has shifted the perspective of the art circle inward. Art is perhaps made more for other artists and committees. Economic pressures create the need to grow your CV instead of content, emphasising artist identity instead of art. An ever more fast-paced world is not ideal for creativity: pressure regarding the rate of publication and exhibitions as well as increased competition for grants have a negative impact on the quality of the content.

The gap can be narrowed by revitalising an open culture of discussion, encouraging reflective, essay-oriented art journalism and creating new discussion platforms. The field of art needs bridge-builders between the general public, art institutions (such as critics, publishing houses, publications, grant providers, curators, galleries) and art: that way, perhaps even superficial art discussion can gradually become more organic and profound. A new culture magazine and a virtual forum may bring about a new kind of critical culture. The field of art also needs new ways of organisation – vibrant, mobile and fixed-term, avoiding institutional stiffness and hierarchies. Preserving and increasing multivoicedness as well as improving the basic security of artists are the lifeblood of art.

Implementing a new cultural publication is not without problems. How to stand out from the tide of rapid information and data? How to get the reader to come to a halt? Creating a new culture of discussion is possible, but requires funding and coordination as well as belief in that a concept that has been heavily invested in will develop and continue on its own. Proper, long-term funding is required for the implementation of the plan.

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