Can Art Change the World?

As Director of Digital Learning, I might just have the best job in the world. Take today as an example. At 10:00 a.m., I reviewed video for an online studio course about the materials and techniques of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman (among others) that my coworker Amy Horschak and I hope to run this summer (it is being developed by Corey d’Augustine). At 2:00, I brainstormed with colleagues about new content for the blog. At 5:00, I attended an exhibition opening for the Education department’s CreateAbility class, a monthly program for individuals with learning and developmental disabilities and their families. I brought in the camera just in time to hear parents talk about how meaningful the class was for their children. (We’ll be adding the video to the Learn section of the site, which is being updated later this spring.) By 7:00 I was watching a program organized by my colleagues Laura Beiles and Pablo Helguera: the artist William Kentridge on stage in Theater 1, performing I am not me, the horse is not mine.

I sometimes help with exhibition subsites, and in the case of the William Kentridge exhibition, I edited six of the artist commentary videos. I listened repeatedly to talks and interviews Kentridge has given at MoMA, searching for passages that I thought would offer the website or Museum visitor some extra insight into the artist’s work. I did my best to match selected audio clips to excerpts of the artist’s video and, in one case, images of his prints, while working closely with curators Cara Starke and Judy Hecker and curatorial assistant Maura Lynch. Tonight’s one-man performance was funnier than I anticipated, and like the work in the exhibition, it was astoundingly beautiful and poignant. Kentridge is interested in the way our minds insist on making sense of the world, often against all odds; our inability to stop seeing a recognizable form even as it nears complete abstraction. In one of the videos, Kentridge talks about that fascination, but in my favorite, Kentridge (from a talk at MoMA a couple of years ago) responds to a question from the audience about whether he believes art can change the world—a fair question given that so much of his early work deals with the tragedy of apartheid.

Here’s the video:

My job is pretty awesome, isn’t it? (oh, and by the way, I agree with Kentridge, art can change the world).