Living in Our Time Activity
Can Art Change Society?
Challenge and Change in the Art World
Participants become familiar with the ways that artists create awareness and therefore contribute to bringing about change in society. This tour encourages participants to think about how artists express their ideas about the issues underlying current events. This activity could be used in the Walker Art Center galleries, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, or in the classroom with a selection of images from Art Collector. The artworks included in the activity are suggestions only and instructors may choose different artworks to accompany the discussion questions.
Setting the Scene
Ask the participants questions such as:
What are some important issues in society today?
Show relevant newspaper or magazine headlines, articles, and pictures to generate discussion. Ask: How do people raise awareness of issues they are concerned about? (Examples: hold demonstrations or marches; create visuals such as posters, banners, leaflets; make effigies; wear costumes or masks; build sculptures, such as a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square in 1989.)
Has anyone participated in a protest? How did you try to attract the public’s attention? Have you seen a demonstration on the TV news? What did the protesters do to attract attention? What would you make? What would you organize or do?
Artists also often feel passionately about issues and use their work to raise awareness, as a form of protest, or to pose questions for viewers. Distribute laminated cards (see description of cards in the Props section) to every one or two people, depending on the size of the group. Participants should explore the galleries on their own to find a work of art that they think relates to the issue presented on their card. Participants should turn the card over and think about the questions listed on the reverse. They could write their answers using a clipboard and paper. Once the time has expired (about five to 10 minutes), have the group gather at a meeting spot, then go together to each work of art selected. Ask each person or pair to share why they chose this work, and their responses. Ask the group: Do you think the artist has succeeded in raising awareness about this issue? Why or why not? This artwork was made in (year). Do you think these issues still exist in society today? Has there been any change in recent years? The date the artwork was made is extremely important, as artists create works about what was happening in society at that time. As society changes with the passing of time, so do the issues that concern artists.
Ask: In your opinion, can art change society? Do you know of instances where it has? As examples, show the group pictures of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Discuss how artworks can contribute to social change. Note that they can be used as part of a larger movement of change that in many instances has brought about the reversal of laws and public attitude. Through their artworks, many contemporary artists bring to our attention issues that concern them in society.
A selection of newspaper articles or photographs about current issues
Laminated photographs of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the AIDS Memorial Quilt
Laminated cards with issue words (such as racism, sexism, feminism, violence, civil rights, GLBT rights, globalism, immigration, the environment, drug abuse, AIDS) and the following questions on the back:
• Who is the artist?
• What is the title of the work?
• When was it made?
• What materials were used?
• What is the artist trying to say about the issue?
Some artworks that would work on this tour include:
Robert Gober The Subconscious Sink 1985
Kara Walker Endless Conundrum, An African Anonymous Adventuress 2001
David Hammons Phat Free 1995/1999
Yoko Ono Cut Piece 1965
Charles Ray Unpainted Sculpture 1997
Tony Cragg Ordovician Pore 1989
Jacques Lipchitz Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II 1944/1953