Art as Activism

Art and activism do different work in the world. Activism, as the name suggests, is the activity of challenging and changing power relations. Art, on the other hand, tends not to have such a clear target. Its value often lies in providing us perspective and new ways to envision our world. Good art always seems to contain an abundance of meaning: a series of ephemeral moments that fill us with thoughts we can’t quite describe but move us nonetheless.

At first glance, these two things seem to be in conflict with one another. Activism moves the material world, while art moves the heart and soul. But upon further reflection, there is a complimentary relationship between the two. Social change doesn’t just happen, it happens because people decide to make a change. As any seasoned activist can tell you, people just don’t decide to change their mind and act accordingly, they are personally moved to do so by emotionally powerful stimuli.

Artistic activism is a practice aimed at generating emotionally resonant experiences that lead to measurable shifts in power, perfectly suited for an age of cell phone cameras and social networks. People don’t share policy papers, they share things that move them. Artistic activism creates an opportunity to bypass seemingly fixed ideals and remap cognitive patterns, providing a moment when hearts can be touched and minds reached, perhaps leaving both changed.

Putting this into practice, conductor and composer Christopher Rountree says of his approach, “I think of scenarios that will change people’s mind about something, then set them up, and see what happens.” Artistic activism is aimed at the inner human experience, not bodies or buildings. This approach is as common today as it has been throughout history. The goal is not to force compliance, which art can never do, but to persuade by creating moving experiences that prompt people to question the world as it is, imagine a world as it could be, and join together to make that new world real.

Witness these ideas in process and “see what happens” on Friday, February 22 when Christopher Rountree and the LA-based chamber orchestra Wild Up take the stage at Weill Hall.

Tickets available now | Tickets start at $25