Artist/Art/What is it to be Human

Picasso insisted that artists needed to be chroniclers of their time.  He felt the responsibility to let people know his thoughts about events—even at the global level—for those who were contemporary to him AND to those who would come after Picasso’s time.  The American philosopher and writer Cornel West takes up Picasso’s staff of the artists responsibilities and refines the vision to the human condition within the art of living.  West exclaims:  “You can’t talk about the struggle for human freedom unless you talk about the different dimensions of what it is to be human.  And when you’re talking about art you’re talking about meaning, you’re talking about love, you’re talking about resistance, you’re talking about imagination, you’re talking about empathy.  All of these are part and parcel of what it is to talk about human freedom.  And so art is about those who have the courage to use bits of reality to get us to see reality, in light of a new reality.  So it’s about vision by means of imagination, it’s about empathy in terms of looking through this world and seeing the possibilities fo a new world, a more decent, a more compassionate world.  And so be one a painter, musician, sculptor, dancer, in fact, be one a human being who aspires to learn the art of living, because in the end I think that’s what the arts are really about, how do we become, all of us become, artists of living?  Which has to do with courage, which has to do with love, which has to do with justice, which has to do with leaving the world better than we found it.”

So, what are your thoughts/insights/comments on human freedom as evidenced in the cry for freedom expressed by Southern California artists after WWII?  Do the Pacific Standard Time exhibitions that popped up within the Getty/Hammer collaboration embrace Cornel West’s philosophy about being human and about being an artist?

Author: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

10 thoughts on “Artist/Art/What is it to be Human”

  1. This concept about human freedom and being an artist is very profound and little bit abstract, so I find it a little difficult to comment on what I think about it. However, I think that this idea truly embodies what it means to be an artist and what art itself means because I’ve always seen art as a means of showing reality through another reality and some amount of imagination. Anyone who’s an artist I believe always puts their feelings into their work whether it be feelings of love, empathy, freedom, or resistance. I do find that the art in the Getty embrace’s West’s philosophy since I think all art can fit this philosophy really whether or not we as the viewer understand the message of the art the message is still present.


  2. Freedom of the artist:
    We can do anything by the means of art but not too much that it tells the viewer a wrong message. It is similar in today society about what terms we use to call someone or even what words mean something else years ago and know they mean something different. The philosophy behind everything it depends on the viewer on an interpretation of the artwork.


  3. While Cornel West’s statement is a bit overwhelming, I think he has a good point in saying that art is taking bits of reality to get us to see reality. I think the topic he is touching most that is very relevant in today’s society is representation and sustainability. Representation of different types of life, races, and classes is very important, especially in art. It’s nice to know that you are not hidden from the rest of society and that you are represented in media. Also, his stance on sustainability, leaving the world more beautiful than we found it, is extremely relevant. Leaving the world more beautiful seems like an extreme challenge nowadays, but if we heed Cornel West’s words, I believe it is possible.


  4. I believe that words artist and freedom are synonymous to each other. As an artist you have the platform to convey and share any idea or concept that you wish without censorship. The art in the Getty conveys just that. Artists choose to explore and present ideas and thoughts to viewers through their work. Being displayed in the Getty further allows that freedom as it was not restrained or restricted.


  5. Free will and freedom of the artist go hand in hand. One can only create what his/her imaginations allows them to do. The Ferus group did exactly just that and expressed their creative freedom to do so. They captured and enamored those who viewed their artwork, in a sense they projected their thoughts onto the viewer and allowed them a window into their time which allowed for the thoughts of post-WWII to come to fruition. This in turn allowed them to visit and understand what these artists had to offer as well.


  6. Definitely. I think that southern california artist definitely embraced Cornel West’s philosophy, specially the part of “And so art is about those who have the courage to use bits of reality to get us to see reality, in light of a new reality.” They embraced this though whole heartedly. Artist in southern California needed to have courage to make that kind of significant change to the area and to leave the mark they left on global society. I feel that what Cornel felt is what southern California did, which brought a “new reality” people desperately need. Every now and again the world needs something new and I think artist are often at the forefront of making that change happen. It’s that notice of leaving the world a better place that I feel resonates with artist open mindedness and allows for phenomenons like southern Californian art to take shape.


  7. I like the idea behind what Cornel West is saying, but at the same time looking at things realistically, it isn’t something that can be achieved by one method (that method being the arts). I do fully believe that artists of all kinds are able to help people see the world in a new light and help change perspectives. We as artists- whether you be a dancer, musician, painter, or designer-have been trained to look at the world from a different perspective and are often seeing more creative and imaginative avenues that the “normal” society doesn’t see. But simply being able to show someone a new way of seeing isn’t enough. As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to a river, but you can’t make them drink from it”. We as artists can open the worlds’ eyes, but we can’t actually make them see and comprehend what we’re showing them.


  8. This statement may have gone over my head and i’m not exactly sure that I know how to properly respond, but i’ll try. When one decides to create, they have an idea in their head and they start thinking of ways in which to best produce their idea. That idea came from previous experiences that provoked the person enough for them to want to create something about it. To create and show to the public a part of one’s reality that was foreign to others takes courage in that it could be looked at the wrong way and harshly criticized. When the Ferus Gang started out, they were creating art that was new and unfamiliar to most, but eventually became popular. To create or do something without worry of whether or not if it will succeed is what I believe to be true human freedom.


  9. Many of the artists featured in PST were very in-tuned to the political climate and social injustices that were happening. However, I don’t believe that the goal or purpose of artists is necessarily always to show how the world can be better. Art is personal, and I feel like it’s pretty inaccurate to say any blanket statement about art at all. It may be true that artists often express political or socio-political sentiments in their artwork, but that is because artits live in the world so they will undoubtedly be affected by it. Artists such as Kienholz, Ruscha, and Huene may have had socio-political commentary in their work, but at the end of the day, they were also just expressing their personal feelings, or trying to explore a topic on a deeper level through art, but not necessarily making some sort of statement on the state of the world.


  10. I believe that the post WWII artists of SoCal did follow coronel’s West philosophy. By using new techniques and new material they wanted to bring the viewer to the new reality, they want to show change. Relevant artists are the ones that have a voice, a vision, and idea and for this voice, this vision this idea to be whole it is imperative that artist have freedom to create. The Getty became for the artists of the post WWII an amplifier for their voices and art.


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