A Latino writer whose name I can no longer recall said (paraphrasing here) 'It's the job of the artist to infect the public." This is a sentiment that I clipped out of the paper and carried in my wallet for years until it finally disintegrated.
I think I felt this was a truth to live by. Yes, we want to stir things up - get people excited and motivated - get them talking, and most of all doing. A LOT of art has done exactly that to great effect, from controversial Michael Moore films about politics to paintings by Thomas Eakins in which anatomy professors dissect the human body in class.
Yes, those who operate in such a highly charged realm can expect to take some hits. And to create so much buzz they naturally rise to the top of their field. This is the value of taking a stand - not just to stand out, but precisely because you stir people up, get them thinking … you 'infect' them.
This came to mind because of a recent article I read in The New York Times about an artist, Doug Auld, who paints people badly disfigured by fires. (The body of work is called State of Grace.) He found these subjects unexpected, the canvases of their faces beautiful in their grim reality - and the outlook of these fire survivors amazingly frank and empowering.
The article about Auld's work also noted that a number of people had accused Auld of exploiting his subjects. But I say he's opening up a conversation - using his art to question social mores and help us get to know people who we might ordinarily shun or shy away from. That's a powerful, direct conversation; not for everyone, but remarkable for those who embrace it.
What do you think? What is the job of art?