Art Activism: A Brief Lesson and How to Get Involved

Photo by Olha Dobosh

In recent months, we have seen floods of art created in the names of Black Lives. Whether it was a commemorative mural alongside a building, giant letters spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on a busy street, or images made and shared online, it has brought up many conversations surrounding art.

One of the biggest opposing questions is “What does art do to bring about REAL change?”

These changes include, and are not limited to, social inequality, police brutality, oppression, and racism. It’s a never-ending list, but you get my point.

It’s important to know that activism comes in many forms. And you guessed it: art is a huge contributing factor to protests that many don’t even realize! So let’s have a mini-lesson on Art Activism.

So what is Art Activism?

Art activism is art created with a purpose to bring awareness and promote social change. It can come in the form of exhibits, performances, street murals, posters, media platforms, and music. Art can be a form of protest.

The definition of “art” can look different for many people. While the word “activism” doesn’t have as many layers and gives a direct meaning.

This is why some can appreciate art activism while others merely don’t get the big picture.

So what makes Art Activism important?

It sparks conversations that can offer new perspectives and learning experiences.
It inspires people to get involved in social change.
It can speak a universal language.
Art can simplify explanations better than a physical person.

Many of the most recent art murals surrounding activism have been put in high traffic areas. This is a strategy to get public participation and visibility. The same can be said for social media. Art activism on these platforms is shared with millions of people every day.

Brief History of Art Activism

Art Activism is not a new trend. For centuries, artists have used their creations as a call to action for immigration rights, feminism rights, LGBTQIA rights, Feminism rights, Pacifism rights, People of Color, environmental awareness, and more.

Here are a few art activists that became popular through their work on social issues.

Keith Haring – Pop Artist who advocated for safe sex and AIDs awareness
Edgar Heap of Birds – Best known for his Public Art messages
Gordon Parks – Civil Rights Photographer
Banksy – Political Street Art
Favianna Rodriguez – Political Poster Artist
Jeff Hong – Storyboard Artist that highlights social and environmental issues
Faith Ringgold – Painter and Performance Artist

The names above have some notoriety, but there are many local artists right in your own backyard that are sparking activism in your communities.

How to participate in art activism

  • Be intentional when viewing art activism.
  • Have open conversations with family and friends on what the images mean to them.
  • Support art activists past and present. See the ways they are working towards change through their creations and how you can support them.
  • Get inspired and create art at home in the name of social change. Display it as a reminder and a lesson for years to come.
  • Study the history of art activism and find ways to see some of it person.

In short, social change is a huge undertaking. Everyone plays a special part as we strive for the betterment of our world. Artists are just doing what they know best: Creating.

Sasha Manley is Multiple Disciplinary Creative over on Thenaturalhighblog.com. She uses creativity to empower motherhood.
You can follow her on Instagram @naturalhighblog.

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