In considering Lorna Simpson, does a successful artist have any social obligations?
I think that this is fairly similar to the question about whether or not Simpson has to focus on race as she is a woman of color. I think that the artist has a choice to what they wish to analyze or upon what they wish to focus their work. I do think that Simpson has made the choice to write about topics that are relevant to her experience, thereby suggesting that an artist such as her has some level of social obligation:
I do not appear in any of my work. I think maybe there are elements to it and moments to it that I use from my own personal experience, but that, in and of itself, is not so important as what the work is trying to say about either the way we interpret experience or the way we interpret things about identity.
In seeking to articulate experiences from different social configurations, Simpson has made the call that her work can speak to a need to see society as it should be as opposed to what it is. This seems to be Simpson’s call, and something with which she has comfort. I would offer one more idea here. In the question, the idea of “successful” is something that bears a great deal of importance. What this exactly means is powerful and has strong implications on the artist’s obligation to social obligations. If success is defined as monetary, then the social obligation element is secondary to the need for the artist to make money. If success is defined as social acceptance, perhaps it will not feed these ends for the artist to connect themselves to social issues. In the end, the idea of “successful” is another factor in assessing a topic of artistic obligation to social matters that is already complex.