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Activist Art


It should be apparent that an artist makes art about their social group.  Many artists use art to gain access to a higher social class. In this way art is a tool for the individual perhaps freeing them from the circumstances they are born into.  This is especially true for people who grow up poor or disenfranchised or of modest circumstances. It’s also true of middle class children who make art to escape the restrictions of the middle class, but what about activist art?

One type of activist art has the artist going to poor neighborhoods and working with the community to give them a voice in some manner. This is usually in the form of a mural but can also be any number of collaborative enterprises that include the community. In digital art it can be performance events, working with kids to give them access to the digital domain, sound art, video etc. giving them a voice.  
Another type of activist art is the bearing witness variety. This is when a community is being badly treated in some way and the artist highlights that treatment.  

There are other types of activist art; institutional critique is one example. Media critique is another. These forms tend to reveal or bear witness to the power structures that control the mythos of any society.    Obviously there are deeper issues involved.  The creative process, especially when in collaboration, produces joy and excitement for all the participants.  Sometimes a challenge to authority is nothing more than the desire to be on an equal footing, to have the same power as the challenged.  Therefore activist art can be said to liberate the artist/group from their sense of powerlessness.  

The U.S. has a deep need for a new type of activist art.  This type of art would build on all the earlier forms of activist art but become more integrated into the general populations awareness. Indeed, the past 25 years has seen a concentrated attack on the arts by right wing politicians. Some artists have used the idea of shocking the public and the right wing and creating outrage to fuel interest in their work.  This is no longer a viable aesthetic position.  We in the America must assume that the current trends in this country are propelling us towards a major collapse. Infra-structure failures like blackouts and burst levees are becoming the norm.  Corporate greed is looting our country.  All it will take is one more disaster or terrorist attack to push us towards the inevitable. This implies that a new type of activist art will develop in light of our collapsing culture.

The question must be posed at this point; what happens when our institutions fail us?   How does an artists operate in a positive manner in a collapsed culture?  Where does the patronage for the art come from?  Indeed, the financing of any artist’s project is always the key issue.  Along with a new type of activist art there must be a new type of patron to support the project.  There must also be writers who are willing to define the scope of this new type of activism.