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Methodologies of Failure: Evaluation Practice for Socially Engaged Art by Justin Langlois

Canadian artist and art and social practice educator, Justin Langlois offers a list of critique questions for artists developing socially engaged work.  This post is included as part of a series of practical tools for artists making socially engaged work:  

  1. Did your artwork involve other people?
  2. Are you uncomfortable with calling your artwork an artwork?
  3. Would you rather discuss this as a project?
  4. Did you refer to the other people involved as a community?
  5. Have you tried to explain at length the ways in which you are defining the terms 'involved' and 'other people' and 'community'?
  6. Are you painfully aware that there are unavoidable power imbalances at play in this project?
  7. Did you document the results or process of this project using a digital SLR, a camera phone, or Instagram?
  8. Are there obvious formal possibilities for exhibiting this documentation?
  9. Did you wonder if it would it be inappropriate to sell this documentation?
  10. Are there power struggles immediately evident when viewing the documentation?
  11. Have you considered trying to present this work as a book, documentary, or play?
  12. How much pressure did you feel to defend the work as tackling political change?
  13. Did you assume that your project needed to continue indefinitely towards achieving some political end in order for it to be successful?
  14. Were you asked about success, measurable outcomes, attendance levels, or evidence of change?
  15. Did you expect there to be answers to those questions?
  16. Did your research for this project lead you to briefly attend a series of parallel community meetings at which you felt the need to excuse a comment or thought as coming from the perspective of an artist?
  17. Did your project dissolve after a public presentation / workshop / town hall meeting / charette / or screening?
  18. Did you feel an unresolved guilt around its dissolution?
  19. Can you work be critiqued by a painter?
  20. Did you feel belittled when approached by a visual artist, theoretician, or architect?
  21. Have there been discussions of 'radical' theory offered from a great distance to the work?
  22. If your project was a math equation, did the sum always end up as a critique of capitalism?
  23. Is your project illegible enough to likely never be printed in Art Forum or your local newspaper?
  24. Can you imagine yourself being awarded a large-scale prize some years after the launch of your project that you didn't necessarily locate as an art project in the first place?
  25. Could your work easily be mistaken for a project found in surveys of Fluxus, Conceptual Art, or Dada?
  26. Did this project align itself to a set of political goals that have already been articulated?
  27. Is there form evident in the project that would allow it to most easily fit into an identified granting opportunity?
  28. Could your project be mistaken for a restaurant, social service, after-school program, or a guerrilla marketing campaign?
  29. Could your role in the project being defined as that of a facilitator, organizer, or teacher?
  30. Were you asked to explain the reason you think your project is art?

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Reader Comments (4)

I find these questions circuitous and perhaps misleading, bordering on disingenuous. The very fact that this one person thinks it necessary to teach social art by presenting single-minded analytic criteria indicates to me that the rigidity of the person asking the questions counters the spontaneity and original communal effort in any project that is truly collaborative and whose questions need to be decided and agreed on by those who are collaborating. A process I would use is to focus on developing a common set of values among participants who also happen to be those who pay (or not) but come to witness something they are attracted to. Surely the debate about public life of art is part of the process and, in my opinion, should include a broader community. Emphasis is on the concept "community" which is not a substitute for words such as witness or audience, or consumer. In my opinion, any art that is concerned with social justice has to start with the unwavering belief that all humans are part of the process, and that it's necessary to engage all humans in the process.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterstephan geras

What used to be called Philanthropy, or Social Activism, which always had a large creative input, with journals and performances, costumes, depictions, buildings, and manifestos, and was practiced by regular people, even poor people, not just the rich - is now being called Social Practice Art by people with MFAs. I feel this is Special Snowflakism. Trying to say "Look At Me!" while I help poor people. I don't question whether it's art or not. For me the question, as it is for all aesthetic hybridizations: "Something" + "Art" - is it good "Something"? is it good "Art"? because the mediocre stuff isn't cherished or protected, it doesn't last, and when our civilization leaves only the ephemeral behind, then who we are won't be understood or appreciated or criticized. We won't be regarded. And we should be regarded - if only for what sort of people help or destroy the earth and other people.

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott Bodenheimer

Did you ever consider that a monotonous focus on "social justice" might limit your art?
Do you think that you are being brave, "transgressive", and radical with your art?
Do you understand that mindlessly parroting the beliefs of your peers, teachers, advisers, and the entire art "community" is in fact neither brave, transgressive, or radical?
Do you think that there is stodgy bourgeois that must be shocked out of their complacency, and you are just the artist to do it?
Do you think you deserve a government grant?
Do you think that people who object to paying for art they don't like are philistines?
What if they called themselves a "community"?

March 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Are people missing the joke? Most of these are yes-no questions. I can't imagine anyone seriously using them as "practical tools" for critique.

March 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFHT

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