“Art for Politics’ Sake”

I think anyone who’s interested in art’s relationship to politics and society needs to engage with this kind of work, which, as you can tell from the term “social practice,” is interested in treating society as its material. In fact, it’s telling that the term “social practice” doesn’t even have the word “art” in it anymore. The phrase “social practice” seems rather to draw its currency from law, or from medicine—professions that we refer to as “practices.” This seems to cry out for analysis.

Is the aesthetic being crowded out right now by these more political considerations of social practices?

Of course from a market perspective, social practice is still very marginal, so there is no question that the aesthetic (in the old sense of the word, as something visually appealing) is still rife, adorning collectors’ homes everywhere. So I don’t see social practice as influential enough to crowd out the aesthetic in contemporary art. But social practice’s identification with ethics and politics should lead us to ask what’s prompting its allergy to the aesthetic. I’ve already mentioned the art market as a system with which many artists do not identify; this represents a bigger problem, which is a widespread dissatisfaction with free market capitalism and the inequality and disempowerment it produces. I think social practice also says something about our relationship to technology. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that social practice arises simultaneously with the digital revolution. Face-to-face relationships are becoming important as we spend more and more time online.

From the interview  “Art For Politic’s Sake” with Claire Bishop.


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