The Art of Activism
©2011 President (2011-2012) Wendy Simonds
Let’s face it, what we do is often depressing. The very name of our organization, The Society for the Study of Social Problems, is a downer! We spend a great deal of our time and energy aining and sharing knowledge about discrimination, dysfunction, and destruction. Through our work, we seek to communicate the consequences of the injustices we examine and how current conditions might be changed for the better (and how to prevent problems in the first place). As participants in social-change-seeking activities or in social service work, we deal with the tenacity of oppressive institutionalized power dynamics. Typically, we don’t have the power, ourselves, to eliminate the problems we illuminate. Unfortunately, our solutions are often difficult to actualize because they are based on theoretical approaches (feminist, anti-racist, socialist, and queer, to name a few) that are viewed with scepticism in mainstream culture because they are antithetical to the pernicious systems we work against. And, to make matters all that much more frustrating, we, ourselves, may perpetuate many of the same inegalitarian power dynamics we deplore and resist elsewhere – in our own workplaces, homes, and organizations. All of this is depressing.
This year, let us celebrate a crucial part of what initially brought the SSSP into existence in 1951: the art of activism. By focusing on the myriad intersections between art and activism, I mean to encourage the sharing of work that explores the creative spirit in activism as well as the sociopolitical power of art.
Art and activism are both situational, relying always on history, context, and interpretation for their meaning. Howard S. Becker presents a view of art as the result of patterned, coordinated, ever-changing social interaction, rather than inherent in or emergent from idiosyncratic genius or talent. The meaning of art, thus, cannot be limited to aesthetic or meritocratic considerations, which also result from social interactions. Becker’s approach also applies to activist and academic endeavors. Through our organizing, scholarship, teaching, mentoring, and community service, we are participant-observers in a variety of forms of activism and of artistry.
Art and activism both:
Emerge out of creative, passionate impulses;
Involve transgression, challenging conventions, and making meaning in ways that are emotionally evocative and intellectually provocative;
Have the potential to transform worldviews, social practices, and power dynamics;
Have the ability to impel momentous connections between the many people who rail against multiple machines in pursuit of a variety of forms of social justice.
Let us consider art and activism - and our role as practitioners in both cultural arenas.
See you in Denver!
Wendy Simonds, SSSP President, Georgia State University
|2012 Program Committee|
|Heather M. Dalmage, Co-Chair, Roosevelt University
Tanya L. Saunders, Co-Chair, Lehigh University
Ashley Currier, University of Cincinnati
Michael T. Maly, Roosevelt University
Nancy Michaels, Roosevelt University
Chavella T. Pittman, Dominican University