Do artists have a responsibility to society?
Of course not, but they do have influence.
Artists like to think they have responsibility to no one or anything except their creative vision, but it’s mostly a romantic notion. Disconnect occurs because inexperienced artists often confuse different art worlds. High art has different rules than contemporary or commercial art, and different again for digital art, and this is just within the realm of working artists who create every day. Part time artists, who have day jobs, or are supported by a partner, live in another world completely.
Each of these groups have different views of their responsibility as artists and to society. Today, artists have access to creative tools that make it easy to jump the “you have to pay your dues” queue. Plugin software, a replacement for old school technique, catapults artists into positions of influence before they have a chance to understand how art fits into the ethical mix.
Accountability for an amateur artist is different than for a pro.
It’s true of course that contemporary artists who have achieved fame and economic freedom are living the dream doing whatever they like, but they are very rare. Most artists, successful or not answer to someone or something.
Artists who work professionally figure out quickly what their audience finds intriguing, or calming, or exciting. They also have a long term view and a more studied sense of ethics and accountability.
Newer untrained artists, usually with shaky confidence don’t want to be dictated to because creating art for them often means busting loose from the confines of a day-job boss. Pros with experience however, are usually open to all types of resources and inspiration. They work with artistic directors, agents, curators and a whole host of other professionals and specialists. Even fine art artists who are cloistered away in studios, answer to someone.
It’s true that artists do not have an ethical responsibility to society, but they do have more influence today than in all of history.
Not to leverage this power for good, would be selfish.
We all have a choice to do the right thing.