Future of art

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 15, 2012, Western News celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special edition asking 40 Western researchers to share the 40 THINGS WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NEXT 40 YEARS. This is one of those entries. To view the entire anniversary issue, visit the Western News archives.

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When I consider where my discipline will be in 40 years, I think of a question writer Jennifer Higgie asks about the value of art in society: “How can change be manifested if it can’t first be imagined?”

I predict a lot of imagination will be needed in the next 40 years to help us navigate some current and upcoming sticky situations (climate change and debt come to mind). I also think that visual arts will specifically play an important role in that imaginative process.

I foresee (and, no, I really don’t think I’m delusional) a real urgency for visual arts in the next four decades; for people to make it and use it to question, propose, speculate, delight, fulfill, imagine and think in necessary, complex and sophisticated ways.

It’s obvious there are lots of images and objects in the world. Yet, there are not many that aren’t trying to directly sell us something. I think the exception are the kind of critically engaged images and other forms of art that we make and talk about in places like universities and public museums.

In fact, such art not only discourages passive consumption and conformity, it actually encourages active responses and critical thinking. Room is made for reactions and opinions, regardless of whether or not one likes the art in question. In and around such art, the imagination has a snowball effect: it is activated through (art) making, and through engaged viewing.

Simon Brault, current vice-chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and author of the book, No Culture, No Future, states, “For any society or community that is facing change — of population, generation, economy — it’s clear that arts and culture are a powerful tool that gives people the notion of sharing, a certain control on their own destiny.”

Here, Brault refers to both making art and experiencing art as a viewer. He cites culture as a crucial tool for individuals and communities to use to both deal with the world, and to participate meaningfully in its production and change.

So there you have it: In 40 years, we will all be urgently making and experiencing art.

To me, that future doesn’t sound so bad.

Kelly Jazvac is a Visual Arts professor in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities.