[2012 Symposium_Dscussion1] Questions on the Social Value of Artistic Activity within a Region

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Questions on the Social Value of
Artistic Activity within a Region

Kyung-nyun Son 
General Director of Dept. of Culture and the Arts, Bucheon Cultural Foundation

Human beings create their own histories, but they do not do so however they please. Human beings create history within an environment which has been given and passed down from the past to be directly confronted, not one which they themselves choose.1)

Professor Fabrice Raffin drew out inconvenient truths regarding arts and culture which we consider to be of common knowledge to present four points which must be addressed in order to analyze the influence culture has on local communities. His honest inquiry arouses interest in a few aspects. It is because it causes us to review the errors of policy judgements which are brought about by vague concepts, by revealing our current states in which we are incapable of coming to a clear conclusion while engaging in an endless debate regarding the arts since Aristole had claimed in Poetics that the magician of metaphors is the greatest of all. 

When one reads a history of the arts, they would be able to confirm that the arts have been continuously meeting with regular people in everyday life and that the artist also has not been unrelated to members of society. However, the arts of today have become institutionalized and stewarded by experts, and have begun to be separated from our lives. Artworks are exchangeable for cash, the artist is considered a special, sensitive and heroic individual, and there are even stereotypes of the fastidious artist involved. In light of such phenomena, Raffins second issue for consideration of the powerful symbolic potential connected to the emotion aspect of arts and culture is brought to mind. In other words, Professor Raffins reflection that debates on the influence the arts have on local communities cause issues of distinction and issues of identity is deemed to be ultimately in line with questions of how to form a relationality with residents who live in such spaces when arts and culture approach local communities.   

It is said that up through the end of the fifteenth century, the process of art-making was done in group format. It is said that the arts separated from craftsmanship later and was finally freed from the guilds; if one accepts such a perspective, they will understand that there have been changes in the various processes, institutions and the artists role related to art-making by era. As was mentioned even within such currents in Professor Raffins third point of inquiry of the aspect of contradiction, the two debate points of the breaking off of universality and a means to recreate universality and what is common still cause us to fall deep into meditation. It seems that here we must discuss the role and results of the positive or negative within the relations of arts and culture, life in local communities and residents as subjects, of the trends of cultural instrumentalization which encompasses the topics of local community improvement in the name of the power of culture and improvement of the lands, differentiation with other regions and maintenance of social unity, which are said to have become the core of Europes arts and culture policy.  

The fourth reflection which points to confusion regarding the concept of arts and culture is one which is always demanded in sites of practice. If one looks at the general level of understanding of the arts which people possess, they are of valuables which are transacted at high prices such as with Picassos paintings, concerts at expensive concert halls at which masters perform, activities of the educated who have received special training and demonstrate extraordinary talents, contemporary art is difficult to understand, and it is also not interesting, one must have disposable income or be wealthy to enjoy the arts, etc. and it is that such thoughts influence policy decisions as well.   

The beauty of Professor Raffins thesis is in that he is presenting an approach of prior understanding first in place of a compulsive attitude which insists on immediately finding a kind of answer of culture influences local communities or it does not. Therefore, he serves as a guide in understanding with greater finesse the influence culture has on local communities with regards to the declinations following the subject, position, period, situation and level of an area. As H. Becker is explaining the arts as a collective product in that they rely on support personnel, i.e. many people, etc., that the activities of artists who have entered local areas combine with space and time to affect the lives in those areas may appear difficult to immediately reveal in measurements but finding relationships are not all that difficult.     

The case investigations of Professor Shin-eui Park are at exactly this point. If one supposes that the life of a person consists of the four dimensions of putting food on the table(economics-labor), the exercising of individuality and creativity(arts-culture), lifestyles(personal values-common values) and a spiritual level(actual existence-spirituality), etc., then each dimension will also take precedence or be pronounced based on the spirit of the times or in a life of a certain way, to specifically reveal the process and results in private/public spaces. Places signify a spatial base in which everyday life is lived by populations located within certain spaces(place as a geographic substance) form socio-economic relations(place as position), and possess shared values, beliefs and symbols(place as cultural substance).2) If interest in local areas by political scientists emphasizes the hierarchy of power between the central and the local, in sociology there is sometimes greater interest in a kind of social, group identity held by an individual or a group in connection with a certain space or place.3) Therefore a sense of community which ties certain areas or places together, and mental attitudes and positions related to them, etc. become important occasions for figuring out a local area, language, culture, customs and institutions, etc. become the basis for these.

When we understand communities, we can understand them as providing people opportunities through social interactions4) to not only understand ones own but also others behavior, ascribe significance to those actions, and to create and recreate culture through such. By becoming a member of a certain community, people obtain the benefit of becoming connected through feelings of personal friendships, a sense of emotional unity, ethical binding, social cohesion, continuance of time, etc. Of course, the community in a contemporary sense is of open yet publicly benefitting characteristics in which, by a certain area as a unit, residents with a somewhat loose form of local identity and a sense of social solidarity, in combination with various social forces in relation to such, form the rights and interests of communities, and it can be said that the community here is formed by a mutually dependent relationship among a population group distinguished based on a certain territory and its members.

If Professor Raffin is focusing on an approach for the analysis of influence the arts have on local communities, Professor Shin-eui Park presents a study on changes in the local communitys perceptions upon meeting with the arts, based on the specific example of Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON. To collect objective and standard-fitting evidence regarding how to understand communities along with what influence will the arts have within local communities would be no easy task. Also, regarding not only the practical acts of how an artwork is born but also how we understand and accept the world through artworks, and how our lives change through those processes, no one would be able to provide a clear answer. In other words, there are several kinds of statistical evidence which may prove the usefulness or importance of the arts, but there are still many difficulties in objectively proving the superiority of the arts.

How to find the evidence that the power of the arts changes perceptions in local communities yields much varying results depending on the level or conditions of the examples, and therefore there are limits for them to be generalized. For such reasons, the research thesis of Professor Shin-eui Park limits its scope to Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON and analyzes on and off-line surveys, for which there are limits to its ability to become generalized, which one must take into account when reading. 

However, even with such limits under consideration, there still remain some questions. For example, according to Professor Raffins statement that The aspect of time for community cultural projects lies in asking to assess the issue surrounding territorial influences. The processes of evaluating culture today tend to excessively tilt toward hosting or participating in events or in moments of transmittal to the public, it remains to be seen whether the survey with ninety-seven respondents and done in a short period of time could obtain capacity as meaningful results in which Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON which has been run for around three years could satisfy the three issues. In other words, Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON could in terms of policy set its own direction as the role of a space which values its relationship to its community, and produces the participation of residents and cultural diversity within the wishes for cultural democracy, but to interpret the results of this case study to coincide with policy direction inspires caution.     

The study finds that the arts find it difficult to escape from the logic of cultural capital and acknowledges that the arts remains in the realm of high culture, that residents fall short of the level of recognition that the arts can melt into ones own life and that the entry barrier to enjoying the arts is high because of making ones livelihood, in which case one would wonder what a realistic proposal regarding how to resolve the entry barrier for citizens to enjoy the arts by continuously running Seoul Art Space GEUMCHEON would look like.

The problem recognition of what kind of arts are the arts residents think of is close to the indication regarding the confusion between the concepts of arts and culture as Professor Raffin mentioned, and we here come to once again refer to how to define concepts in terms of local and policy dimensions. It is because looking no farther than at the example of Seoul Art Space_Geumcheon, a policy direction regarding whether it is an artist residency or of the role a community center must be established within a certain relationship to the local cultural community, and a certain level of agreement must be made regarding what the value of this is.  

Eric Booth once said, How are the arts actually useful to our lives? People who directly participate in artistic activity realize the value of the arts themselves so they do not need to ask what the value of the arts is. Personally, I wonder if it is not that the value and strength of arts and culture lies in arts and culture becoming ones life itself rather than in thinking about how arts and culture are influencing the local community.   

1)  The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederick, 2005, Mondial:US.
2)   Kim In (1991), Theories of Urban Geography, Beobmunsa, p.18
3)   Lee Sang-Bong (2009), Outlook on locality liberal arts research as a new horizon of liberal arts studies, Locality Liberal Arts, inaugural issue, pp.41~73
4)  George A. Hillery, Jr(1955), Definition of Community : Areas of Agreement, Rural Sociology, Vol.20