The Activism of Art

by Miya Wensley

Source: Laurel Pettitt.   A Part of Something Bigger  . Tumblr.

Source: Laurel Pettitt. A Part of Something Bigger. Tumblr.

In Plato's The Republic, Socrates walks us through the creation of a city.  Quickly the City grows from the initial four to a greater number with greater needs.  And very quickly the people are demanding more than the items they need and now demand the luxuries they want.  As the City progresses, they see that they need more land, and to acquire more land, and defend the land they have, the City decides it needs Guardians.  The Guardians are to be born and bred with specific intent, and thus Socrates and his accompanying characters discuss the means by which individuals would be shaped to become the Guardians. Quickly, it is decided that myths, plays, and music will not be acceptable in the City.

That kind of idealizing only happens in fiction, right?

Let's look back a couple months, when a certain unnamed satirical movie became the focus of global discussion.  Before premiering, this particular movie instigated some strong and negative feelings which motivated several theaters throughout the US to decline showing it.  Look back a little farther and books like Fahrenheit 451 and even Harry Potter were being banned in public schools.

There is something powerful about art that elicits passionate and stubborn action, but while it has prompted negative reactions it has also resulted in incredibly moving pieces.

In this age of social media and social action, art is constantly being produced and exchanged.  Art is celebrated, and more so, art is used.  Art is used to spread messages and promote change.  Consider, for example the song Glory, written and performed by John Legend and Common, it was aimed to increase racial awareness and tolerance.  The song did reach a high audience as the film was awarded most original song because of it.  In their acceptance speech, Legend and Common used their platform to further emphasize the song's message.  On a broader level, Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ is coming to LA as an installation in the Broad Museum.  This piece places the viewer in an environment that is both surreal and calming.  In it, you take a much needed moment to breathe in the beauty that this infinity room provides.  Her artwork, though, has been substantial for much longer and carries other strong focuses.  As her work is inspired by her psychiatric condition, her works often act to illuminate mental diseases and the importance of staying honest to your unique style.  She's also drawn attention to sexuality with several works created in the 60's.  The classic street artist also rose to notoriety as Shepard Fairey evoked themes from George Orwell's 1984 with his Andre the Giant Obey pieces.  This was so effective as it provoked curiosity and illuminated our sense of individualism by accusing us of submitting to 'Big Brother' and obeying rather than making our own decisions.  His works have shown how social activism can be accessible to anyone through any medium as it quickly disseminated from street art to retail.  While his works have made him the target for several legal issues, his message has remained prominent, "Question everything".

Art evokes emotion at a glance, at a sound, and it makes us think.  It is important because it is so much more than a form of leisure and a form of pleasure. Today art is an effective tool that is being used to change the world.