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The twenty-first century will be the century of play
Brian Sutton-Smith
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The Democratization of Art
By Ernst Lurker
Azalea Lee's video of Peer Clahsen's PlayArt object "angular' illustrates a phenomenon that is unique to PlayArt: All the players in the video become artists. They are busy with this object, which is clearly an artistic medium for the players. During their play, they make all kinds of artistic decisions about composition and rhythm, about balance and contrast, about visual impact and personal preference. Some of the other PlayArt videos also give an indication of such artistic activities, but this video stands out since it shows the players in action, their tentative attempts, their hilarious crashes and their victorious creations. It also highlights the numerous different approaches of a fairly large number of players. The video draws the viewer in by showing their movements, gestures, their facial expressions and their emotional reactions. The event unfolds as a joyful experience of a range of individual and personal expressions; in short we witness the playful creativity of a mixed group of laypeople who turned into artists through a very simple device, the play object of Peer Clahsen.

Peer is a member of the PlayArt movement, and it is this movement that is pushing the art world forward on various fronts. The introduction of play into the realm of art is one of its major accomplishments. The creative participation of the viewer literally represents a breakthrough and creates an entirely new and different domain in art. Both of these innovations were inconceivable a short time ago. Today they still are a serious irritant in the conservative world of most art museums. The concept "Everyone is an artist" has a history, but it is by no means an accepted point of view.
"Every person is meant to be an artist."
   -- Novalis (1772-1801)

This was an idealistic vision and quite characteristic of Romanticism. All of humanity was entitled to escape the drudgery of submissive work and participate in a life of culture. It was an essential part of being human.

Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was aware of the ideas of Novalis and repeatedly stated:

"Everyone is an artist."

It actually became Beuys' most famous phrase. However, it also became somewhat controversial and was frequently re-interpreted such as:

[The phrase] was not meant to suggest that all people should or could be creators of traditional artworks. Rather, he meant that we should not see creativity as the special realm of artists, but that everyone should apply creative thinking in their own area of specialization. (Joan Rothfuss, curator at the Walker Art Center.)

While Beuys also concerned himself with creativity in general, he meant exactly what he said. In fact this concept was such a driving force in his career that he notoriously abolished entry requirements to his Düsseldorf art class.

The most recent, groundbreaking event in these developments was the video competition the Guggenheim Museum organized in collaboration with YouTube (2010). The worldwide contest was open to "everyone" and it carried the name "Play Biennial". This name is a significant sign of a change in attitude, since the name PlayArt has previously encountered strong objections in the museum world. The most outstanding and innovative accomplishment, however, is that a major museum opened its closely guarded space for the first time in a democratic fashion to everyone. The curators were in fact prepared to evaluate literally any kind of output, including so-called "hacker crap" (quote from Ray Arnold, movie critic). At any rate, the museum came very close to the vision of Novalis and Beuys. Remarkably, it also announced: "We are interested in what's next." This is a strong indication that these recent developments will continue into the future.

An additional new phenomenon that points in the direction of democratization is the daring concept of students and laypeople curating art shows. Such events have taken place on numerous occasions and have already influenced our cultural reality. It remains to be to be seen how all these developments will take shape. Under the umbrella of PlayArt they create a revolutionary phenomenon. PlayArt is not just another art form like pop art or minimalism, it creates an entirely new paradigm for art, which corresponds to the immense evolutionary step when life emerged out of the water and conquered land.

Ernst Lurker

Brian Sutton-Smith  |  Our Playful Culture  |  Museum Animation  |  PlayArt’s Cool Factor  |  Culture and Play in the Emirates

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