Friday, June 10, 2016

Art As Activism is Effective in the Digital Age

By Chandra Lloyd, Claire Larson and Kimball Leavitt


The world can be a hard place to live in because there are countless issues that need to be fixed.

However, art changes everything.

rcns_a_10055653_o_art001g.gifWe are constantly berated by societal issues. Many of us want to be part of a group, make a difference, or change the world and the question arises: how can we make ourselves heard? 
© Fabrice Monteiro

Whatever your cause: Whether you are pushing for no abortions or gunning for the right to bear firearms, supporting environmentalism or trying to eliminate inequality, art can be an effective tool to get your message across to the masses.

Good activism defined

  • Raises questions/issues and provokes thought - not dogmatic
    • changeok-269x300.jpg
      Activism is most effective when it causes people to question their beliefs and rethink what is right in the world. Preventing dogma is incredibly important for successful activism. Art helps provoke people into thinking more deeply about life. Each work of art is unique and gives everyone an angle they can use to help a cause.
  • Elicits emotion
    • Art creates emotions that words sometimes cannot. It appeals to all of the senses and immerses the viewer into it. This emotional connection is crucial when promoting a cause. Emotions keep people involved, and art keeps people emotional.
  • Memorable, carry it with you
    • Art can be tangible, or it can be something that exists in your memories. Either way, you carry it with you. It can inspire you to share it on social media, discuss it with others, or even create art yourself. Art can carry activism farther than it could go on its own.
  • Provocative (makes you want to do something)
    • Effective art activism leaves people with a fire. This fire burns until it causes them to try and put it out by going out in their community and making a change. Art can change people’s intentions.

Claire Larson

17a29239375acce48e4b350d9d46e509.jpgIf a picture is worth a thousand words, then why can’t a picture spark a revolution against human trafficking? The answer is that it can. Photography personally connects audiences to issues that need to be addressed in the world today. It can show people injustices that are happening and invite them to step in. Human trafficking happens too often. Photography has been used to protest selling people as objects and this has brought increased awareness to human trafficking. The more people know about human trafficking, the more that they can see and intervene when they see possible human trafficking incidences. Photography makes activism more effective.

Kimball Leavitt

When I say “slam poetry,” you might think of a seventh grade event your teacher made you do. Ever considered it could be a way to change the way people think and therefore act? Poetry as an art form has been used to influence society for centuries. For example, in John Milton’s 17th century Paradise Lost, he sets out to “justify the ways of God to man,” or to explain why God does the things He does and why the world is the way it is, full of suffering and injustice. Likewise in the twenty first century, performance-enhanced slam poetry is an excellent way to raise questions about why the world or society are they way they are, as well as to propose answers for a willing audience to consider.

Chandra Lloyd

The best kind of activism asks questions, leaves each hearer or reader questioning, wanting to know more, and has an emotional impact. That’s exactly what theatre does and its emotional impact is one of empathy and compassion. Even done by artists, like me, with very clear opinions it is performed in a space where a group of people will have to respond to those ideas both with their companions, as a collective group, and at home when they think about what they have experienced. And hopefully they experienced empathy. Activist theatre asks people in a community to look at their lives and the lives of others different from them in a new light, think honestly about the issues, and then ask "What can I do?"

Digital media empowers theatre makers, collaborators, and audiences both live and on social media platforms by amplifying human experiences of empathy on a global level. Local issues are brought to the world where our digital culture allows us to experience them and empowers us to do something. We get to identify with others often very different from us because they become part of our intimate world.

About the authors

Claire Larson:
Claire is a Chinese major at Brigham Young University. Chinese and China are both things she obsesses about so she will be going on a study abroad to China in the fall. She is from Colorado and has lived in Utah for about 6 years. An interesting fact about Claire is that she has never broken a bone. She loves experiencing other cultures and also enjoys photography. She can often be found reading a book or sleeping. You can get to her personal blog post here.

Kimball Leavitt
Kimball is an open major at Brigham Young University considering studying linguistics, Spanish, and maybe even computer science. He is from a small town in Southern Utah called Gunlock where he enjoys cattle drives with the family and wrestling with his brothers and nephews. On the daily he can be found dancing, listening to Spanish/Latin music, eating a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats. You can find his personal blog post here.

Chandra Lloyd
Chandra is a playwright, singer, and actor who wants to make the world better. Brigham Young University with be producing a play she wrote, happysadness, in February 2017. She plans on attending graduate school, likely for an MFA in playwriting. Chandra loves to travel, experience new people and cultures, and read as much as she can. After living in Italy for more than a year she dreams almost daily about going back. Her dog is her best friend and no matter how many times the guy at Jimmy John’s asks if she “wants bacon on that,” she is happy to be a vegetarian, and she will continue to recycle, by fair trade goods as often as possible, and shop at health food stores, no matter how many times she gets called a granola. Her blog post can be read here.


  1. I believe that art is effective at raising awareness concerning a given issue, but not necessarily at inciting action. It is kind of like the "inspirational quote" mentality, where one may experience a positive response, but unless it actually changes that person's behavior, the quote failed to achieve its purpose.

    This is partially due to the number of supportable causes. During World War II, the Allies and the Axis Powers effectively used propaganda to incite responses in their citizens (as Karee brought up in her post: primarily because this was THE cause at the time. The propaganda also provided a means for action, such as enlisting in the army or purchasing bonds.

    Abraham Maslow said in The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance, "…it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." Each activist group has their hammer, and views contemporary issues as nails that only their hammer can pound. I feel that this almost promotes slacktivism in that, because of the sheer amount of content, it may seem overwhelming to be involved in so many worthwhile causes, no matter the medium that is used to represent them.

    1. I completely agree that we are bombarded with so many causes it is often so difficult to decide which to promote actively that we end up doing nothing or very little. I've also encountered a lot of groups that think their way is the only way and will belittle anyone who thinks otherwise, often missing chances for wonderful communication, collaboration, and compromise. I do wonder though, which arts that applies to. You make a good point that art at times can just raise awareness, but that hasn't been my experience with theatre, nor with live experiences at galleries and things. I think there is a human component there that can be missing in things shared online. In my post I discuss the power of empathy and how theatre causes us to ask questions; it promotes discussion. If we can, through any art, get people talking about it in their daily lives, not just liking it on social media, we are a lot closer to getting them to act.

  2. I think that art and photography are a means of eliciting emotion and creating awareness of issues in our society. However, I do not feel that it has enough power to bring about lasting change.

    With the recent shooting in Orlando at a gay nightclub, slacktivism seems to be a very current topic. Not only does this tragedy bring about mourning and terror, but it also stirs up political opinions and raises debates about controversial politicial topics. This was evident on social media sources such as Twitter and Facebook after searching #slacktivism. This idea of sharing originally brings about much activism, but with everyone pushing his or her own activist ideas, it gets lost in the mix and ultimately returns back to a slacktivist mentality. People read the posts and voice their own thoughts, but it is rare that anything actually gets put into action because there is so much out there.

    After looking on Pinterest and searching “gun control”, there is an accumulation of memes, photography, and quotations stirring up the pot on the debate of the subject. While adding these pins to one’s board can seem like it is spreading awareness and activism, it really only links to slackivism: the idea that spreading, liking or sharing controversial issues on social media can lead to change. As I was scrolling, I came across some memes or art pieces that elicited emotion such as laughter or sadness, but it didn’t seem to leave a lasting impression on me that would push me to get deeply involved.

  3. I would like to wholeheartedly agree with your claim that art in its many forms can elicit emotional responses and personal questioning that can lead to reform. I would like to comment on the “can” in my previous sentence.

    Whenever I think of something that makes me re-evaluate my way of thinking, the commercials for the SPCA come along – the ones with the sad song and the sad animals that make you cry. I think that art is a very powerful way to bring about a change of heart and mind, but sometimes there are not clear channels for that emotion to turn it into action. In the case of the SPCA videos, this is not an issue since a phone number is displayed on the screen to call in order to help and donate to their cause. When I spoke with my friends about this group post and shared it with my boyfriend, they all said that they wanted to make a difference, but simply did not know how.

    However, if you look at photographs, listen to slam poetry, or go to a play, there may not be as obvious of a course of action following the experience, leaving viewers emotional and undirected.

    In the past, art was very important in maintaining the emotions of individuals. In the times of the Colosseum, events put on in the arena were meant to be viewed as games to support those who were in the upper class and in power. They discouraged uprisings and questioning of power, at the cost of a bloody public death. In the times of the many American wars, poetry was used to make sure that soldiers and citizens remained firm in their nationalism and patriotism for their country and cause. An example of such poetry is our nation’s “Star Spangled Banner,” or the “War of 1812.”

    It almost seems that in the past art was used to maintain emotions, rather than to harness them to change something. This was an important thing that I just noticed, and it may play into the fact that it is harder to get people to act on art today. In the past, art was used to enforce and elicit responses for the social norm, whereas now art is asking people to stand out in society as an advocate for change from the social norm.