"Socially Engaged Art" - What's That Then?!

Part one: Introduction

Hia, I’m Kitt. I’m an artist, curator and researcher based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This is the second of an occasional series of blogs during 2021-2022 through which I’ll share info about the participatory art project, This, our hive of voices, commissioned by Warwickshire County Record Office as part of Arts & Heritage’s Meeting Point Programme.

The way I make art is often described as “socially engaged” and there are a whole host of other related phrases which refer to similar approaches, for example participatory practice, community art, co-creation. To me, these all basically mean “making art with other people”!

Collaboration and Creativity

All the projects I’m involved in are driven by an endless curiosity about the social uses of art and a fascination about the relationship between collaboration and creativity. I always work alongside other people, often communities drawn together by their location, shared experiences or interests. During projects we explore ideas, connections and imagination. The art works, exhibitions and events that develop during these projects are co-authored by me alongside the other people who get involved, so we are all referred to as co-authors of the project. I enjoy this approach for many reasons, partly because I really love people and getting the chance to meet a variety of groups is interesting and fun!

I also enjoy this approach to creativity because it challenges the stereotype of a lonely, tortured, genius (almost certainly highly privileged, male) artist working in solitude. For me, this stereotype creates an unrealistic and unfair representation of who can (or should) be “allowed” to be creative. Because of its collaborative, experimental nature, Social Engaged Art can be hard to define, but there are 3 things that, in my experience, are important for the majority of people working in this way:

  1. Projects focus on collaboration and the process of making art, as opposed to the “finished” artwork
  2. Projects include discussions and decisions about ethical and social issues which effect the people involved
  3. Many artists who work in this way are actively involved in local and global communities

In part two, I will briefly go through each of these three things and write a little bit about them, using the odd example from work I’ve been involved in.