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Last month I interviewed more than 10 artists from all over the world. I’m not interested in art critique that tries to establish how new or groundbreaking an artwork is. Instead, I want to know how each artist discovers something on their own, how they make sense of their art making, what drives them and what strategies they use to sustain the creative act. My approach to talking and listening about art is grounded on a decolonial perspective and I embrace the work that artists of the 20th century did to dismantle the idea of an artist as a genius. Please find bellow some thoughts about the word “praxis” that comes in the title of the podcast:
The word praxis became central to my thinking after reading Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In Freire’s work, praxis is the action that sustains the intention of transforming structures. In Freire’s thought, however, sustaining such intention isn’t enough to guarantee specific results (he is speaking in the context of education, against the “know-how” or the “how-to”). It is the subsequent action of making meaning of the consequences of what that first action built that will guarantee praxis’s continuing existence. Therefore, praxis is a constant process of making and then making meaning.
Freire highlights the endless quality of praxis: one makes something, then makes meaning of this something, and then can make something else in light of the new meaning acquired, and so on. In addition to that, Freire is interested in the dialogical quality of praxis, both in the sense of the dialogue between theory and practice and the dialogue between humans, fundamental in the context of education.
I see praxis as a fundamental word when we talk about understanding art, and having conversations about art with artists. There is a common opinion of how artists shouldn’t explain their work, that the work of art “should speak for itself.” This opinion defends that each person who encounters a work of art will experience it in their own way. Yet, while making their work, artists have insights and understandings of various subjects; the act of making, as we see in Freire’s thought, creates an object or an event and furthers the creation of meaning. With its endless/lasting quality, the word praxis brings to this context the relief of knowing that the meaning that the artist makes of their art-making doesn’t exhaust -- and certainly doesn’t deplete -- all the possible meanings (and experiences) that the public might have when encountering the artwork.
Following the relation between artwork, artist, and public, we find another important aspect of the word praxis: culture and human community. In the text Culture as Praxis, Zygmunt Bauman writes:
“The idea of creativity, of active assimilation of the universe, of imposing on the chaotic world the ordering structure of the human intelligent action -- the idea built irremovably into the notion of praxis -- is indeed comprehensible only if viewed as an attribute of community, capable of transcending the natural or ‘naturalized’ order and creating new and different orders.” Bauman emphasizes that it is through community that humans make sense, creating meaning, and identifying the necessary actions to creating something. Bauman is here arguing against the connection between praxis and a definition of an unique “human essence” of “mankind.” Bauman concludes: The community rather than mankind, frequently identified with the human species, is therefore the medium and the bearer of praxis.” (p.95)