Some creative types—dancers, improv actors—are shameless and theatrical, comfortable in public spaces. Others, like painters and novelists, need the safe space of a studio before they can tap into the spontaneous, confrontational parts of the creative process.
And some artists use a private process for public creation—those who tag buildings but remain anonymous, who create sidewalk installations but forgo signatures and opening receptions. The Yes Men. I think somewhere between between anonymity and the public spotlight is where art and activism meet.
Talking about art and activism is different than talking about “political artists,” which refers to creative people whose work contains political imagery and/or is thematically-charged. Art and activism have a much more complicated, mutual relationship—where they often overlap.
Activists know that they can learn a lot from designers and artists about audience, presentation and Statement-Making. Unfortunately when writers and designers join a movement, they’re often doing little more than providing better messaging: Occupy Design, for example, exists (in their words) to provide a “visual language” for the Occupy movement— a task that frankly, they can do from home at a computer. I don’t want to downplay the fact that designers are engaging, but at the core they’re fulfilling a marketing role for a separate population of activists.
But creatives haven’t always played a supporting role for social movements; until a few decades ago and the overwhelming saturation of mass media, writers and artists were the media. ERGO: they were integral to the growth of any social movement.
The Black Panthers would never have had such a lasting cultural legacy without the Black Arts Movement; only together were they able to explode the dominant white creative voice in America. The Sandinistas successfully carried out a revolution against the Samoza dictatorship, using pintas (political street art) as a primary method for visibility and solidarity.
Creative people must stop thinking of themselves as providers of visual tools for activists; they should also learn to draw from the activist toolbox as well. Community-organizing, direct-action strategies, and cultural transformation are all aesthetic activities. They’re inherently creative because they are trying to create something new.
Also: I’m itching to take a workshop with the School for Creative Activism, initiated by Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert (pictured). From the school’s philosophy:
The SCA is not just about ‘better messaging,’ our goal is more effective organizing. Our curriculum updates the activist tool-kit through the reimagination and reconfiguration of tactics, strategy and organization in such a way that creativity and culture factors into every plan and every action.
Book Review: Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization
Art and Activism resources from CulturalPolitics.net