Gregory Sholette Connects Art to Activism in Pepper Lecture

Artist, writer, and activist Gregory Sholette stands behind a podium as he delivers a lecture at Pitzer College.
Artist, writer, and activist Gregory Sholette delivers a lecture on how the creativity of amateur artists and countercultures often feeds into and informs the mainstream contemporary art field in Benson Auditorium on Feb. 8. (Jivika Rajani • The Student Life)

The Benson Auditorium at Pitzer College hosted its annual Murray Pepper and Vicki Reynolds Pepper Distinguished Visiting Artists and Scholars Lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 8. This year, the auditorium welcomed artist, writer, and activist Gregory Sholette, who discussed the importance of art in the contemporary world, focusing on the subjects of his previous and upcoming books, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in an Age of Enterprise Culture (2011) and Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism (May 2017).

Professor of Art History Bill Anthes invited Sholette so students could see how art and artists interact with the surrounding world. 

“I want my students to learn what art might contribute to our contemporary world and what they might do as artists, scholars and citizens. Greg’s book is a model for art and the artist today in these wonderful, challenging and upsetting times,” he said.

The event, which was organized by the Pitzer Art Galleries, focused on the role that art has played over the past few years, especially how it has been affected by recent political and economical events.

Sholette explained how lately, art has stopped being a form of enrichment for the wider community and has instead become a form of investment. After the stock market crash of 2008, “suddenly, investing in art seemed to be a better investment than the stock exchange … when all the other markets were failing, the art market took a little dive and then bounced back up,” Sholette said.

This, he said, is different from the 1987 stock market crash, when artists’ careers vanished. Instead, in 2008 the the art market spiked and it continues to do so even today. He explained that the reason behind this is the need for affluent people to park their money somewhere.

This quickly led to an increase in the number of artists and ultimately to an oversupply of art. Soon, “people started talking about the art world as something that should be dealt with as a supply chain,” Sholette said. This meant a reduction of arts funding, or access to art education. People are no longer interested in the aesthetics of art, but in parking money and expanding it, according to Sholette.

“Art was supposed to be separate from the capitalist economy, but now it has become a part of the supply chain,” he said.

Christina Marshall SC ’20 said that she found the lecture very interesting despite not knowing much about art.

“Ultimately everything is intertwined; art and the environment around us cannot be separated,” Marshall said.

The lecture ended with Sholette commenting on the effect this has had on artists, new and established, and the importance of activism in a field that is rapidly becoming monetized.

“It is important we find spaces to fight back”, he said.

Haley Burger, PZ ’20 found it extremely interesting to learn “how you can use art to make demonstrations, and how activism does work”.

Sholette, when asked what he hoped students would take away from the lecture, said, “I hope they come away with a sense of excitement and wonder about the possibilities that art has, that it can do things and give license to disobey, especially in times like these, and that they shouldn’t be shy about doing those sorts of things.”

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