This is a repost of a blog I wrote two years ago. I was interested then in art activism and it’s link to art therapy. I have tried to combine activism with art and art therapy in my previous work at a local rape crisis center. It was an ideal place to combine such interests, a place to do both art therapy for healing and cause focused advocacy.
I also think part of my interest in art therapy is watching people make things, watching people create. What is it that mesmerizes us by watching people make things? Through window panes, street corners, on the sidewalk, or across the table, there is something fascinating about watching others create. From what science has learned about the brain’s mirror neurons, looking on as people create is akin to looking into their eyes. Witnessing creativity stirs up a sense of connection, because of the structure of our brains.
What we also know of the brain is that it’s built for symbolism, constructing representations in order to understand life. Symbolic images and sensations comprise much of our memory base, some of it in symbols known as words, most of them not. This is not to say that words are not a powerful tool in themselves, but that the source of their power lies in the sensations and meanings they evoke.
This comes into play with activism where people are drawn to connect to images, and even more than that, drawn towards creative action. Therefore, as we strive for social change on small and large levels, here is a powerful and nonviolent way to be understood. We can create in the presence of others or leave them with the images of the change we long for. In the process of doing so and in spite of our differences, we connect. For a moment in time, the sense of community we long for happens.
In the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Create.
Book recommendations on this topic include:
Art Therapy and Social Action by Frances F. Kaplan (Referencing the therapeutic use of art with activism)
The Art of Rebellion 2: World of Urban Art Activism by Christian Hundertmark (Illustrating examples of street art created for activism)
Websites featuring efforts of art-based activism: