Monday, June 3, 2013

Challenge #9: Art is the Question?

Art is often defined as the answer: the answer to graffiti problems, the answer to emotional and mental needs, or just the answer to an awkwardly blank wall. While all of these statements can be true, it's important to remember that art doesn't exist exclusively at a discussion's conclusion. Art can ask the questions that get the discussion started, too.

Whenever I think of art as the question, I'm first reminded of Francisco Goya's series "The Disasters of War." At first glance, Goya's sympathies seem to lie with the Spanish patriots, but a closer inspection reveals Goya's assertion that war dehumanizes everyone involved, thus questioning whether there can be such a thing as a "war hero." Such a provocative question still incites discussion today, giving Goya's prints a timeless relevance.

When I visited the Denver Art Museum last year, I was floored by another artist's question: Gustave Dore's La Famille du Saltimbanque: L'Enfant Blesse depicts the horrific aftermath of a deadly acrobatic accident. At the time of the painting, the children of street acrobats could earn more money for their families by performing exceptionally dangerous stunts, and press coverage of the deaths of some of these children had sparked outcry and condemnation of the children's parents. Dore's sympathetic depiction of the heartbroken parents asks the viewer to consider whether the parents are also human, after all, thereby adding a new perspective to the conversation surrounding those living in poverty. Nearly 100 years later, the pathos of this piece moved me to tears (which might have been a little awkward for the security guard keeping me company), demonstrating the power of a well-pitched question.

In the contemporary dialogue, art that asks questions is everywhere: from guerrilla art to touring museum shows (if you like that second link, go check out Yinka Shonibare's website and experience the awesomeness), artists are proving that we are an important part of the total discussion, from recording an event to providing a solution to asking why there was a problem in the first place.

Knock, knock, Neo.
That's why this week, we're asking you to go out and make art that asks a question. Challenge the status quo. Upset the 'natural' order of things, make people think about the why behind their thoughts or actions. See if you can catch someone in the act of responding to your art.

And of course, tweet, pin, and/or post your results, and tell us what you think of the challenge in the comments below. Don't forget to snag your challenge badge!

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