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Question 16: Do you think an artist has a specific role to play in society? If so, what is it?
Yvon Gallant and I, a friend of mine and a colleague in this profession, we were talking the other day, and we agreed on one thing: the principle by which Picasso said that the artist has to keep his mouth shut; Matisse said the same thing. The role of an artist is to keep his mouth shut and work on his pieces. The ultimate goal in life is to make it so that art is possible. I for one have lived with this in mind, ever since I reached the age of reason and until the day I die. We remind ourselves that the goal in life, the only goal, is to make it so that art is possible. So I’m not going to start changing my mind, that’s the formula I have, if it can be called a formula or a proverb or whatever. So, all that I do, all that I live, that I think, that I feel vis-à-vis my environment and the time period in which I live is based on that basic principle. Fundamentally, that’s who I am. So, it’s not saying: Do we have a role in society? I think it is up to society to determine its own role in the face of art. Art is found in different places, on different scales. We can ask: In North America, where is art happening? Maybe on the West Coast, maybe on the East Coast. In the middle of the States, maybe nothing’s happening there. Maybe Canada is not as good as the States. Maybe the North Pole is not as good as the rest of Canada. Hierarchies will always be created and it’s not up to the artists to create them. We already have those in terms of our own art, our images. In fact, it is up to society to sort it out or not in this case. Society will also talk about our artists, our singers, our poets, as though we can be possessions, as if we belong to the public. But, on the other hand, they will impose a given identity upon us, a certain originality. We have to be unique. So, you have a kind of paradox: Do we belong to the whole world or are we just an entity, all alone in an ocean of faces looking at us? That is a question artists must always ask themselves. But at the same time not to dwell on this for too long. There’s always work to be done: the ultimate goal in life is to make it so that works of art are possible. By art, we must understand that I’m talking about a tangible object, something that can be touched, that is seen, that is measured, that is weighed. You can put it away, you can destroy it, you can do a lot of stuff with it. There’s a host of possibilities that arise. The responsibility of the artist lies in the fact that a tangible object is made. The role of the artist once that’s done, well then that becomes, as we say ‘expendable’: whether the artist is there or not might not matter as much. I find that people, they will confuse the “artist” with the “entertainer”, which means you can be an “artiste” or an “artist” and it’s not the same thing. There’s a segment let’s say of people who are in the art profession to entertain people. And, I don’t think that’s the role of the visual artists. It’s something society says: Hey, we want to have access to this and then we want to see this and we have the right to know what’s going on around us, and to see what people are doing to “improve” our lives. Then again, if I am working on a piece, it remains my property, it’s a personal act whereby I have made an object that remains my private property, unless I’ve been commissioned, then that’s a different story. But if I produce a piece, it remains my property; I can do as I please with it. Artists can give themselves a goal, and say: Now, I want people, the public, to see my work. The more people will see my work the better it will be for me. Or I can also say: I want to work on pieces, or I want to do some type of work, but I only want certain people see it cause the opinion of these people is more important. This may be discriminatory or a bit of an exclusive attitude. Different artists have different ideas about the public around them and also about their art. Then it is up to each one to determine what he or she will do, wants to do, and to do it and not change their mind every five seconds to try to please the public. I personally don’t think that’s the function of artists.