Thingness (From Rod Northcutt)

The process of making creative communication (call it art…maybe?) that impacts communities (rather than individuals) and futures social understandings cannot follow a straight, prescribed line between A and B. Often, the outcome is something that is difficult to recognized as art at all and, as strange as it may seem, it seems possible that the product of art making does not necessarily need to be art, at least not in the popularized use of the term.

Because we often use art systems (art schools, galleries, museums, and studios) in the formation and exhibition of MAKETANK projects and initiatives, but because they sometimes don’t look much like art as most people know it, we must constantly wrestle with the elusive and tiring definition of art. Questions we often ask ourselves are: is an item or system created by an artist/group of artists necessarily art? If we make a product and say that it is art, how closely should it resemble popular notions of art? Should we be concerned that our research might be panned by the art field because it does not “fit the suit” clearly enough? And how important is that term anyhow when it comes to social progress?

MAKETANK is a collective of makers, all with art academic training and significant time spent in the professional field (making, critiquing, and exhibiting). That word “artist” is as broad as the term “art” happens to be (and everyone in the field hates when someone waxes philosophic on what art really is…ugh!), and it represents an identity that, for me, is difficult to embrace because of the looseness of the term. At its broadest, the label “artist” can describe a person who is skilled in an activity, so this could include anyone doing anything from making products for sale through galleries to making decorative interiors to making innovative cakes to creating inventive software to making conceptual installations (and much more). It is such a broad spectrum! I am noticing that being an artist in this era is not difficult, but making contemporary, progressive, futuring vehicles for communication (call them art if you want) is a real challenge and, frankly, many self-titled artists are simply not interested in doing that kind of work with that kind of mandate, which of course is just fine. There are, however, many practitioners out there who have gone through some sort of formalized art training and who create issue-based engagement that may or may not have a thing at its core. Their work falls under many labels, such as dialogical art (Kester), art and social practice (the name of Portland State University’s MFA program), socially engaged art (Helguera), social sculpture (Beuys), socially interactive art (Willats), relational aesthetics (Bourriaud). So many labels perhaps replace the “isms” of the 20th century art timeline. So, we are still not sure what to call what we do, but we are happy to be doing it and excited to join the ranks of other art types who want to fight the good fight. 

Coming soon: How MAKETANK projects evolve by making the physical form of a work the last thing we think of.