Sep 29, 2015

Guest Post: Robert Blackson

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

We love having other voices chime in our conversation, and this week, we have a guest blog post from Robert Blackson, Director of Tyler School of Art’s Department of Exhibitions and Public Programs, and the moderator for Open Source’s panel “Use This Art.” The views expressed in this blog, and in all other guest posts, do not necessarily reflect the views of Mural Arts.

Art should not be useful.  Any explicit “use” for art limits the scope of its interpretative life within you.  For about the past twenty-five years in Western society there has been an implicit and expanding assumption that art needs a “use” to legitimize its purpose in the world.  With the hollow fanfare of a thousand requests for proposals we’ve “enhanced our civic culture” with frou-frou bike racks and bright trashcans and in the process extracted just about every tooth from art’s bite in the public realm.

The poet Wayne Koestenbaum in his book “The Queen’s Throat” has made a significant counterargument to the value of art’s use: “If I die a peaceful death,” he writes, “I want to have an opera record playing in the room. Or maybe, as a terminal splurge, I will be able to afford a live singer… because singing uses the body so exorbitantly and ultimately that I want to be reminded, when I leave my body, that even when I lived inside it I never completely used it.”

Koestenbaum’s rejoinder reminds us that art’s capacity should always exceed our own.  Artists who stick to the brief set out by the arts organizations and governments who pay them might be making do, but I doubt they’re making art.

Art’s saving grace is that it’s contrarian existence resists being useful to any agenda.  Everything else is propaganda.

These ideas will be debated at two upcoming events associated with Temple Contemporary at Tyler School of Art and the Open Source program of Mural Arts.  The first will take place at Temple Contemporary on Tuesday, September 29th at 6:00pm and will feature British artist Caroline Rothwell.  This FREE event includes an evening meal provided by the Green Council – an eco-friendly coalition of student organizations at Temple University that meets monthly with local and national experts to discuss issues related to climate change.  Rothwell is in Philadelphia to make a large illustration on the side of Temple’s newest parking garage with carbon collected from car exhaust emissions in Philadelphia.  She will be presenting her work at this Potluck with a Purpose alongside Dana Dentice, the coordinator of Plant One Million campaignwith the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, who spearheads the regional effort to sequester carbon through growing the tree canopy. Panelist Dr. Youness Sharifi will share his experience studying the traces left behind by some of the world’s largest man-made environmental disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Exxon Valdez. Dr. Sharifi is also a carbon sequestration specialist.

Later this month on Saturday, October 24th from 2:00 – 4:00pm at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the Open Source event Use This Art.  In this conversation that I will moderate four contemporary arts will be discussing and debating the artistic merits of their individual user-friendly commissions for the Open Source program.  The artist scheduled to contribute to this discussion include the Dufala Brothers, Jonathan Monk, and Shinique Smith. Tickets to this event are $15 and can be purchased here.

Last updated: Jan 27, 2016

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