Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was an educator. This might come as a suprize on an art blog, but Freire's theory of education saw education through culture in its most creative aspects. His most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, inspired many contemporary artists to create works on the verge of art, education and social work. It is no sin for a work of art to be socially active, and although I disagree with many of Freire's more political ideas, he is a challenging intellectual sparing partner for an artist to have. Here is a fragment of an interview from the book Dialogues in Public Art (don't hesitate to support this page and go to the Amazon page with the book description and a review - and who knows, maybe even buy and get the page its first cents)
PF:I am not sure whether I was able to explain to you how to struggle against the possibility of misunderstandings that provoke bad use of your proposals. For me, there is no solution. The answer is not to be angry, but to be morally more clear. Sometimes a distortion is innocent, sometimes it is preestablished, it is programmed. In any case, we have the duty to clarify.
The sort of distortion I am talking about, for example, relates to artists who go into a neighborhood to set up a "dialogue" and report back to their peers, without ever really leaving room for the people to speak for themselves. People employ the rhetoric of dialogue, but it's a false dialogue. For example, what if I went to an African American community to create a "dialogue", but I knew beforehand what I want the results to be?
PF: Yes, it is absolutely false. But look, I don't want to say that I am prevented from knowing what I would like to say before going there. Because, as a person, I am a project. If I am a project, it means that I have objectives, because if I did not have some objectives and some ends that I am fighting for, I could not be a project. And it is part of my project to conceptualize what kind of arguments I can use in order, for example, to work against racism. For me, this is legitimate. What is not legitimate is to try to impose on them precisely the arguments I thought of beforehand. It is not legitimate, because a true conversation cannot be preestablished. I cannot throw beforehand what you will say to me in answering my question. I have to become engaged in order to follow our process of conversation. Do you see? Of course, I have to program my conversation. Nevertheless, I have to know that my conversation cannot be precisely as I planned it.
When I came here today, and I have my questions...
PF: Yes. You have your questions, and you have anticipated a way of answering your questions. But these are not necessarily my answers.
I will only allow myself to point out that, clearly, this conversation can also be the dialogue between any artist and his subject/matter/material/.