I is for Intention

| April 28, 2014

An artist’s intention, or the (mis)perception thereof, can make socially-engaged artwork fraught with potential controversy. Why does an artist choose to interact with a specific community and mobilize them for a particular educational and/or creative purpose–especially in circumstances when said artist may be an outsider ? In the best scenarios, an artist’s original intention may one of mutual respect, joint learning, and co-creation; in less ideal ones, the artist may be well-meaning but unwittingly condescending, harmful, or even offensive to the other parties. Worse, as with the “Godot in New Orleans” initiative, a piece can be construed as little more than an artist’s vanity project, or self-righteous in its attempts to “raise awareness” of a problem without actually contributing to its resolution. Judgments aside, what role does an artist inititally intend to play in terms of the project–author, facilitator, director, catalyst, or any/no combination of the above? And how might that intention shift as the work naturally evolves? Perhaps none but the artist can know the true intent behind a work–and even that knowledge is highly subjective and perpetually-changing–but for the artist and community, it guides the way in which a piece comes to life. And, as viewers of whatever documentation exists, our beliefs about the artist’s intention color how we judge the project’s quality or success.