This piece is the first installment in a series about the connection between art and revolutionary movements.
In today’s productivity-obsessed, capitalist society, art is often seen as a frivolous endeavor…but there is a reason for that feeling. In order to maintain the current societal class structure, the bourgeoisie attempt to control the art world through museums. There becomes an understanding of what “good art” is based on what is put into these museums.
The art of poor people is not that, especially the art that critiques the structure of society. Oppressed folks are made to feel that art is not something they can be involved in because it “requires” this knowledge that only the bourgeoisie gain from their great education. It feels as if only the bourgeoisie can participate in the art world because they have time for frivolous things. The poor are made to only have time for work, leaving them with no energy or time to critique society’s treatment of them, let alone make art about it. There is no energy or time to start a revolution.
This is the goal. This is how capitalism works. This is what it was designed to do.
Yet people don’t give up because they know that art is a revolutionary force that capitalism does not want oppressed peoples to use. It’s a powerful tool that will bring people together to fight for change.
SPAIN, FRANCE AND BEYOND: WORKS OF ART THAT MADE A STATEMENT
In “the magazine of socialist action in Australia”, The Socialist, organizer Suzanne Beishon briefly spoke about the history of art in revolution. Pablo Picasso painted Guernica (1937) as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. While Picasso was living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, one German officer allegedly asked him, upon seeing a photo of Guernica in his apartment, “Did you do that?” and Picasso responded, “No, you did.” Although significant in relation to the Spanish Civil War, Beishon explains this piece also “has grown to be more than about a single time and place. It has become a symbol of the entire struggle of the workers and peasants in Spain.”
Another example Beishon spoke of was the poster art of France in 1968, which was used by the working class to aid the building of mass movements. Posters are vital to spreading a message to folks all over about what people are currently fighting for. They’re cheap to make and many people already possess the materials needed. The short, often catchy phrases and eye grabbing graphics appeal to everyone. One of the most important roles of revolutionary art is reaching entire communities, including those who are illiterate.
As seen by these two examples alone, art is a substantial part of revolutionary work. It’s often paper pasted onto city walls with a mixture of flour and water and a paint roller, but it’s also 12’ x 26’ canvases of abstract paintings. The rich have tried to force people to believe art is not an accessible space, but it is. The truth is, art is for everyone. When people realize that, revolutions are made stronger.
REAL-LIFE ARTIST AND ACTIVIST REBECKA JACKSON-MOESER
Los Angeles based performance artist, filmmaker and installation artist Rebecka Jackson-Moeser uses direct activism in her art with the help of community organizing. Her political actions manifest in a variety of forms, including film and live projects that have appeared nationally and internationally.
In a piece for publication “Workers World” titled “The Role of Artists in Revolutionary Struggle”, Jackson-Moeser explains “Art was always, and still is, a space to critique the ruling class.” Jackson-Moeser works to create art that is directly influenced by social justice movements, violence and suppression using emerging and experimental technology. She recognizes the power of art to make people look inward at who they are, and then outward at the world they are living in: “Art teaches you how to think and it gives voice to the voiceless. [Through art] you can discover the terms with which you are connected to other lives. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person who always thinks they are alone. The reality is that everyone deserves life and empathy and space to be their truest selves” She believes that the reason art programs are often the first to receive budget cuts is because of how powerful the medium is. A space of complete creativity teaches children how to express themselves; it gives them a tool to share their ideas for the rest of their lives.
Understanding the role of art in revolutionary movements is a process that cannot be done in one article, which is why I’ll be creating a series on this topic. I want to make clear: art is not just for the rich. It is not just for the “talented”. It is for everyone, seriously, every single person. We are going to break down what art really is, including various mediums and styles, and how you can use it to fight for what you believe in. We are going to learn just how powerful art really is.