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Artists Who Confront Violence: An Introduction

As part of our ongoing partnership with KQED Arts, today we bring you an article on activism and the artistic lineage of political criticism, from Goya to Gezi Park. Author Christian L. Frock is also giving a lecture on the same topic at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 29, at the Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. This article was originally published on  June 27, 2013.

Francisco Goya. The Disasters of War (Plate 39 – heroic feat! With dead men!), 1810-1820; etching.

When examining a history of artistic response to social injustice, across a spectrum of political issues, most key works are propelled by visibility. This is the hybrid condition of art and activism—whereas the art community might debate the value of documentation, especially with live performance, activism necessitates it. Before reproductions, static objects were visible to a limited audience; indeed, the impetus for printmaking was to reach a wide public audience. Photography extended this reach and the Internet has extended it further. The Internet affords us a somewhat, though not entirely democratic public platform by virtue of reach; access to the Internet still reflects a prevailing wealth disparity and, further, such access is ultimately controlled by private enterprise. Despite these limitations, it enables access that is potentially global in scope. This expansive communication potential is a vital resource to artists who confront social inequity to bear witness, to generate dialog and to cultivate change.

Consider here three important historic examples, not just for the issues of their time, but for the examples they set as forms of social record. Also noteworthy is how these works moved through public channels and how they still resonate in today’s society. Each provides critical benchmarks to survey the tactics of politically engaged artists throughout recent history. They are also important models to learn from and build upon moving forward.

Read the full article here.