Film director Steven Soderbergh recently said that: “The appeal of making any art is to have a kind of control you don’t have in life,” but art itself is not “accomplishing anything other than filling our time.  I see no indication that the problems we face are being solved.”

Is he being pessimistic or just realistic about the possibility of art changing the world?

Convener(s): Paul Whitlock

Participants: Paul Whitlock, Li E Chen, Alice Massey, Tilly, Cobna, David Johnston, Steven Whinnery, Cath Hoffman

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

When you are creating art, you are operating in a world where you make the rules or where the rules or conventions of the game are clearly defined in advance and there is an associated skill-set for success in that particular genre.  However, when faced with a messy, real-life problem, there are often no straightforward solutions.

Artists should not start by seeking to change the world, but concentrate on making good art first, which might go on to enrich people’s lives in years to come.  Van Gogh was cited as an example of posthumous success: “Death was a career move.”

You might not be able to change the world but at least you can always challenge it or challenge people.  Sometimes seeing a play about a particular issue might influence the way somebody voted and that could be said to “change the world” to an extent.  However, artists are not politicians.

Harold Pinter was described as a playwright who originally worked within the rules but ended by breaking the rules.  Robert Wilson successfully staged a “challenging” opera in a mainstream venue.

People will always need a form of escape, to be taken out of themselves, a type of release which can be provided through art.

It could be said that everybody is “filling their time” in response to their particular circumstances.  There is always the nagging doubt: is there something more effective that we could be doing with our lives?

Art can inspire people and create a positive change in their outlook.  However, there is a question about whether art is simply self-indulgent, the result of a selfish need to express ourselves, or whether it has some social value.  Why not become a nurse or a doctor instead and save people’s lives?

As imperfect beings, our lives will always contain a certain percentage of problems.  When we manage to overcome our existing problems, some new ones will arise to take their place.  Therefore it is unrealistic to expect art to remove this burden.

It is very difficult to make a living from art – it has to be something that you feel passionate about and which is also marketable.

The cultural, economic and political climate all influence each other and cannot be readily separated.  Paradoxically, although there are more artists alive today than there have ever been before, there is a sense of political stagnation, leading to apathy and mediocrity.

Convener’s comment: The response to this issue was rather muted, with people turning up one at a time for a few minutes then leaving.  This was in contrast to the large group discussion in my previous session regarding men’s contribution to feminist theatre.  However, I appreciated each individual’s thoughtful contribution and thank them for taking the trouble to talk to me.

Paul Whitlock