Art and the World After This
IssueThe arts and post-pandemic transformations: Societal changes, artists, and the arts
This qualitative report is devoted to examining two key questions: “What does the world need from the art-society relationship right now? And what do we need to do as a sector to meet that need?”
A key finding of the report is that there are four disruptions facing the arts sector: “the disruption of activity, stemming from COVID-19; the disruption of society, emerging from rising social unrest; the disruption of industry, based on the digital revolution; and the disruption of world, rooted in the sustainability crisis”. Maggs outlines aspects of each of these disruptions “to glean from these events a series of connected implications for art and the world after”:
- “The disruption of activity has demonstrated how vulnerable our connection with audience is, relative to the digital networks that link a world rapidly evolving without us.
- The disruption of society has shown us the inadequacy of marginal concessions to diversity, pushing us to move beyond making peace with difference to activating its advantages.
- The disruption of industry has been diminishing the viability of traditional markets for decades, requiring that we find viability in more explicit links between art, creativity, and innovation.”
- In the disruption of world, art should be “pushing society to better integrate subjective inputs (meaning, belief, identity, value)”, particularly in an environmental context.
Maggs believes that, “cornered by these layered disruptions, our only option is to offer ourselves up to a more applied and accountable relationship with society.” The author argues for a “shift from a paradigm of ‘production and presentation’ to one driven by innovation”. Artists – still focused on making art and “working with the aesthetic” – would become “adept at identifying the arts-shaped holes in our worlds and the methods by which we meaningfully engage them”. The author views this as “an aestheticization of the world” rather than an “instrumentalization of art”. In this way, the arts could “find for themselves a new and sacred task” in generating meaning, helping all humans make sense of reality. Through this work, the arts would both “respond proactively to our own problems and … contribute meaningfully to challenges in the wider world”.
To help understand and work toward solutions (both in the arts and beyond), the author offers the complexity economy as “an innovation paradigm characterized by the integration of the disruptions we are facing and designed to respond to the challenges they produce”.
For the arts, Maggs argues that:
- Art’s unique value proposition involves opening new perceptions and unearthing “possibilities of being”, “not only through its power of expression, but through its power of attention as well…. Art offers an ability to witness in ways that transgress the received rationality of a given world.” Further, “if the essence of the arts is rooted in composite powers of attention and expression, then the aesthetic priority—the means by which it integrates these powers— sits at the heart of its social capacity.”
- “We need to adopt a strong, highly integrated systems-approach where knowledge and optimization can scale efficiently and where the growth of individual organizations is secondary to the resilience of the sector and the vibrancy of the art-society relationship more broadly.”
- “Learning for ourselves and learning from each other [should] become central priorities for the sector.”
The author concludes that, if we embrace major shifts in perspectives and approaches, “rather than discovering ourselves as an arts sector down on its luck hoping public funding will carry us into the unforeseeable future despite our unsustainable form, we might find ourselves boldly optimistic instead, standing on the edge of an art-society relationship teeming with unprecedented strength, breadth, and necessity in a post-pandemic world”.