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  • Malia Busenitz

Dr. Stueck On the Artist's Role in Activism, Consumerism, and the World

Bertelsmann Gallery exhibit of student work

I talked to Dr. Stueck to hear his opinion about art in political and social activism. His answers clearly show that he views the importance of art not just on a school or local level, but taking part inside a huge context of history and geography. Who else, when asked about art at Athens Academy, would answer by bringing up King George and the American Revolution? In this interview, Dr. Stuek lets us into his vision and into his understanding of the role of art in a global community.

Responses are edited for length and clarity.

What do you think the importance is of activism in art?

“It’s the most important part because it changes the culture..and it raises awareness...

Every single political action or movement, for instance, women voting, used artwork. And artwork can go either way--the Nazi’s used artwork to promote Naziism. Everybody uses artwork either in speeches or visual arts or movies now, and they are starting to shift the consciousness.

Like the [Golden Globe] award winner was 3 billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri… [which is about using public art to call attention to attention to an issue]. That's true about all the arts--and every time we have moved the consciousness along through the last 1,000 years, the arts have been the ones that have pulled the people along... Like, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was huge for the civil war. People read that and they were like, “This is a disgrace.” That's what the arts do--all the arts--they reflect the consciousness. And the arts can move it ahead.

What do you think is the role of the galleries and displays at Athens Academy? How can they affect our culture?

I think its a critical part of it. Like the new show coming up in Myers called Looking Up is all about our place in the universe. Because we’ve got to remember that we are just on a spaceship, sometimes we forget. Sometimes we forget we are on a globe. We are actually not just america, not just georgia, not just athens academy. So it lets us think about the bigger picture and how we are a part of it. And everybody’s like “Oh yeah, I’m just one part” but obviously those few people who voted one way or another changed the course of history. In a few states, like in wisconsin, they went and were like “I don’t like Hillary, I’m going to vote for Donald” and it was only like a few hundred people. And it shifted the entire course of civilization, basically.

And it’s true all the way through. Like there were people that thought they should get away from King George. Most americans didn't (well they were not Americans), most British citizens didn’t. They were like I got a good thing going, I’m making money here, I could get shot, I need to feed my family, I can’t be doing this. But there were a few that said we should change this and have a democracy and get rid of the king and they started putting out pamphlets. They put out artwork, they had printing presses and made signs. So, all of a sudden, that helped shift the consciousness. People bought into it.

[My art now is] all about industrialization and the number of people. That's why the piece I’m working on now, the population puzzle, is the number one thing. Like, the fact that in 100 years we have added 6 billion people, that’s no big deal. The fact that we have added 6 billion consumers, thats a big deal. 6 billion toothbrushes. 6 billion nike shoes. 6 billion stoves. And it's one thing to consume something that’s not polluting or consuming resources. Like we could consume poetry all day. Is that going to hurt the planet? I don’t think so. We could be playing music all day. Singing. Is that going to hurt the planet? I don’t think so. We could be going skiing--now that’s a lot because you got to fly out there--fossil fuel--make snow--fossil fuel, ship in food from far away. The amount of energy it takes to move all the food we eat to us is enormous. The average miles your food has come to get to your plate. It doesn’t come by itself. In fact, the amount of water it take to get a pound of beef--it’s astronomical. And there are people without fresh drinking water. So it has to do with equity. And I think that’s where art and religion and all that overlap in the old days and now we have kind of split them out, to products and stuff like that. But the true art really is about the message.

Talking with Dr. Stueck helped me think about the potential importance of both my own art and art in history. I hope students will be open to taking in the art exhibits on campus and be willing to learn and see the world with new perspectives. Furthermore, while in art class, maybe we should think about the power our art has to send a message.