Emily Feinstein—International Liberation Reference Person for Visual Artists

Visual Artists

I only recently became the International Liberation Reference Person for Visual Artists, so I have much to learn about my constituency. I’ll speak to some of what I know.


Artists’ liberation is everyone’s concern—as art goes to the heart of who we are as humans, what we are capable of, and what we want our societies to look like.

Art is made by people everywhere, young and old. It is our drawings, storytelling, paintings, sculpture, performances, photographs, films, and furniture. It is our songs, poetry, novels, quilts, ceramics, designs, and posters and the cards we make for our loved ones.

We humans have been making art since our beginnings. Artistry implies creativity, fresh thinking, and intelligence. It is part of being alive and having creative minds. Our art connects, brings joy, emboldens, educates, and inspires.


Oppressive societies, built on fears for survival and accumulated distress, have profoundly interfered with our creative intelligence and sense of what’s possible. They have made our original boundless curiosity and imagination harder to reach and at times completely obscured.

The art we made as young people that was fun and readily shared was often met with indifference, judgment, and comparison. That led us to be on our own [to function alone] in order to “protect” our minds and what we cared about. Many of us who exhibit, perform, or otherwise share our work have learned to function on top of this isolation.


The following are some of the struggles we currently face as artists:

  • Artists’ oppression is based in class oppression. Who is an artist is a confusing question, since it is often asked in the context of class and race.
  • Early defeats, lack of resources and time, and living in a society with wars, poverty, violence, class oppression, racism, and sexism make it challenging for many of us to pursue our lives as artists. Those of us who have kept art making at the center continue to fight for our minds against the oppression and confusions.
  • Our work as artists contributes to a thriving economy, but we’re paid only a fraction of the value we produce, if at all. People who are trying to build careers in art are competing for very slim resources.
  • The owning class and other oppressive forces co-opt us into helping them consolidate and advertise their power. Art is frequently used to restimulate and promote the most reactive tendencies in society, and the artists who produce this work can be highly paid. However, most art and artists are seen as fringe and marginalized. Many artists accept and even invite this marginality in order to retain their integrity and thinking. Our liberation as artists includes building unity among all artists. This includes organizing against art that manipulates distress, without organizing against the artists who produce it.
  • Major cutbacks in funding are affecting cultural institutions, like museums and public education. Public television and radio are under attack.
  • Sexism and racism are prevalent in the art industries. Women and People of the Global Majority are less likely to secure funding, exhibit in museums, have solo exhibitions, or make the same amount of money as white men.
  • Reduced subsidies and scholarships for working-class and poor students are making it harder for them to pursue art in school.

Artists’ communities in Indigenous, poor, working-class, and abandoned neighborhoods are being bought and taken over for rampant development by the owning class. The artists are being pushed out further on the fringe and often, mistakenly, blamed for the gentrification.


As we have throughout history, artists are engaging the public and inviting people into action with street performances, posters, billboards, the spoken word, and many other kinds of art. We are calling attention to the many struggles for liberation and the damage being done to the environment. We are taking our work into neighborhoods, prisons, schools, and hospitals and creating spaces of beauty, play, learning, and connection.

Key issues for the world include reversing climate change, ending classism and all divisions, and bringing RC to everyone. We need every mind thinking freshly and creatively. As artists, we need to build and strengthen our connections to all people and wherever we’ve been divided from the working class. We need to claim being at the center of RC and discharge on where we have gone away to “protect” our minds. We need to reach for others, and do the necessary work to be able to build a society in which creativity and art are integral to everything.

Emily Feinstein

International Liberation Reference Person for Visual Artists

Brooklyn, New York, USA

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00