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Art and Ethics

Does art have an obligation to anything other than its own aesthetic and formal concerns? Though the debate between those who favour a staunch aestheticism (‘art for art’s sake’) and those who argue for the social responsibility of the artist continues, it is hard to argue that art is politically or socially neutral in a country such as Pakistan, where basic art classes are a luxury unavailable to most children and the serious pursuit of art is not even considered a possibility.

Art is woven into the social fabric; it emerges from a particular context and the artist is moulded by his or her social and cultural environment. There are many ways for art to have a positive social impact. In a society where freedom of expression is tightly controlled, the artist can function as a voice of resistance, providing an outlet for him or herself and others. And on a more simple level, one has to merely witness the pure joy of children participating in an art class.

Last month, ArtNow and Vasl Artists’ Collective held a presentation and panel discussion on the benefits of a creative approach to education. The first part of the event featured a presentation by Paul Collard, Executive Director of Creativity, Culture and Education, an organization that promotes the use of creative learning methodologies in schools. A panel discussion with six artists, three from Pakistan and three from the UK, as well as the education director of IKON Gallery, Birmingham, followed. The artists, who had received training at IKON in May of this year on collaborative activities that foster creative thinking, discussed their experience teaching in five different schools in Karachi.

Mr. Collard stressed the importance of making sure art was not a “one-off” in children’s lives, but a constant presence, because activities that unleash children’s’ imaginations allow them to engage more deeply with one another and participate more fully in their schools and communities. Educational programmes that call for a creative learner and creative teacher result in a highly functioning classroom, greater attendance in schools, improved intellectual and physical engagement, build confidence and boost self-esteem. As Bharti Patel, one of the visiting British artists said, children are hungry to find their voice, and are thrilled when cultural and creative learning opportunities allow them to do so.

For the disenfranchised and the marginalised, art and creativity can have a major impact, teaching young people – and especially girls, who in our society are routinely silenced – that their voices and experiences matter, and that they deserve to have the ability to shape their own destinies.

One type of ethical obligation of art is to have a positive effect on society. Another set of ethics in art are those that govern the art world. In the commercial art world, as in any business arena, there are opportunities for unethical or unprofessional practices. Yet the relationship between the artist and the gallerist or the artist and the collector is different from the typical client relationship. It is much more personal: an artist’s career has to be guided and nurtured by the gallerist and a relationship based on mutual trust has to be built with the collector.

In recent years, prices for works by even young artists have skyrocketed. The danger of this going unchecked is that the boom-and-bust cycles that are now a typical feature of most markets will affect the art market as well, with the main victim being the artist. Mainstream system of checks and balances Many young artists who commanded inflated prices in other art markets in the region saw their careers destroyed after their local art markets, based on speculation and hot air, collapsed.

Pakistan’s art world is flourishing today, but in order for it to benefit everyone involved and for the arts to have a wider impact on society, we need to ensure that its growth is based on an ethical system of transparency and socially motivated practices, eschewing individual greed and gain. We hope that by supporting creative educational and social programmes, ArtNow is contributing to building a more equitable and stable future for Pakistan.

Bye for NOW.

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