Art has a long history of provocation, asking us to enlarge our vision and see with new eyes. This is also the agenda of the political activist, who employs petitions, lobbying, and canvassing. So not surprisingly, some activists are using art as a potent tool for change, while some artists are learning to sharpen their political point.
The Center for Creative Activism is at the forefront of uniting artist and activist in the common desire to change the status quo. In a recent interview, its founders discussed the import of an exercise they use in workshops:
We ask participants to introduce themselves and give a brief account of what they are working on and tell us about the moment they became politicized. After everyone is done we go back and point out that no one mentioned they became interested in effecting change in the world through signing a petition, reading a factsheet, giving a donation, or even going to a march or rally. Yet that is exactly the means that activists use to approach others to have them “get involved.” The politicization experiences people do describe in this exercise are vivid, visceral, and emotional experiences. Dreams, fantasies, emotions. Moments felt rather than just thought. Affective experiences. Well, this is the domain of art.
This makes sense—our perceptual understanding is often more powerful than our intellectual one; our deepest feelings, experiences, visions provoke us to action and expression. The willingness to take the risk of creative action is a hallmark of the world-changing activist/artist. But society’s role is to quash creativity, while giving it lip service. This has profound consequences for business, education, and science, as this brief, thought-provoking Slate article points out.