The First Impressionist Exhibit: Lessons in Art and Social Responsibility Essay

Introduction – The world of the art and the circle of artists is not exempt from the social responsibility that they should shoulder and undertake, even if sometimes the manner by which they undertake such kind of responsibility is in the form of unconventional, disturbing or scandalous art form that offends the taste of the public and creates public outrage. Manns (1997) that the creation for the acceptance and assessment of art guarantees that it is capable of accommodating the “generally acknowledged set of conventional works of art” as well as unconventional art, an example of such experience is the acceptance of the public of art works thought of before as new and unconventional like Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box and other artists and works like “cage’s ‘Silence,’ Christo’s wrapped buildings and bridges,” with Manns reasoning out that “they too…were presented…as art…to a public (Manns, 1997, p. 13).” Manns (1997) also reminded the readers that the reaction of the public should not be categorized plainly as acceptance or rejection but rather as an experience for the art and the artist that “served to confirm and legitimize their position within the domain of art,” even if the reaction of the viewing public varies from either “adulation” or even “outrage (Manns, 1997, p. 13).” This is to be expected because the artist has a responsibility and the public has their say on the artistic output, and there is no promise that both sides will try to learn to get along. The friction that exists between the artist and the public – the love and hate romance – is an essential characteristic of the realm of art for it to survive. Without aplomb, with arousing the consciousness of the public, without igniting emotional and intellectual stimulation, the artist and the art will be of no social relevance anymore.

The responsibility of the artist in the world we live – Since the inception of what is now socially accepted institution in the society called ‘art’ and the birth of the artists and the rendering of their works displayed to the public and making a statement, scholars and social analysts have not ceased in trying to define if there is such a thing as ‘the responsibility of the artist’ in the world. In its simplest form and understanding, the artist’s responsibility is the performing of the role as the creator of what is called ‘art’ by the public; but if a person wishes to take a more profound position on the role of the artist in the world and the artist’s key responsibility, the researcher will find out that there are certain social, political, moral and economic role that the artist is gifted with, as well as the responsibility and role of art itself in the world. “For Miriam Kronish the simple device of leaving the story open-ended embodies the essence of using the arts to educate for social responsibility: students are called upon to participate. Using their imaginations they are asked to picture a future in which their won actions might help to bring peace to a divided world. For Miriam, the arts enable children to imagine that things could be different. They empower students to try to change things that they feel should be different (Berman, La Farge, 1993, p. 211).”

The artist is not limited merely to producing works of art – in the accomplishment of such task(s), the artist should also ensure that his/her moral, social, political and economic roles are satisfied to ensure that the artist’s responsibility is identified and undertaken with every artistic endeavor.

Understanding public outrage over unconventional art – It is not an uncommon happening for the world to see artists and their work of art heavily criticized, frowned upon and appraised negatively by the viewing public, especially in the case of unconventional art, in the introduction of new art forms, and the deviation from the accepted artistic limitations and expectations that the public has grown accustomed to.

Chessick (2006) also confirmed that the public has consistently displayed a level of intolerance over “changes in conventional art,” making the history of art “replete with shocked public reactions (Chessick, 2006, p.  40),” explaining that the reasons for such behavior results in the feeling of being offended due to the deviation of the artist, explaining that in the simplest of reasons for such outrage originates from the fact that “people hate and fear change (Chessick, 2006, p.  40).” This is because misunderstanding arises when two parties are trapped in two different languages – when an artist’s work “speaks” in a language that the public cannot understand, appreciate and comprehend, the public believes that the artist has violated the public’s trust on the artist that he or she will render a work of art that the people will understand and appreciate. The public comprises the core of the control group that desires to ensure that the “free spirit” essence of art is at least confined in a predefined space and limitation. Without the presence of an acceptable level of control through defined guidelines and clearly drawn boundaries that secure what is considered as acceptable art, it is hard to define and present the beauty, the message and the ethos of the art work to the public’s eyes, making the setting for the standards of aesthetics a difficult and nearly impossible task, and without which, art appreciation will become a nearly impossible process and goal. Indeed, the debate over public outcry in unconventional art points to the challenging not of the art per se but of the execution and the message it sends to the public. “This was not a work of art that had shocked because it was unconventional or because public money was involved in its purchase (as in such previous art controversies as that over Henry Moore’s Torso or Carl Andre’s ‘bricks’ at the Tate Gallery). Nor was it even a controversy in which high art was considered to have been sullied by vulgar or obscene material (as with the various and extreme disputes that surrounded Epstein’s work from the Strand carvings onwards, or with what the argument there was about Ofili and the Chapmans) (Stallabrass, 2000, p. 210).” It displayed a division between those who had a notion that “the image was appropriate as an artistic presentation and those who condemned it as necessarily celebrating ‘that woman’ (Stallabrass, 2000, p. 210).” Although there were a few responses of depictions and offenses in conservative broadsheets, “the debate was less about tradition and the avant garde. The class divide in the debate was strong, and it was a divide that reflects broader attitudes to the treatment of crime (Stallabrass, 2000, p. 210).”

Topic- Because of this situation, it is important that the work of art produced is something that the public can appreciate and understand. While artists who introduce unconventional art forms and propagate the attitude of breaking artistic rules and norms for the sake of, and in the name of art are not and should not be treated and appraised any lower or lesser compared to those whose artworks conforms to the general positive taste and sensibilities of the public, it is important that art works that speak about social issues are artworks that are not very vague and abstracted that the people cannot understand what the art and the artist(s) are trying to say, rendering the social relevance of the message useless and futile.

One of the important social issues which I would like to focus on and discuss to the audience through the use of art is the issue on the role of the United States in the armed conflicts in different parts of the world. War has been an important social event that inspires artists to use their craft so that they can voice out their opinion. During the Vietnam War and the participation of the US in this armed conflict, artists join activists to speak out their thoughts about war. Painters, photographers, singers and songwriters, playwrights and other artist find the social issues involved in the analysis of war as a very powerful trigger for creative output. With the growing role of the US in armed conflicts around the world and the growing dissatisfaction over the course of action the government has taken with regards to these international conflicts and the participation of US soldiers in these armed conflicts. An artist can always remind the rest of the world that curtailing such freedom is not a characteristic of a society with a sound culture, a move which will find support in many different areas of the artistic circles. “And I would address, probably, exclusively, the responsibility of society to create a supportive environment for the artist while making reference to countries like the Netherlands, which for many years subsidized visual artists in the hope that they would challenge society (Becker, 1996, p. 27).”

Response towards censorship through the denial of the avenue for public exhibition of work – An artist always has many options to consider in the event that his/her work of art is denied exhibition for public viewing. There is always the act of resorting to actions. The artist’s rendering of his artistic work as a means/way to communicate his personal opinion and stand in a socially relevant issue is a constitutionally protected right that no one can deny an artist unless with due cause and reason why such human right is being suspended or denied. The artist can use legal means to go after venues that denies the artist the chance for exhibition for unacceptable reasons.

Conclusion – Time and again, the battle for maintaining the status quo at the expense of the inability of artists to communicate to the people has not stopped acting as one of the main characteristics of the art life in any society. Many artist experience being unappreciated by the public, their works misunderstood and looked upon in a negative way. The important thing to remember here is that this happens because the world naturally strives for balance –no one (society or individual) can be too radical that there is an absence of consideration for norms, as much as no one can be too stiff and rigid since everything will change and reshape itself constantly through the effect largely of new things that integrate and assimilate itself with the existing structure.

This is also applicable in art that artists cannot be overly radical all the time and always have the audience and the venue for such extensive radicalism, while on the other hand the viewing public cannot remain forever angry or unimpressed by new and emerging art styles previously considered unconventional which will redefine the idea of art and artistic output. There will be no completely perfect public appreciation for all of the different art forms, as the art works will never be completely perfect enough that it can solicit the same favorable response from the public which have different and varying taste and understanding in art.


Becker, Carol. (July 1996). Zones of Contention: Essays on Art, Institutions, Gender and

Anxiety. State University of New York Press.

Berman, Sheldon and La Farge, Phyllis (July 1993). Promising Practices in Teaching Social

Responsibility. State University of New York Press.

Chessick, Richard D. (November 2006). Future of Psychoanalysis. State University of New

York Press.

Manns, James W.W. (December 1997). Aesthetics. Sharpe, M.e., Inc.

Stallabrass, Julian. (January 2000). High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s. Verso.