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Artists’ Liberation

To be human is to be creative. All humans are inherently creative and intelligent. We humans naturally like to sing, dance, draw, experiment, and create things. Our creations reflect back to us the current state of our intelligence. Our creativity is like a conversation between our current selves and hopeful visions of our possible selves—in the process we experience our full humanity and offer new possibilities to all humans. Creativity has been an integral part of all cultures throughout human history. Creating art is an expression of the upward trend.

As children we often didn’t care if what we created lasted longer than the moment in which we created it. We may have built sandcastles by the seashore and then, with joy and laughter, watched the sea reclaim them. We didn’t draw to get paid. We didn’t dance for material reward. We didn’t show how alive we were in order to win a prize. Art was a present-time process that we fully and joyfully embraced as part of being alive and human. Unless it is interfered with by oppression and other hurts, creativity and creative intelligence flourish fully and continuously.

Product Versus Process: the Devaluation of Artists in a Capitalist Consumer Society

Using the United States as an example—in its early history the U.S. was a society of producers centered mostly on agriculture. The dominant values were those of the skilled laborers, craftspeople, and artists. These workers took pride in their competence, workmanship, ingenuity, and integrity.

At the end of the 19th Century the United States (as well as certain other countries) began embracing industrialization, modern capitalism, and the values of a consumer society. The former values gave way to values centered on consumerism.

Factories proliferated. Factory workers experienced the emptiness of grueling repetitive tasks. Their employers paid them just enough to afford the products of their labor. Workers increasingly valued themselves and sought social status according to what they could buy and own. “Consumption” distracted them from the deep and more lasting fulfillment of pride in labor, skill, craftsmanship, and artistry.

More consumption means more profits for the owning class. Artists are forced to create art in this context. The market value of their product defines the value of their work. In their effort to produce a desirable product for the consumer, artists often forfeit their love of the creative process. Nevertheless, the “internal conversation” we experience in the process of making art exists independently of the product (or any profits from its sale). Art and money have nothing to do with each other.

Creating art is often called “work,” in part to avoid invalidation associated with the word “play.” Making art often does require a great deal of commitment, time, labor, and practice, which is often undervalued and under appreciated. Both of these words, “work” and “play,” describe the process of creating art. We need to reclaim them both.

The artist’s creative process is devalued in a capitalist system. It tends to be invisible and is not always clearly associated with an actual product that can be bought and sold. Because the creative process is devalued, artists are often not regarded as productive members of society. This sets artists up for exploitation. Artistic products can be acquired for a fraction of their true value and can then be placed on the market for a high price. The resulting profits are usually not shared with the artist.

Standardization, “Mental Health” Oppression, and “Normalism”

Capitalism encourages standardization. Production costs can be minimized (and profit maximized) when products are standardized. Creative options are rejected as being too costly. Products are standardized in order to be less expensive for, and more available to, the consumer. However, standardization institutionalizes limited choice and erodes our natural human desire to apply flexible thinking in all situations.

Artists tend to reject standardization and what is generally regarded as “normal.” As a result artists often end up isolated from society. They then adopt the artist “identity” to protect themselves. However, this often leads to being labeled as “different,” as “not like the rest of us.” I call this form of “mental health” oppression “normalism.”

Creativity is one of the purest examples of thinking. Artists are often seen as “crazy” because they insist on challenging the status quo and thinking flexibly and “out of the box.” As we eliminate “mental health” oppression we will also eliminate the oppression of artists.

The Artist Identity

No one is born with an artist identity. It may have been suggested to them, or they may have clearly chosen it for themselves. The artist identity separates artists from their closest allies—other humans who were once their creative playmates but who were prevented from developing their own creativity.

The artist identity is what brings on the oppression. The creative process is not difficult or distressing. However, the identity gets confused with the creative process. The two need to be separated and kept separate by means of discharge and re-evaluation.

Artists as Guardians of Human Creativity

People who identify as artists play an important role. They hold out creativity as the essence of human intelligence.

Most people are exploited and exhausted by the jobs. The oppressive society relies on art and artists for meaning and enjoyment. In the absence of fulfilling work, people turn to music, film, television, books, and web media to experience people, stories, sounds, and images that help them feel alive. Art holds out possibility for everyone. People who identify as artists have been, and belong, at the center of all social change movements.

Internalized Artists’ Oppression

Artists’ internalized oppression shows itself in the following ways: competition—who is more talented, better, smarter, more creative • isolation from society • isolation from other artists • internalized “mental health” oppression • overreaction to rules and standards • devaluing one’s process as a contribution to society • prioritizing the product and its market value • addictions • eccentric behaviors • lack of physical exercise and good hygiene • borrowing from other artists without giving credit

Standing Against Artists’ Oppression

Artists have taken stands against artists’ oppression in the following ways: by forming communities of artists, online networks, and artist-run galleries to support each other’s work • organizing their art around political and social action • raising awareness of history, culture, sexism, racism, genocide, and other oppressions • discharging

Ideas for Both Artists and Non-artists

Both artists and non-artists can do the following: discharge on the identity • claim the identity • reject the identity and reclaim the inherent value of human creativity • ask, “Where do I value my own creativity?” the creativity of others?” • ask, “How have I accepted and internalized institutionalized (“normal”) standards?

Directions for Artists

Artists can do the following in sessions: care openly about the creative process and artwork produced • set up work sessions to combat isolation and discharge distresses about making art • discharge about being at the center of one’s relationships • discharge on being at the center of RC • set up artist support groups • discharge on building close relationships with one’s allies • discharge on leading others to reclaim their creativity

Artist Liberation Goals

Artist liberation goals include the following: recovering from the oppression • leading and organizing others in reclaiming their inherent creativity • organizing artists and allies to change policy in regard to art, artists, and the creative process • work to end all oppressions that interfere with natural alliances between artists and all other groups

Questions for Discharge

For artists: What are your earliest memories of being creative? How has that changed? • Where are you targeted simply because you are an artist? • What does “normal” look like/mean to you? • What would your life look like if you no longer identified as an artist? • Where do you limit being your full self? • Where have you had to give up connections in this society in order to be your full un-edited self? • Where have you experienced classism, racism, sexism, and other oppressions as an artist? • Where have you taken a stand against other oppressions as an artist? • Where do you give up on connections with other artists in order to survive? • If you knew you were secure economically, what would your art life look like? • What does “no limits for artists” mean to you?

Non-artists: What is your earliest memory of creativity or being creative? • Where do you find creativity in your life now? • Where have you given up on your creative self? What made you give up? • What were the early messages you received about art and artists? • Where do you devalue the importance of artists and their creativity? • What are your own experiences with artists’ oppression? • What does “normal” look like to you? • Now that you understand more about artists and artists’ oppression, how can you be a better ally to artists? • Is there an artist in your life that you can become an ally for? •

John Fehringer
International Liberation Reference Person for Artists
Seattle, Washington, USA






Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00