Artists are Now Taking the Lead the Politicians Have Failed to Give (2007)

Madeleine Bunting
“Artists are Now Taking the Lead the Politicians Have Failed to Give”
The Live Art Almanac
Live Art UK, 2008 pp. 51-53
Originally published in the Guardian, 21 May 2007

“Artists now get lumbered with expectations that in other cultures might fall to shamans, preachers or prophets – or once fell to politicians.

What inflates these expectations of artists is a frustrated desire for change, and an equally profound sense of confusion as to how to effect change. Over the last decade art has scored some striking triumphs on this score: Marc Quinn’s statue of Alison Lapper pregnant in Trafalgar Square arguably did more to challenge images of disability and beauty than the most carefully crafted anti-discrimination legislation. The Angel of the North’s aspirational optimism helped overturn the reputation derived from two decades of industrial decline and demoralization. Our understanding of how art can bring about certain key aspects of change has increased: it can transform reality by inspiring the imagination. At the same time, our disillusionment with the capacity of the political process to change behavior has deepened.

Art can never do the messy business of politics – the negotiation and compromise. But politicians are now grappling with a new politics about how to change the way people behave in their private lives: how they eat, travel, shop, exercise, drink. And art can open minds in a way that our politics is singularly failing to do.” (p.52)

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