‘But do these artists influence the course of history? Do they raise awareness about political, social and environmental issues? What emerges from this exploration of why and how artists want to create a social consciousness and even to advocate a social change, is the strong will to defend those ideas and the conviction that even small actions can change the world – but especially that their voices should be heard. But perhaps the actual question is : will their voices be recognised as having any validity either during or beyond their own life times?’

This paper will not only seek to investigate the nature of historiography, but equally propose that artists have a valid role to play in the recounting of the past, and question the ethical responsibility that role might entail. Artists have always testified about their history, but there is still a clear dichotomy between what is considered to be a valid piece of testimony and what is not. The research will begin by examining the nature of the methodological perspective of history in relation to its ideological presuppositions and the representation of the role of art in the historical narrative. With this intention, it will examine how modern artists have progressively substituted the representation of imaginary ideals, dominated by the academic theories in time, to existing reals, increasingly anchoring the everyday life. In order, to take position towards the reality of their own times and resist the dominance of outdated artistic conventions. It will then explore how artistic practises that contested the past and addressed the controversies from the untold history, ultimately raises the question of the authenticity of their testimonial role itself. Subsequently, enquiring who ends up representing whom? This paper will conclude by examining how art has increasingly located meaning beyond its physical boundaries, its definition gradually shifting toward the specific social field it creates, thus advocating an ethical turn in art. Eventually, interrogating upon whom falls the responsibility of the ethical role : on the testifier, the artist, the society? The intentions are both to propose that art has a valuable role to play in the discursive interpretation of history and that artists themselves have to recognise the ethical responsibility inherent to their testimony.

Art as Testimonial : An exploration of the Role and the Ethics of the Artist in recounting History.

Research Paper 2016 | BA (Hons) Art & Design

Marianne Carlens