There is Picasso’s legendary reply to a German officer visiting his studio in occupied Paris: “Did you do this?” (indicating a photo of Guernica). “No, you did.”
There is nothing new about socially engaged art. Art intent on affecting positive cultural change has a strong and vibrant history, and artists have often been at the forefront of adopting new technologies to explore that expression. Now, technologist peace builders are turning their attention to the burgeoning wealth of knowledge that artists are amassing about the uses of democratized technology and interconnected tools.
In the handbook Education for Socially Engaged Art: Materials and Techniques, Pablo Helguera writes, “SEA is a hybrid, multi-disciplinary activity that exists somewhere between art and non-art, and its state may be permanently unresolved. SEA depends on actual — not imagined or hypothetical — social action.”
So what are some practical ways we can use art to catalyze real action, to do what Helguera calls “move beyond the symbolic”?
As Deborah Fisher writes, “[A]rt is slippery. It means a lot of different things to different people at different times, but it does have this one little bit of consistent, concrete magic. A great artwork embraces paradox, and contains multiple, sometimes contradictory, truths. I think it’s this quality that gives a great SEA project the ability to reframe, reshape, or for a moment redistribute power.”
What are other ways art can be used for social impact? Share your insights through the comment section below.
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Jacob Lefton is a creative director with a decade of experience in art, performance, writing, and education. His varied skills have led him to be, at times, a blacksmith, teacher, concept designer, set designer, trustee, writer, and circus performer. He currently runs a small custom metalsmithing business and is one of the art curators for Build Peace 2015.
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