I wrote the following for this year’s group of PSU Art and Social Practice MFA students to consider in an attempt to understand their own intentions for their practice and work. It might be of use to other folks as well:
- How would you like to see your practice as a whole function? By that I mean what do you want to be doing to occupy your time as an artist? For a conventional artist that might mean working in a studio making objects, showing in galleries, spending time doing career administration etc. How do you want your practice to alter or expand from those conventions?
- What do you want the work to be that you make as part of your practice? For a standard studio artist the answer might be oil paintings on canvas and lithographic prints or something like that. What kind of work do you want to make as a socially engaged artist?
- Who would you like your audience to be? Typically for artists it is assumed that the audience is a generic set of people who attend art world functions and go to galleries and museums. Perhaps the highest value audience would be made up of curators, gallerists, collectors, and arts writers, and maybe other artists. For a social practice artist those people might also be desirable as part of an audience, but maybe they are less important than a local audience that could include non-art oriented people. Some of those audience members also might become participants or collaborators in a social practice type project. Who do you have in mind as your ideal audience for your work?
- How is the work distributed? For a studio artist the ideal answer to this question is that a gallery would show, sell, and ship work to collectors and museums. For a social practice artists there might not be any objects to sell and ship in the traditional way, so perhaps distribute isn’t exactly the right word, maybe “deliver” would be better and that includes developing contexts for the work to be made and shown in etc. Basically, how is your audience going to be able encounter and experience your work? This also gets into the topic of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. The primary one are people directly involved with the project possibly as participants, the secondary set isn’t personally involved with working one the project but is able to directly experience the completed work, and the tertiary audience only encounters the work in mediated ways—documentation, including publications, web, presentations, and even word of mouth.
- Finally, how do you want to be supported to do your work? The standard artist response to this would be sales through a commercial gallery, possibly augmented by teaching, lectures, grants, etc. Though that may be the general hope that artists have very few achieve those things especially enough sales to make a living. As an artist working with social engagement sales may not be an option at all and instead along with teaching, lectures, and grants, you might want to be more innovative about other sources of funding which could include commissions from art and non-art organizations, small business approaches, non-college related educational activities, self initiated artist-in-residencies, etc.
There probably will be lots of crossover within the answers to these questions. The answers will undoubtedly change over time as well, but I think it is useful to consider them as a way to make decisions and actions that can help realize a subjectively desirable practice and support system.