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    Can art help transform existing oppressive structures and if so, how can such art be encouraged in the classroom?


    I believe that as artists, we need to be aware of how our work will be viewed and understood by others. An artist may create something, with no intentions of activism behind it, however it may be perceived that way – or even vice versa. In class, Karen discussed the power behind Chilean arpilleras. The Chilean women sewed scraps of fabric onto burlap sacks into a visual code to communicate what was happening in their country. Eventually, others caught on to the wrong doings which pressured and led to reform of the Chilean government.
    Through this example, I believe that activism is a branch of power. There are many times consequences to power (whether good or bad) and I believe that power and activism should be encouraged in the class room so students may learn how to effectively use both. These women were brave enough to create something in hopes to help their loved ones, and it worked. I think it’s important for students to hear stories like this inside and outside of the classroom. It will encourage them to realize that they have voices that can be heard and that they can make a difference in life.
    By giving students examples of activism such as this one and then prompting them with questions, they can begin to understand the concept a little better. Questions to propose to students could be: when have you felt discriminated against, or oppressed by someone or something? What would you do to fix it? Can you create something that would give others hope when put in that situation, or can you create something that will bring awareness to others about that situation? Keywords for inspiration for their creations would be: equality, kindness, right, respect, justice, tolerance, morality.


    I think that the response given above by Olivia are very thoughtful. I would like to add, that one of the significant struggles within the studio art’s is one of form/style/composition versus content. I believe, as an artist and educator that this is important to merge and not isolate, and as such many times is a form of activism. How do we then define activism? I am of the opinion that art can not and should not be isolated in interpretation, as Judy Chicago (Institutional Times, 2014) advocates for reading art in many different perspectives that are not part of a patriarchal way to see/view/observe/discuss art. It is through a feminist lens that for example, Dr. Keifer-Boyd was able to share with the class the Chilean arpilleras and we were able to have a social, cultural, activist, art discussion about them, their makers, their content and their power and activism. Would this be possible through other lens? Would this be considered activist art in other contexts? Seeing beyond the superficial, to the core contexts is crucial and what defines activist art.


    We live in a informatization age where society’s existence relies on the interaction between network capital and self capital. The old social structure, school structure and class structure based on the dominant condition of capital have changed accordingly. The development of civilization comes from forcible clash from both outside and inside. Individual behavior and feeling shaping affects greatly the development of civilization. Art comes right in as an important factor that works on individual’s internal recognition and social relation to shape behavior and feelings. From class teaching method to dinner education, Chicago’s teaching methods all encourage art teachers to go from investigating their own social experience background to reflecting on the explicit and implicit social statues of the ethnic group they belong to, thus recognizing the belief of gender equality. This process itself is a change in the existing oppressive structure. Art plays a role that uses philosophy and culturology to criticize the society and frees the human intelligence.

    Social order requires close spaces, one of which is college. But art demands freedom; its nature is rebellious. So the encourage of art is very important for the reconstruction of social order. Then how to encourage and cultivate students in class?
    First of all, privilege and authority has to be overthrown. The exchange and understanding of values and behavior codes can be achieved only when equality prevails.

    Secondly, learn to replace thinking. This is an experience and understanding of others’ space and experience. A fine example is the “female’s room” in Chicago’s teaching, which creates a certain space to understand and liberate women.

    Thirdly, to realize the reconstruction of capital through interaction. Every individual has his own unique capital brought by culture, race, family and their relation. Through communication and interaction, capitals can be rearranged to create a new perspective for comprehensive and innovative thinking. Every individual’s capital and capital structure reflects on the work. The interaction of capital create new perspective and new value. That is the beauty of art education–to achieve self-recognition and explore new artistic methods in various ways.


    Art gives us a voice. When art education provides an avenue for students to explore, challenge, reflect, and respond, the students are empowered to use their voices for expression and activism.


    Absolutely! However, in order to transform the existing oppressive structures, we as educators need to help our students to become aware of oppression – not just in the context of the broader culture, but in the context of their own lives. By enabling students to see oppression in their own actions, languages, and lives, challenges their way of viewing and thinking about the systems that support this oppression. Consequently, they begin to develop a voice from which to speak out against this oppression – become activists and champions for the oppressed – for what is learned cannot be unlearned.


    Great art is about change. If we teach students that change occurs through
    communication, and that they have a voice with which to communicate, they will become empowered to use that voice in creative expression. Hopefully, that voice will also help them to be better communicators in society.

    Judy Chicago

    I would say that there is a big difference between art education in the classroom and the actual practice of art in the world. Activism and change are not popular ideas in the art world; in fact, the art world promotes art that is far away from most people’s real concerns. One of the reasons my work has met so much resistance is that it speaks directly to the viewer and is not dependent upon critics to decode it. I believe in the power of art to transform consciousness and contribute to change. But I do not think it is realistic to think that art education can accomplish this though it certainly can help students find their personal voices and discover that there are many ways to be involved in art other than hands-on artmaking. Judy Chicago


    I believe art does carry the potential to aid in transforming existing oppressive structures. As Olivia pointed out the powerful example of the Chilean arpilleras, this is just one of many examples where art was used as a tool to empower women under an oppressive situation and incite activism. By bringing these types of examples into the classroom, student’s eyes can be opened to all the powerful possibilities that the arts can bring to the community and oppressive structures around them. I agree that art education can help students find their voices, and I think that by doing this we can empower them to make changes in the world around them.

    I think a way to model this transforming power of art for students is to get them involved in the communities right outside their doorsteps. Pairing the art classroom with the community gives students the opportunity to see their potential to make a positive change and to experience how the arts and a little creativity can go a long way in bringing social change. By giving students opportunities to use art to fix problems around them within their own community, it allows them to experience first hand the transformative power of art and opens the door to endless possibilities.


    Judy Chicago’s work interweaves and challenges the notion of what traditional art would dictate to be valid. For example, by incorporating sewing, various textiles, text, and collaborative artists working together, she defies the notion of the ‘creative art genius’ and replaces it with collaborative projects that not only require research but many different types of artists expertise. The At Home project and WomanHouse are two great illustrations of this as varies areas of expertise are developed collaboratively to create one cohesive installation/experience. Construction work, performative, sewing, costume design, photography, sculptural, and poetry to name a few. The Birth Project and the Dinner Party are other examples of collaborative work where ‘domestic or craft’ art practices are validated and come together to showcase an incorporation of many voices.


    I do believe art provides a chance to execute change, however I am not sure in a k-12 setting this is a possibility. I do however believe awareness of oppression and teaching them to get involved in their communities and to have a voice is a great place to start. I think education sometimes stifles the creativity and innovation in young students because of standards and curriculum. I have said this before and I will continue to believe that standards and curriculum are detrimental to the process of art in an educational setting.

    kms 6947


    Art can help transform existing oppressive structures because it challenges everyday objects and opinions. In many of Judy Chicago’s works, the viewer is encouraged to think outside the box, to visualize things in a new way. This can be applied in the classroom, because it is encouraged in the art room to be yourself. To take on obstacles, projects, and assignments through an individual lens. To be successful, students need to overcome these structures.


    Art can definitely be used to transform existing oppressive physical and social structures! As a species that relies heavily on sight to communicate, navigate, and interact with our environment, visual stimuli have a huge impact on how we perceive and interpret our world. A good example of this is McKay and Keifer-Boyd’s “Steal this Sign” Video. In the video, Keifer-Boyd speaks about signs that are both comical, benign, and provocative. A run down, outdated house has a sign on it that says “We’re Not Finished!” How does that change your view of the house? How does it change your view of the owners? Another sign says “Road does not end” and yet is placed at a dead end. What does that make you think? Visual artists can change transform the way we think about objects, spaces, and even people. There is enormous power in visual art.

    This type of art can be used in the classroom to great effect. It can be an access point which allows students to bring their own personal beliefs and values into the classroom and play with them in a way that allows for exploration, expansion, and change in those values. Using “Steal this Sign” Video as a basis for a lesson plan, students could create a sign that brings attention to a social injustice that resonates with him or her. In addition to the actual creation of the sign, students would have to figure out how to employ their signs, and where the signs could be placed to have the most impact.


    I do believe that art can assist in transforming oppressive structures, although art can also be used to reinforce oppression in the form of propaganda and coercion so as to incite loyalty and to form membership bonds, creating insiders versus outsider dynamics; it can also be used for purposes of torture. Still, art as resistance to oppressive systems and as a change agent in altering power dynamics is much more compatible with how most artists and viewers of art experience it. Intent and interpretation play a large role in whether art is seen as subversive or as protector of the status quo. In the classroom, if students are encouraged to explore both the making and the analyzing of art in ways that lead them to question existing oppressive structures and to see how art can be used both for good and for bad, this will allow them to understand the complexities of art and the roles that it plays in either critiquing society or upholding its values. Also, if students are able to use art to question authority, and to experiment with the power of artistic expression to bring into focus those aspects of society where power resides, it will help them to decode cultural signs that perpetuate dominance. This can be done through gaining awareness of ambiguity, irony, metaphor, symbolism and the hidden messages that are often embedded in cultural expressions.


    Absolutely! I believe art can be used to bring awareness to issues and fight for change. Half of the battle is to make people aware of an issue in society, and typically artworks used as a form of protest are widely written about by news organizations, so they then inform the masses. For example, the Fearless Girl Statue erected on Wall Street in early 2017, brings up the issue of gender in the workplace and the percentage of women on executive boards. This statue sparked a nation-wide debate about women in the workplace and gender inequality.

    Bringing activist ideas into the classroom involves encouraging students to think about meaning in their work more so than how the final product. How can my art portray an idea an what type of meaning do I want to portray? What cause can I fight for? These are what we need to talk about with our students.

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