Stephen Willats

The Academy of Contemporary Art, 1974

In the absence of an overriding criteria for art within society the concerns of the artist have increasingly centered on what has presented itself as immediately meaningful within the contained environment of the art world. And thus, what has seemed meaningful has been the highly structured conventions and histories for coding artistic behaviour. These precedences and norms give an artwork legitimacy within the particular evaluative framework of ‘Art’s Social Environment’, and as a result the pre-occupation overrides as a matter of priority that of a wider intentional subject matter.

The artist has always limited his actions to changing the way people view art, with such predominating concerns as what might constitute a work of art, and how should one relate to the various manifestations of art, such as painting, sculpture, prints etc. held within art institutions. If the audience is made up from other members of ‘Art’s Social Environment’ the artist is more than likely addressing what is already meaningful. If, however, a person is outside this community, then the abstract rarefied prescriptions offered by the artist through his work are likely to be too far removed from existing priorities to be meaningful, and the requirements to obtain the necessary qualifications to make it so must seem prohibitive. This situation reinforces the general state of separateness that exists between the academic orientation of most contemporary art practice and the real priorities that feature in the here and now of people’s lives.


Printed in Society Through Art, Stephen Willats, Haags Centrum voor Aktuele Kunst, Den Haag, 1990