What Do We Really Want?


Hello all,

To answer Harrell directly, you are right about the last line. I am not totally serious about completely removing “interested” from my vocabulary. I still say it. Though I often say it and then catch myself, search for a better word, and then keep going. It’s been about 8 years since I started to try and it’s nearly impossible.

However the phrase is not really the subject. It is just an example in order to talk about some bigger ideas – being legible to larger audiences, working with intention, our ability to affect culture, how we can use it well, and so on.

I did forbid the phrase in my classroom when teaching a graduate critique class, because it is a default way of speaking. And it leads to a default way of thinking some of you have talked about – powerless, distanced from everyday life, as an observer and a commentator, and taking place on the edge of culture instead of inside it. I couldn’t encourage that.

What I’m looking for is more ways of moving beyond these defaults that limit us as artists – not speaking bullshit being just one. Artists are indeed limited in external and concrete ways – things like funding and real estate. But I’m fascinated by this limitation because it is not concrete, it’s an attitude that is taken on ourselves. Mary’s point about the history offers some context, but I can’t help but think this powerless, individualized position is pretty arbitrary. It can change, and the ramifications would be massive.

This is really what I want to hear from you – what are ways we can do this?

Seriously, in practical terms.

Briefly, I’ll tell you about some that I have figured out.

A few days ago I got back from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia teaching a School for Creative Activism with Stephen Duncombe. Duncombe and I have developed several methods to help move people beyond their short-term visions of success, which may be anything from getting a bill passed to having a sold-out dance performance. Basically we say “ok, let’s assume you’re completely successful, what would you like to happen next?” And we continue asking that same question until the person starts talking about what they really want. What’s fascinating is how often the participants subtly try to shut down the process; imagining success is very uncomfortable.

Some of this method came from working with Packard Jennings on a project with San Francisco city planners, architects, and transit directors in 2006. We asked them what they would do to San Francisco if they could do whatever they wanted. We were expecting radical ideas but they’d answer with “more bus lines and more trees on Market St.” Which would be nice of course, but was not incredibly forward-thinking. We started pushing them for bigger visions that were 50, 100, 150, and 200 years in the future. Then we started to see what they were really motivated by.

When I worked with Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program Colleen Keegan would insist on artists writing their own obituary for decades in the future. This was her way of forcing a longer-term perspective. When you’re thinking about what you want to achieve before your own death, essentially what you want the purpose of your life to be, it’s hard to default to vague “notions” of topics.

So I return to this question. Artists have power, but we too often yield it instead of wield it. What are big and small ways we can change this?

10171807_768050643213063_1827062175_n“The Future Republic of Macedonia of the Former Republic of Macedonia” (Photo via Center for Artistic Activism’s Facebook)

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 Read more from Growing Dialogue: No Longer Interested

“No Longer Interested” by Steve Lambert – April 1, 2014

“Difference Not Indifference” by Mary Mattingly – April 2, 2014

“In Defense of Interest” by Harrell Fletcher – April 3, 2014

“The Strategies of Artspeak” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 4, 2014

“Sleight of Hand” by Jim Duignan – April 7, 2014

“What Do We Really Want?” by Steve Lambert – April 8, 2014

“Breaking Out of the Studio/Gallery Paradigm” by Harrell Fletcher – April 9, 2014

“Protecting Ambiguity” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 10, 2014

“Collective Power” by Mary Mattingly – April 11, 2014

“Time Traveling” by Jim Duignan – April 14, 2014

“Why Are You Avoiding the Question?” by Steve Lambert – April 15, 2014

“Taking On the World at Large” by Deborah Fisher – April 16, 2014

“What Artists Think Is Possible” by Harrell Fletcher – April 17, 2014

“Exploring the In-Between” by Jim Duignan – April 18, 2014

“Impossible Understanding” by Jonatan Habib Engqvist & Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen – April 21, 2014

“Inventive Contradictions” by Mary Mattingly – April 23, 2014

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