Monday, June 4, 2018


Last Friday, the Laguna Beach Independent published a book review I wrote about the late Mark Chamberlain's The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism.

That's not a typo: it's "artivism," Chamberlain's word for an aesthetic motivated by social conscience and the desire to make a difference. The book documents a 30-year, multi-phase art project by Chamberlain and his associate, Jerry Burchfield, who died in 2009, created in an all-out effort to save Laguna Canyon from the real threat of commercial development. That this nine-mile stretch from the freeways to the Pacific Ocean is still a lovely, vital greenbelt that protects the community of Laguna Beach is thanks in good part to the efforts of these two artists and the community they rallied to their support.

The work of modern and contemporary artists is sometimes decried for its elitism, its lofty separation from the realities of the world we live in, its indulgence of a strictly individual vision. And there is some truth to these accusations. Much of the art produced in the last half of the twentieth century, and much of the critical establishment that validated it, was of this kind. To appreciate it, to be a part of the "art scene" was to belong to a very small and very privileged club; to the uninitiated, it was for the most part incomprehensible--in many cases, a mockery of what they thought art should be.

I know of few artists today, however, who are not deeply distressed by the ugly political realities of this Trump era, and more specifically by the endangerment of the planet for which we humans bear the primary responsibility of stewardship. Indeed, to many artists I know, it has become a central, indispensable part of their aesthetic and their practice.

Which is why it behooves us to pause and acknowledge, and perhaps to learn from the work of these two pioneers and their ability to rouse an entire community to action. That they succeeded in their goal is all the more reason to pay attention to their dedication and their process.

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