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Artists’ Liberation (draft 10.9.21)

Art is essential. It allows us to imagine and see possibilities.

Art is our drawings, sculpture, performances, photographs, films, architecture, songs, puppetry, poetry and novels, quilts and ceramics. Art is our stories, designs and posters, and the cards we make for our loved ones. It is made by humans everywhere; the young and the elderly. Art connects, brings joy, reveals, educates, and inspires.

Throughout history, humans have been making marks and using artistic practices to celebrate their cultures and communicate their connection and care, for each other, the land, and living itself. 

For children and young people, if uninterrupted, art-making and creativity are full of curiosity, joy, and delight. They are part of being alive and exploring, engaging and understanding, with full body and mind.

WHO IS AN ARTIST?

Human intelligence is fresh thinking—that is, a new and creative response to each moment. Art has often been thought of as the conscious creation of something beautiful, or meaningful, using skill and imagination. We have all seen children’s creativity that we consider a piece of art. Our innate minds, unencumbered by hurts, function creatively with flexibility and imagination. Some cultures believe to be human is to be an artist. We agree: that in essence, every human has the possibility of being an artist.

Many forms of oppression make it challenging to include art-making as an integral part of one’s life. And to decide to devote one’s life to the making of art can be even more challenging, especially financially. Moreover, to develop artistic practices or pursue art careers takes time, commitment, attention, and resources. An artistic practice is not defined, however, by schooling or training, or by whether we sell or make money from our work.

The decision to struggle to retain one’s creative mind and fresh thinking in an oppressive society gives artists an important perspective and a vital role. Whether or not art communicates specific ideas of resistance to oppression, it reveals human intelligence and perspective, both of which are contradictions to oppression.

ARTISTS' OPPRESSION AND CAPITALISM

Capitalism directly alters what sorts of creativity we think are valuable. In our consumer society, standardization, quantity, and profit are the main goals. Art and artists are seen as commodities, and culture is bought and sold.

Save for a few artists who are part of a global investment market, most artists are given, at most, a fraction of their work’s value. Like the rest of the working class, artists greatly contribute to a thriving economy, but most work with few resources. This scarcity sets artists in competition with one another and can make us feel defended about our ideas, pushing us toward greater isolation.

Western culture, built on colonialism, class oppression, racism, sexism, and “mental health” oppression, writes many artists out of history and undervalues their art and experience. This bias affects who sees themselves as, or identifies as, an artist. The lack of resources and the oppression of artists have also discouraged many people at an early age from being creative or pursuing art as a priority or a focus of their lives.

Oppressive societies rely on art to entertain and provide meaning and enjoyment. In the absence of fulfilling and meaningful work, people turn to music, film, television, books, and web media to help them feel alive and engaged. Yet a great deal of that art, often the best paid, perpetuates the dominant view. It showcases people’s oppression and their feelings of powerlessness, fear, and self-blame without introducing any real possibility of collective action. It can also restimulate the most reactive tendencies. People may also be pulled to images and ideas that specifically restimulate fears, upsets, and preoccupations. All these types of art help to grow the wealth of the global owning class.

Creativity and art that do not support exploitation and oppression have historically been seen as fringe and marginal. Many artists have learned to accept, and invite, marginality in order to retain our integrity and our thinking. “Mental health” oppression labels many artists as “crazy.” Many artists have relied on, and battled with, addictive substances in the hopes of retaining their creativity and surviving the discrimination.

In collapsing capitalism, with global poverty, the climate crisis, and fragmented communities, many artists are struggling to survive and are vulnerable to making art for their own individualistic pleasure, solace, or capitalist gain.

Yet, with all the challenges, the voices of artists continue to be central in society and in the fight for transformation and a just world. All creativity is meaningful and needs to be encouraged, ultimately toward ends that value equity and community.

ARTISTS RESISTANCE AND POWER IN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

The power of art to organize, connect, and educate has always put artists and art at the forefront of revolutions and social movements. Countless artists have risen up against oppression and lifted the voices of all oppressed people.

Artists are playing key roles in calling attention to, and organizing around, the climate crisis. Some are uniting with scientists, engineers, and architects to create and design new sustainable environments. Some are engaging the public and inviting action through murals, street art, performances, puppets, banners, posters, billboards, spoken word, writing, poetry, and actions. Artists have formed independent communities, social media platforms, and not-for-profit artist-run galleries and performance spaces to support one another and support the development of new ideas.

ARTISTS' LIBERATION

In this period, and always, we want every mind thinking fresh and creatively. In the privacy of our studios, with loved ones and in sessions, artists get to work through our painful emotions; but out front we want our art to show what’s true and possible, including our fights against oppression. We want to work on the early defeats and the places we “went away” in order to “protect” our minds and selves. We want to support and encourage artists to be at the center of our communities, to build and strengthen our connections, to all people, to the working class, and to a better world.

Our goals can also include these: Building unity among all artists. Reclaiming the pride, joy, and connection in making, showing, and creating. Leading and organizing others to reclaim their inherent creativity, including developing inclusive artistic and cultural practices that allow people to tell their stories and build community. Organizing artists and allies to change policy with regard to art, artists, and the creative process. Working to end all oppression.

SESSION IDEAS FOR ARTISTS

Here are session ideas for artists: 

  • Claim the identity; say goodbye to the identity.
  • Recount earliest experiences of making and showing your art and being creative; times you were made to feel different, special, “gifted.” 
  • Ask: What do I love and appreciate about other artists? What don’t I like about other artists? Where do I feel better or worse than other artists? 
  • Share experiences when you “went away” to “protect” your mind and what you cared about.
  • Ask: Is there anything I have sacrificed or left in order to be an artist?
  • Ask: Where has competition guided me? 
  • Have sessions about making your art, what you’re thinking about, your plans. 
  • Share your experiences with “mental health” oppression. 
  • Ask: What have I given up on that I’d like to try for? Is there anything I would like to communicate through my art that I haven’t as of yet?
  • Ask: What is a good next step for me toward being visible as an artist in these times? How might I use my creativity and artist mind in relation to climate justice and racial justice? 

Here are session ideas for allies, those who don’t identify as artists:

  • Assume that everyone has their own path and it doesn’t need to look any particular way, then ask: Where do I already lead a creative life? 
  • Tell your life story with respect to early messages and experiences around creativity and art making. 
  • Claim the identity of artist and see what comes up.
  • Ask: Did I ever identify as an artist? What happened? 
  • Ask: Have racism, sexism, or class oppression affected my claiming, or not claiming, the identity of artist, or my deciding to be, or not be, an artist? 
  • Draw, sing, or make some form of art with someone’s delighted attention.
  • Share your thoughts and ideas and celebrate all your creativity and artwork.
  • Check all your assumptions about artists and our lives. Ask: What are the messages and stereotypes I received or still believe about artists and creative people? 
  • Ask questions of artists and encourage us to tell you our stories and tell you about our ideas, successes, and challenges. Listen.

THE ARTISTS’ COMMITMENT

I promise to always remember my power, love, and intelligence as an artist, and the vital role that artists have played in every culture and time. I will never again invalidate any artist, including myself, or any work of art, but rather ally myself with all artists to end our economic oppression, and enthusiastically encourage the creativity of every human.

Artists’ liberation is in everyone’s interest!

Emily Feinstein
International Liberation Reference Person for Visual Artists

 


Last modified: 2021-10-09 15:31:03+00