View Jeanne van Heeswijk’s site here
The working definition of “art” has undergone intense and systematic scrutiny, at least since the Renaissance, and especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. At times I think it has no real definition; anybody who views whatever they do as art is an artist. Art is not dependent on the creation of objects, representation or illusion, the application of aesthetic principles, the conveyance of a concept from artist to patron, or even a clear distinction between artist and patron. Renaissance painters, Minimalist sculptors, and Social Practice Artists can all share the same amoebic identity. Each tends to hew art’s wide scope to suit their practice.
Jeanne van Heeswijk defines art as “engaging with images”. In her work she says “I paint portraits of people at a moment in time, It’s just that they’re 3D and in real life” She insists that art must return value to the community that consumes it and is primarily a tool for change in society and culture. Artists are responsible for active cultural production against trends of commodification and passive cultural consumption. They are agents of social change. Van Heeswijk’s work resembles that of a community organizer or social activist, which she firmly denies she is. Her ongoing “art installation” in Liverpool seeks to resist the systemic gentrification of working class neighborhoods in North England by going into a community and working with its members to facilitate “cultural production” in the form of a locally run bakery, increase economic activity within the existing community and thus avoid the impending government buy-out and remodel of the neighborhood, the rise in property value, and dislocation of low-income residents.
I think this is excellent work and I firmly agree with Van Heeswijk’s social principles. I dare not refute her self exclaimed identity as an artist, especially since as I looked around at the art professors, museum patrons/curators and all the other art students in the room, there was ubiquitous acceptance. My concern is not that the umbrella definition of art is growing too large to mean anything at all or is engorged to the point of enveloping other disciplines that have a right to exist themselves; it is that when I raise my hand to ask what cultural significance an abstract painting has, Van Heeswijk tells me to “avoid the trap” that is finding intrinsic value in aesthetics or object creation as if Frank Stella and Donald Judd had never lived. My concern is that she imposes the responsibility of “cultural production” solely on artists when countless other human endeavors can and should share that load. My concern is that the simple enjoyments of the application of paint, gestural rendering of a figure, creation of space on a two dimensional surface, material boldness of a sculpture in wood, metal, clay, or stone are all being discounted as invalid. My concern is that I, uncomfortable seeking conflict or seeking to impose my opinions on others, yet finding sweet satisfaction in the enjoyment of those physical objects created by human hands and the manipulation of material, color, line, form etc., am misguided in seeing those things as important, regardless of their effectiveness towards inciting radical social change.