Accepting role as an artist?


Accepting a role as an artist, do artists have social responsibilities? Anyone with elaborate comments on that?


Wrote an essay on this a while ago :slight_smile:


Hm, define ‘responsibilities’. You don’t have to do anything, artist or not. You always do things because the alternative sucks, that’s why you make a choice. So you don’t have to do anything should you happen to be an artist, there is no big ‘law’ or ‘statement’ that you are forced to obey.
Whether you’ll be improving the world or not is entirely up to you.

In fact, I sometimes think a lot of artists I like don’t really want to improve the world but just have this urge to share their feelings or passions or thoughts rather as to provite comment.


I think anyone who does work that’s meant to be seen by the public has some form of social responsibility. They are the ones shaping society’s perception about many subjects (films, television, print media, radio, live performances…etc), and if everyone only cares about self-expression without any concern for social responsibility, then we’d be heading towards darker times (however, most creative people seem to have a fairly healthy sense of what’s right or wrong, and it reflects in their work. Some intentionally shock others to make a statement, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing).


I somewhat think the opposite of that, art reflects a societies perception and helps to shape it. In my opinions artists should not focus on social responsibility it stifles progress. Right and wrong are relative to the individual these are not rigid concepts at all. Society will digest what they see in art and come to their own conclusions accepting or denying it, but I feel that they should be allowed the full spectrum to make their own decisions on how to shape their identity.


Yes, it also shapes it, not only reflect it, just like you said. So that means it does play a role in shaping society.

Of course creative people shouldn’t focus only on social messages–that would get pretty boring, but it’s kinda of natural for us to depict our own moral standards and social values. For example, a mentally normal, healthy artist is not going to all of a sudden depict a series of brutal rape images for no reason–because that type of behavior is so far removed from his own values and morals. He might do a comic book about a psycho serial rapist–but if he’s even slightly concerned about social responsibility, he’ll make sure that the serial rapist gets what he deserves in the story’s conclusion. If the artist isn’t responsible and only depicts the serial rapist having one success after another while exploiting the animalistic and violent rape scenes, then you have to wonder if that’s really acceptable.


I see a lot of potentially good art ruined by social messages. Most people outside the realms of art intentionally try to avoid/ignore these messages. I think the idea that art forms society is merely artists becoming overly convinced in their self-worth.


But I’m sure you’ve also seen the opposite–where a potentially good creative work is ruined by the complete lack of substance, where everything was without meaning and totally shallow.

No ones says it has to be either this or that–nothing is ever black or white. To say that art forms society would be ridiculous hubris on the part of the art world, but to say that it has absolutely no effect at all would be just as extreme. The answer’s usually somewhere in the middle.


Another factor is what is the goal of the artist work. Is it a piece they are doing for themselves, or for someone else. A type of personal piece or a public message piece.

If you think about art as a whole there is fine art, commercial art etc. Propaganda is used to influence thoughts or ideas. As an example some of the work done in WW II, or political cartoons. That can have a strong effect on a viewer.

Now someone may do some personal work as an expression of how they feel. That may stay in there studio or a gallery. There it’s their own reflection and not intended to shape the world around them, unlike propaganda or commercial art.

Then other times, a personal piece of work may gain public exposure and influence people and that was not it’s original reason for creation.

There is a lot of grey and varying shades in a world that at times would like everything black and white.

In the end it goes both ways.


I’m not sure I should be posting here, because I’m not ‘that guy’… I didn’t do it. :slight_smile: … but,

I suppose that if someone doesn’t have a sense of responsibility, they shouldn’t pretend to have one. Find your place and the art will be in place if you get my drift.

Be aware though, it has the potential to speak to thousands if not millions, not in the least in a suggestive way. Whatever effect it has (had), it wouldn’t have happened without you.

On the other hand I want to ENJOY art, not live it.


Figured I may as well post the essay I wrote, since it’s relevant:



Hegel defined Aesthetics as “The science of sensation of feeling” (pg. 1,1975.) This requires all aesthetic experiences to relate to sensory experiences. Such sensory experiences may include looking at the many forms of visual art, listening to music, looking at and feeling sculptures and, to a lesser extent, wine tasting and culinary criticism.

However, just looking at or hearing potentially aesthetic stimulants does not constitute an aesthetic experience. You must be emotionally moved by the source in order for it to qualify as an aesthetic experience. Kant separates the aesthetic and cognitive functions. (Sheppard, 1987) Let us suppose that aesthetic experiences are judged separately from the cognitive functions. This means that aesthetic experiences must rely on either emotions or intuition alone.

Most aesthetic experiences engage both cognitive and emotional functions-- for example, I may see a painting by Jan van Eyck. This painting could contain within it a narrative, employing clues to guide the viewer through the ‘story’. Taking Van Eyck as an example, the Arnolfini Marriage includes common symbols- such as a dog to represent loyalty and a single candle symbolizing marriage.

These are examples of conventions in art. Other conventions include colours being associated with emotions. Without these conventions, art would have no meaning, but simply be matter on canvas.

Therefore we need to appreciate art with both our emotional and cognitive functions. Aesthetics can therefore more appropriately be called the highest ideal of the relationship between the senses and the emotions. Positive aesthetic experiences are, according to Hegel:

“A work of art is such only because , originating from the spirit, it now belongs to the territory of the spirit.” The spirit in humans is a combination of the intellect and the heart together with the spiritual.


Having defined aesthetics as a positive corporeal experience which appeals broadly both to the mind and to the spirit, I shall now define morality as a part of aesthetics.


“When morality is mentioned, people often think of
.a code which governs our relationships with others.”
(Sheppard, 1987, pg. 137)

There are two types of morality. The first type is religious morality and the second type is ‘natural law’. Natural law is the law that people may come up with of their own account without religious influence. Usually top of such lists is the law against homicide.

Moral laws are interesting because they reflect the general attitude of the populace without having to refer to philosophical documents which are usually published by learned thinkers and somewhat removed from the general public. Art and morality are inextricably entwined- Sheppard gives examples: “The people in a film, play or novel may be depicted as breaking moral rules or as conforming to them.”(1987,pg 138) How the audience reacts emotionally to such scenes will also depend on morality- their own. This description also encompasses the visual arts- people will react to scenes portrayed or concepts put across, whether it be through the medium of paint, pen or stained glass.

The art of the age will reflect its morality. One such example is the way that nudity in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement was painted over by one of his pupils under instruction from a later Pope. (He put bragghe, Italian underwear, on eleven of the figures.) (USAToday, April 2005.)

I have defined morality and also proven it to be an important influence in art, both in gauging public response to art works and also as a barometer for the culture of the age within which the art was produced.


[li]Does art influence society? [/li][/ul]
[/list]. Since the time of the Lascaux cave paintings, humans have been trying to put their own mark in the world, passing on their thoughts and observations of the world from generation to generation. Art has been particularly influential in the areas of information and entertainment-good examples include medical illustration and architectural blueprints. Depending on the person, these can have aesthetic value. However, aesthetic value seems to be most prevalent in the types of art which are liked by larger groups of people ‘The artist, to acheieve greatness, must in some way appeal to a community-feeling
hitherto, the highest form of community-feeling has been religious.’ (Read, 1968, pg. 86)

The invention and influence of the written word advanced society at a rate never been seen before- for the first time, information could be spread between groups of people. This meant society became more educated and so technology rapidly evolved. The written word also influenced philosophers and enabled them to indoctrinate others. This was the power of the written word.

Visual arts also had the same power to influence, but in a different way. Visual arts give themselves more easily over to religious subjects- possibly because of the aesthetic ideal of uniting man with his spirit.

Illiterate people were evangelized mainly through two methods- oral gospels and visual illustration of the principles and stories told, for example frescos of Bible stories. This propagated the spread of Christianity throughout the Western World. This is actually where the word ‘Propaganda’ comes from.

‘Within the present century, however, the popular image of propaganda has undergone radical changes and the word has come to acquire overtones implying a process which is frequently sinister, lying and based on the deliberate attempt on the part of an individual or group to manipulate, often by concealed or underhand means, the minds of others for their own ulterior ends.’ (Brown, 1963, pg.11)

Propaganda means the spreading of ideas and beliefs throughout society. As we have seen, the written word and the visual image were both important constituents of propaganda, for whatever means. Therefore, art influences society, both through propaganda and also through education and entertainment.

[li]Does morality influence art? [/li][/ul]
[/list]Morality, as a code of conduct, influences every area of life. People who grievously err against prevailing morals of the day can be excommunicated, cast out, treated as a pariah. They can even be sentenced to death. Morality acts as a glue holding together the rights and responsibilities of all the separate individuals in a society. This principle even works its way through to economics- John Nash put forward the idea that, in order to succeed, each individual must work for ‘the greater good and also for his own interests.’ Working for your own interests does not work, nor working for the greater good alone. A happy balance must be struck. This happy balance finds its way through trial and error and also by listening to codes passed down through the ages. A quote by Kant illustrates this. ‘What is honourable about me is that I can obey- and it should be no different for you than for me!’ (Kant, 1944, pg 84.)

This is how our moral code came to be. Since morality pervades life, it will also contribute a vital element to art- works of art that are grossly against the moral code do not tend to do very well and many would not even see the light of day.

It is obvious then that most common works of art would not go against the moral code of the day and instead would promote it. Another reason that morality would influence art is found in the fact that many of the more famous works of art were sponsored by communities and these communities would either be directly involved in a Church (the Catholic church being a prime example) or indirectly, that is, they want to promote good morals amongst the citizens that the work is being commissioned for. Plato’s idea of beauty shows this- things are not beautiful in themselves, only in the ideals that they embody. (Republic, 1975, p.22.) Morals, then, often influence art.


[li]Therefore, art influences society morally. [/li][/ul]

Proceeding logically from the past two arguments, we can safely say that art has an important moral influence on society. The clearest examples of art influencing society morally is often found in propaganda- the word here being treated in an objective, non-biased way.

Propaganda, as we saw before, is the spread of ideas and beliefs throughout society. One of the most famous examples of propaganda and the one that most people think of immediately when the word ‘propaganda’ is mentioned, is the propaganda campaign of Hitler in the Second World War.

Hitler used media to promote his irrational beliefs- his absolute confidence in ‘his’ Aryan, Germanic race and prejudice against the Jewish race. This ranged from his use of the music of Wagner to promote Germanic patriotism to the graphic use of the Star of David to mark Jewish people out to others as inferior on the streets.

The arts and media were also used extensively after the war to denounce the nazis- everything from films to newspapers to magazine articles to comic strips- all you need to see is Art Spiegelman’s ‘MAUS’ to see how effectively the media of the comic strip adapts itself to promoting ideas and beliefs.

The line between art and the media has blurred somewhat in the past century, with political cartoons (such as these by Hogarth.) and photography in particular becoming an additional weapon to the armoury of visual art propagandists. This means we need to include all types of media in the moral argument.

. In his book ‘The Uses of Images.’, E.H. Gombrich says:

‘It is true that the keen eye of the beholder will also penetrate into the nature of a nation when examining its political life or its scientfific achievements but the most subtle and characteristic feathures of a peoples’ soul can only be recognized in its artistic creations.’ (1999, p. 86.)


As we have deduced, art and the media does influence society in a moral way and therefore the people working within these areas have an important moral influence on society.

A society in which positive moral values are espoused would be generally a more pleasant society to be in. It would create individuals who consider their actions as affecting not only themselves but also the community around them. They would also be more likely to adjust their actions so as to attain the moral ideal of the popular standard.

We are already doing this to a certain point- we are censoring films, so that younger people cannot see morally inappropriate films before they are ‘ready’. However, just because someone is over the age of 21 does not mean that they are ‘ready’ to be influenced by morally corruptible sources. Maybe society needs to consider the ‘moral limit’ it sets for itself in the media?

Even Nietzsche agrees:

‘The strange fact is that everything on earth that exists and has existed by way of freedom, subtlety, daring, dance and perfect sureness, whether it be in ideas, or in governance, or in oratory or rhetoric, in the arts as well as in manners, has developed only by virtue of the “tyranny of such despotic laws” and seriously it is very likely that this is what is “nature” and “natural” and not that laisser-aller!’ (1998, p 76.)

and again;

‘It seems that the essential thing, both in heaven and on earth, is that there be a protracted period of undirectional obedience, in the long run, that is how something emerged and emerges that makes life on earth worth living, virtue, for example, or art
something transfiguring, elegant, wild and divine.’ (1998, p 76)


We have seen that art influences society, that morality influences art and therefore that art influences society in a moral way.

From this we may draw conclusions pointing to the fact that professionals in the arts and media should exercise their responsibility to distribute information wisely. Morality in aesthetic experiences should not be taken lightly and should be seen as the huge social influence it is. Having a moral responsibility means that one must be constantly on the lookout for pernicious influences and prevent their spread.

It is time that art is rediscovered and taken back by artists- not as a source of income but as a method of communication of what is the most high ideal of the human spirit. This is what is missing and the lack of this is what is pernicious about the current culture.

‘The entire practice of the culture industry transfers the profit motive naked onto cultural forms- ever since these cultural forms first began to earn a living for their creators as commodities in the marketplace, they had already possessed soemthing of this quality. But then they saught after profit only indirectly, over and above their autonomous essence.’ ( Bronner & Kellner, 1989, pg. 129)

To sum up, I believe that moral responsibility of art and media needs to be taken more seriously, as apathy about such an important facet of life is incredibly detrimental to our culture.

Art and morals will always remain inextricably linked, for each uses the other for its own purpose. Each can also be used to abuse the other. It is up to us to ensure that the two are balanced and remain that way. Art is beautiful and so are morals. They should help each other attain the highest ideals.

2,200 words, Due November 25th, 2005.

Theresa Ryan,


[li][font=Times New Roman]Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1770-1831. - Aesthetics : lectures on fine art / by G. W. F. Hegel ; translated by T. M… - Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1975.[/font][/li][/ul]

[li][font=Times New Roman]Sheppard, Anne D. R. - Aesthetics : an introduction to the philosophy of art / Anne Sheppard. - Oxford [Oxfordshire]; New York : Oxford University Press, 1987.[/font][/li][/ul]

[li][font=Times New Roman]Noelle Knox, (2005) ‘Cardinals told to let Michelangelo be their teacher.’ USAToday, . [/font][/li][/ul]

[li][font=Times New Roman]Read, Sir, Herbert Edward, 1893-1968. - The meaning of art / by Herbert Read. - New and rev. ed. - London : Faber and Faber, 1972.[/font][/li][/ul]

[li][font=Times New Roman]Brown, James Alexander Campbell, 1911-1964. - Techniques of persuasion : from propaganda to brainwashing / J. A. C. Brown. - Harmondsworth, Eng; New York : Penguin Books, 1981.[/font][/li][/ul]
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[li]Kant, Immanuel, 1724-1804.- Logic/ Hartman and Swarz, New York, Dover Publications, 1944.[/li][/ul]

[li]Plato, Republic, 1974- New York, Cornell Press.[/li][/ul]

[li]Gombrich, E. H., Ernst Hans, 1909-. - The uses of images : studies in the social function of art and visual commun. - London : Phaidon, 1999.[/li][/ul]

[li]Nietzsche Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900- Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to Philosophy of the future.- Dover Publications, 1998.[/li][/ul]

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My mind shudders at the idea of all good artists moving away from payed stuff like GAMES, MOVIES and other assorted goodies and start making pamflets. Most games are shoddly enough these days :p.

But a solid conclusion paperclip. :thumbsup:


uhh… u read all that? :scream:

that’s so u

u peebles… i once thought I think too much , haha



I’m not saying that artists should start making pamphlets, just become more aware of their role in shaping culture. If we just do what everyone ‘above us’ does who in turn does what the people above THEM do who are told what to do by the accountants, the commercial arts will eventually end up being just ‘what sells, whatever the cost.’

It’s going that way now, you can tell.


The artist, just like any other professional [doctors, architects, engineers, lawyers, politicians], works with/for/towards/ & from people.

The social contract between the artist and the society mandates the rules of the game. It’s pointless to even question this. The artist then chooses whether he/she will abide by that contract or void it.

Societies are abusive to artists who work only for themselves, not abiding by their rules. The result is a starving bitter breed of artists who use their art to throw insult on “moral” and “socially acceptable” issues. Some of that breed show genuine rejection, and succeed in changing the world, others fail miserably, becoming lumpen intelligentsia.

Now, be careful, those who abide by the social contract at full compliance, might end up becoming , driven slaves, with no “soul” i.e. unique influence.

The path to sign in or not to sign in is your personal choice, no one has the right to instill in you their world view, including moi :wise:


Good points there. I have to agree.

Part of being an artist, and making a living at it makes it a job. You do it to pay the bills as a commercial artist and just like any job at times you may have to do things you don’t like to much. If you don’t like a design or idea you can critique it if you are with a good company and may get things changed, or you may change you point of view.

If you have to keep doing things you don’t agree with and aren’t happy then it’s time to start looking for another job. It can take time, but it’s better then being stuck in a bad position.

Commercial art is different then fine art, and that is a whole different approach if you are doing fine art for personal work.

While art can help shape things you also have to consider the viewing public, and allow them to make some choices. A half way intelligent person can look at thing, art, etc. and make their own decisions on things. In some places people don’t want to think and then cry victim when something goes a way they don’t like. Then do they blame the art, did the art force them to do something? Most times it was the person refusing to take responsibility to begin with, but that is a whole different problem facing society.


I think Ernest Hemmingway said that he never used symbolism a day in his life. People brought their own experiences and thoughts and projected it into his work. The same goes for art as well. Viewers participate in the art that they view. A game is not complete without a player, and an art piece is not complete without a viewer. That goes for commercial art as well as fine and personal art. So if artist has any responsibility the same amount of responsibility, if not more lays with viewer. Like Mojo said above weather the view will or not is another question.


I think no matter who you are, you must have social responsibility. Its like saying well, I don’t give a damn about how much harm I’m causing the earth, I just want to do whatever I want. Irresponsible is the reason why today we are faced with so many problems.

Artists (including TV, movies, games, etc) should have social responsibility. You must know just how much these can influences people today. Just how many times you look at the newspaper articles and believe what they said? Its the same logic as to arts if someone understand what you drawing. Today you not only see art on newspapers, mags and books like in the past. You also see art in TV, movies, Internet, etc. People are more expose to art than in the past. And every piece of art work can influences.

Why people today worry about game contents? Look at grand theft auto, you become a bad guy and go around messing the virtual world. If someone is not clear of his mind, he might just do it in the real world. Even if I am clear of my mind, I may have been influenced by the game. I don’t think you want everyone in this world to be like grand theft auto.

But you don’t need to use negative value to win people hearts. Final Fantasy series, Naruto anime, etc. They all bring good value to people and its winning people hearts.

What I am saying is, yes, having social responsibility does restrict you ideas and creativity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t excel with social responsibility in your work. And you can always protrait negative value yet insert social reponsibility through some thinking. I think a words of warning that comes with your art can greatly reduce the among of negative value.

I’m out of idea of what I want to say, but anyway, that should be most of it. :slight_smile:


To bring up a point on Lunatique’s point if an artist depicts a muderer or rapist not getting what he deserves in the end that could be his expression on his opinion on the justice system and how people get away with such vile acts.

I think of art as feelings that the artists have and an artist shouldnt have to censor himself because society feels he has a responsibilty. I guess this closley resembles the argument of should atheletes try to be good role models. It can go both ways but I say art should be honest.


This is assuming the artist depicts the violent acts as heinous and despicable crimes, and convey the message that the criminal getting away with them is a BAD thing. However, I’ve seen plenty of comic books from Europe or Japan that depicted gratuitous sex and violence, with zero responsibility whatsoever–all exploitive of the animalistic pleasure the criminal gets out of the violent acts, yet I don’t see Europe or Japan with higher crime rates. :shrug: