Presentation followed by Q & A. Takes place via Zoom on July 7, 2021 at 5 PM.
You will be emailed a receipt after registering. The Zoom details will be included as a download from this email receipt.
Carol Becker is Professor of the Arts and Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts. Before coming to Columbia, she was Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She holds a PhD in English and American Literature from the University of California, San Diego. She also has worked closely with the World Economic Forum to build its program on art and culture. She is the author of numerous articles and several books that include: The Invisible Drama: Women and the Anxiety of Change; Zones of Contention: Essays on Art, Institutions, Gender, and Anxiety; Surpassing the Spectacle: Global Transformations and the Changing Politics of Art; The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society, and Social Responsibility; Thinking in Place: Art, Action, and Cultural Production and the memoir Losing Helen.
Intellectual Background Biography
In a more intimate vein, there also is a parallel biography, one that helps explain how I came to write these books–– the intellectual, and cultural world in which these ideas were developed.
Social issues have always been central to my understanding of living in society as a citizen. Even when I was an undergraduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo studying literature, I was involved in the Vietnam anti-war movement. When I was getting my PhD in English and American literature at University of California, San Diego, with an emphasis on 19th Century American Literature, Poe and Melville, I was also equally involved in political activism. I continued my anti-war involvement, and also worked for the United Farmworkers Union organizing their grape and lettuce boycott in San Diego, while participating in the early days of the Women’s Movement.
My interests always have been on the integration of ideas and action, or the activist side of intellectual history. When studying literature, I was also studying philosophy with Herbert Marcuse and therefore I was grounded early on in the concepts of the Frankfurt School. Their thinking pivoted around the importance of art and culture in transforming society.
Once teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and surrounded by artists and art making, I began writing essays such as “Artists and Social Responsibility,” and “The Artist as Public Intellectual” taking the frame of Edward Said’s work on the Public Intellectual and extending it to artist’s practice. It was a revelation not to think only about the object of art, but also the role of artists and the process of making art in the construction of history.
Over the years I have become fascinated with the way in which people love art and admire artists, but in US society at least, do not really understand or support the practice of making art and do not value art and artists’ importance to the well-being of society. I am interested in why creativity–– this essential part of humanness–– is denied by so many. Part of the labor of artists is to keep the deeper, vulnerable, and playful parts of humans alive. Why is this work undervalued?
Carol Becker: The New Now
Today we are living in a society that has been turned in on itself. A New Yorker a writer called our time, “The New Different.” I am calling it the New Now. And in this world, that must take seriously how we are already altered by this pandemic, we can ask what will be the role of artists? Will it be the same or different, if essential then how?
I am interested in artists who think about such things and who make work about such things and are interested in where and how art and they fit into society––now and into the future.
Because our present condition speaks to the imbalances of our physical world, we will need art that operates on many levels–– I am interested in it all: art that speaks to climate change and the fragility of humans and the planet, art that touches the unconscious, art that reminds us that nature and beauty can be healing, art that understands that we are complex beings who understand ourselves and our identities in very distinct ways. All such work, if done effectively has impact.
At present we have to consider what does it mean that while we humans are stopped or paused, the planet is regenerating. Our absence helps other species to live more healthfully. How can we, the collective, talk about the new life we should be considering, as we observe how a greater balance is achieved when we are no longer able to pollute the world to such an extent.
I would like to bring together a group of artists who take their role in society, seriously and who are interested in the complexity of our present condition and want to discuss it and approach it in original ways, in their work.
There is no one type of media or practice that does this more successfully than others; there is only intention–– what artists are trying to accomplish.
For the Associates, it would be excellent to have a group of artists and writers who would like to discuss this range of thinking, across different practices, whether in painting, film, installation, essays, memoir and so forth. The most important thing is that the work tries to address its relationship to a larger world outside itself, and has succeeded or failed in interesting ways.
There will be readings and discussion that will range from excerpts from the classics––writings by philosopher Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, Buddhist teachings such as Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, the poetry of William Blake, and works by thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, and Fred Moten.
I would also hope to welcome a mix of writers, artists, and thinkers working in multiple forms, so that feedback about the work crosses disciplines and orientations. A global, and diverse group if possible, would be ideal, since societies and cultures differ in how they understand the importance of contemporary art.