What does quiet activism look like? How can artists make choices to fight injustice and support causes they care about?
Hi, my name is Carrie Brummer and I help artists like you refine your skill and develop your unique artist voice. Today on Artist Strong I’m going to define quiet activism and showcase several creatives making use of quiet activism in their art.
What is quiet activism?
So, what is quiet activism? It’s about making choices in our creative lives that help shift our status quo. It’s about making choices in the systems and art in our lives to support people facing injustice.
Be a Craftivist
The first place time I consciously thought of quiet activism was after reading the book Craftivism by Betsy Greer. She got me thinking about craft in an entirely new way. For years I’ve succumbed to some of the elitist notions in art telling me my craft is less valuable the the “fine art” I create. There are issues of status around it. And yet, that’s exactly why more people can comfortably engage in craft and so many feel alienated when observing art in modern and contemporary museums.
This is a powerful, important tool for creatives who wish to use their art to help harness change. Think about it: craft is less intimidating, and that means it’s easier for people to consider the work and start a conversation around it. There is a lovely simplicity (even though much craft is super time consuming and skill intensive) that helps everyone enjoy the work.
This also means artists can push boundaries and still keep an engaged audience where sometimes, fine art can completely turn away viewers and further the divides people feel between one another.
The AIDs Memorial Quilt is a great example of this. People from all walks of life came together to create patches to put together in one large quilt. This built some awareness for people whose knowledge and understanding of AIDs was based in fear and not fact. It also helped communicate the great extent of the problem of AIDs, too, to people not personally experiencing loss from the epidemic.
In this situation the art was created specifically to help bring awareness and start conversations around AIDS. Hello, quiet activism.
Make Art to Raise Money
Sometimes artists create art to bring awareness on a topic, sometimes it’s to bring awareness and raise funds. You can consciously choose to create a specific artwork or project that benefits the cause you wish to support. A great example of this is artist Sarah K. Benning who creates embroidery patterns specifically to start conversations around a topic, but also then uses percentages of the sales of the work to give to a cause important to her.
Another idea is inspired by my mentor Marie Forleo. She is an entrepreneur and creative who has made a declaration with her company that a percentage of her profits goes every year to specific charities she wishes to support. Because of her, I decided to do this with my own art at www.CarrieBrummer.com. Two percent of profits of the sale of my art online goes to an orphanage I visited on my trip to Rishikesh, India. It’s a way to honor the culture and traditions that has helped inspire my mandala work.
We can have a lot of shame around making money while other people are suffering, but remember this: when we have resources, we have more to give others.
What I love about quiet activism is sometimes it’s in your face but you don’t even know it. It’s a subtle shift in the way we see things that gives us new perspective. Sometimes personal life experience can help us view the world differently, and sometimes we need others to help us to see this shift.
Humans of New York is a great example of art as a tool of education. Brandon Stanton started by interviewing people in New York and in his work you are able to experience the varied walks of life in New York. This opens up discussion about class issues, about issues of race and privilege, and helps us see that we all share the same kinds of problems as well as the same hopes and dreams for our lives.
He has consciously interviewed refugees in a special project for HONY as well. This act of interviewing and showcase individuals brings a topic that can feel so big, so controversial and threatening to some, down to the nitty gritty of real people with real problems. Hypotheticals let us stay safe in our choices and judgments of others, but when you read a story about a specific person and experience, that opens the door to sympathy and maybe even empathy.
“Before leaving for Europe, I went back to Syria to see my family once more. I slept in my uncle’s barn the entire time I was there, because every day the police were knocking on my father’s door. Eventually my father told me: ‘If you stay any longer, they will find you and they will kill you.’ So I contacted a smuggler and made my way to Istanbul. I was just about to leave for Europe when I received a call from my sister. She told me that my father had been very badly beaten by police, and unless I sent 5,000 Euro for an operation, he would die. That was my money to get to Europe. But what could I do? I had no choice. Then two weeks later she called with even worse news. My brother had been killed by ISIS while he was working in an oil field. They found our address on his ID card, and they sent his head to our house, with a message: ‘Kurdish people aren’t Muslims.’ My youngest sister found my brother’s head. This was one year ago. She has not spoken a single word since.” (Kos, Greece) (2/6)
Do you have a blog? Do you use social media to promote your art? Do you use social media for your social life? All of these resources are about curation. We choose what we showcase and represent in our lives. And this can be a valuable and important tool to help us set a tone for our peers and family in our lives.
For example, if you regularly showcase other artists either via your blog or through an Instagram shoutout, who do you choose? I can tell you in the beginning I chose people I knew because it was easier to get a yes for my interviews. But as time has progressed, I realized it was important to me to showcase artists from around the world to help share the amazing global community we are part of; I’ve realized I need to consciously seek out and search for unique artists that help showcase a diverse group of people and experience.
Not only is this important to my mission to normalize and celebrate creative process and creative spirit, this can also help communicate tolerance, openness to difference, and highlight social issues at hand. Personally, I know I have a long way to go with this, but awareness is half of the battle. So here I am, offering up this question to you: who and how do you curate your art and life?
What ONE person can do
Today, we can easily use social media to make pronouncements about where we stand. Personally, I think our actions are much more important. Do our actions and behaviors help support systems that keep people divided and down, or do we start to change our immediate environments by making choices that more loudly pledge our support for social justice?
Be Creatively Courageous: What is ONE thing you can do in your art life to further align your creative practice with the world you wish to live in? Is your art already quiet activism? Tell me more about it in the comments below.