Art & the People

A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people.

– Mahatma Gandhi

The late Kuo Pao Kun, the doyen of Singapore Theatre, has always shared that the ultimate purpose of art is life. Whether one distills from life to create art or one is inspired and/or healed by an art work or an artistic process, art for life is what makes Art & the People a provocative, apt and timely focus for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2014.

Numerous art works have been the outcome of broken communities finding some form of healing or empowerment against oppressive forces. Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre, which has helped many communities worldwide comes to mind. Another notable form is Playback Theatre, where, through artistic and creative re-enactment, players and story-tellers affect each other and connect to learn more about themselves and life, demonstrating the common ground we share.

The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them.

– John Berger

These dynamic exchanges between Art & the People make us reflect on how Community Arts has been looked down upon or seen as the poorer cousin in art circles all around the globe. Should not art be art, and that art for the people be regarded/respected as having its own aesthetic standards and bar of excellence to attain as well? The disdain shown towards Community Arts by some artists exposes a glaring hypocrisy, for isn't art supposed to nurture an environment that is inclusive, where differences can co-exist?

My audience comprises everybody, not just the bourgeois. But there are people who don't take me seriously and that annoys me.

– Tracey Emin

The most powerful art pieces are undeniably those that are directly connected to the people, inspired by human frailties, strength, desires and hopes. In times of turbulence and despair, art has always been regarded as a means towards healing, reconciliation and catharsis, as evidenced by the many thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and uplifting works arising from disasters, political upheaval and societal strife. Art can indeed help us examine the obstacles that impede cohesion.

Art & the People cannot be divorced from one another, for how does the former exist if it is not inspired by the latter? Art has always drawn its strength and derived its meaning from the people. It would be impossible to delink art from its audience, who may well serve multiple roles: as inspiration, joint creators, funders, critics, appreciators, and so on. No artist can claim to work in a silo, and by extension, the oft-debated value and meaning of art cannot only be intrinsic to the work, but depends to a large extent on the people that make value and meaning to them. Art that discounts its audience altogether cannot be anything but navel-gazing exercises in futility, for what purpose does art serve if it refuses to communicate with the wider public in any way?

It never ceases to amaze me when ordinary people get into the spirit of what I'm doing. It's pivotal to my art.

– Spencer Tunick

Yet, community remains a problematic concept because diversity arises with democracy, and with that comes fragmentation and fracture. Marginalised communities have relied on art to assert their identities, to overcome oppressive forces. Art is then employed to uphold differences; giving voice or visibility to the oppressed community. Interestingly, art then celebrates instead of melds these differences. Art is a paradox that can do both.

There is no surer way of evading the world than by Art; and no surer way of uniting with it than by Art.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Art also challenges the people and ruptures established perceptions about life, enabling us to critique what has been normalised. Often artists create out of a disturbance. For some transformative art or socially-engaged works, some artists opt for aesthetic strategies that encapsulate these disturbances that provoke, challenge and affect the audience, in order to motivate them towards a re-visioning of certain aspects of life, to hope, and indeed, to create a future from dreams.

The artist... tells his audience, at the risk of their displeasure, the secrets of their own hearts.

– R. G. Collingwood

Today, in our socially mediated world, art can be a call to arms, where crowd-sourced contributions by the general public becomes the final product, where the processes of collaborating, editing, curating, mediating and critiquing are themselves the artwork. By re-examining the relationship between Art & the People, we open ourselves to new possibilities of the definition of art and creative processes. We embrace the unique voices expressing diversity, that – in coming together – form a new aggregate, a perspective that does not propel any single dominant ideology, but rather, accepts differences and sees them as integral components of an all-encompassing, fluid, and truly democratic whole. Through Art & the People, we seek to celebrate one another, to appreciate irregularity and assymmetry amongst our communities, and to meditate on how our individualities are but extraordinary expressions of ordinary beauty through multiplicity.

Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and to simply begin.

– Kirby Ferguson

Join the Fringe as we explore and exult in the different aspects of the relationship between Art & the People. 8 – 19 January 2014.

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