Defining Arts and Activism

Recently, I was asked to define arts and activism for an upcoming book project. I have maintained that arts activism and arts and activism are different. To those in the field, here are my working definitions:

Art: In a global sense, there are many definitions for “art” and they range from using the word as a concept – as part of a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics – to using the word as a process of creating. Historically, art has also come to be defined as a vehicle for the expression of human thoughts and emotions, or as an indirect means of communication. For the purposes of this book/project, we will use the word “art” to mean the process, the outward expression, and the end result (be it an object, an environment, a performance, or an experience) of one’s skillful and creative imagination. In other words, art is the skillful mastery and the communication of one’s imaginative self, and it is created to evoke thoughts, emotions, and/or action. Art’s practical and everlasting value lies in the fact that it is shared with others.

Culture: Culture, simply defined, is the expressions that generally characterize a group of people, their shared experiences, ideals, aspirations, and traditions. The most popular expressions of a people are often thought of as performance or visual-based expressions (i.e., music, dance, sculpture, etc.), yet cultural expressions may also manifest in other forms such as dialect, clothing, cuisine, hairstyles, literature, social games, group tendencies, and much more.

Activism: Activism is a purposeful act or series of actions designed to affect social, political, economic, spiritual, personal, or environmental change. For the purposes of this book/project, the change that activism seeks to affect is a positive change, a change that is enlightening and beneficial for both the individual and the community. Activism may be in support of, or in opposition to, an idea, law, value, policy, behavior, or practice. These supportive or dissenting actions may take on a vast range of expressions such as boycotts, rallies, marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, vigils, petitions, grassroots organizing, letter-writing campaigns, and many other intellectual, creative, and practical forms.

Arts Activism: For the purposes of this book/project (and perhaps in general), arts activism describes a unique kind of activism that uses the arts (visual, performance, theater, and/or literary arts) as a vehicle for affecting social, political, economic, spiritual, personal and/or environmental positive change.

Arts and activism:
For the purposes of this book/project (and perhaps in general), arts and activism is the concept, study, and practice of relating and/or intertwining the various fields of art with various methods of activism. It is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding, experiencing, and sharing one’s life and it supports the idea that art has holistic, practical, and transformative meaning to individuals and communities, and that activism is necessary for individual and collective development.