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Why look to artists for social change?

Social change

I spend a lot of my time observing the state of the world --division, conflict, violence, domination-- and waffling between the childlike view of "it does not have to be this way", and the more ominous "our survival depends on finding another way of relating".

Why look to artists?

I make no claims on being able to define what art is, or who is an artist. I would say that minimally though, artists are creators, and makers. When I observe people who are seen to be artists, and who identify as artists, I notice some things about their approaches to creation.

Those of us who care about social change, justice, realigning our relationships among peoples, and with the earth, have much to learn from the approaches of artists. Here are some thoughts about what I see as approaches and practices that artists engage in.


Artists imagine. They envision something that does not yet exist in the form they imagine. It can be an experience, an object, a sound, an image, a performance, or any combination of these. They let their imagination open to something beyond what they are currently seeing and experiencing.


Artists pay attention. Something about what they see that grabs their attention, whether it is the experience around them that ignites their imagination, or attending to what they imagine.

They pay attention to what is available that they can use to create.


Artists invest time. They devote time to any specific creation, but they also invest time to the experience of creating that does not end. For artists time is not a one and done investment.


Artists develop skills. Artists create using the skills they possess, or the skills of others that they can they can engage and use in the process of making and creating. For artists, skill development is a never ending process, whether it is honing a skill, or developing new ones.

Practice doing

Skills are developed through practices of doing. Even among people who have some innate ability, transforming ability into skill is an ongoing process of practice, repeating and modifying actions over and over again.

Include and embrace failure

Almost by definition, an artist's practice includes failure. Fear of failure does not serve an artist's process of creating, nor does it serve their skill development. The experience of failure can also become discovery, and open imagination to new possibilities that would not have been seen if an attempt to create had not been successful. Fail more, discover more.

Social art

There are people who imagine creating a new way of relating within our communities, and beyond. They imagine new ways for people to be in relationship, new ways of seeing and experiencing each other.

Some of these people are artists who developed skill on other forms of art, photographers, painters, musicians, writers, poets, sculptors, etc. They bring the skills and practice from these other modes and they include and engage people and relationships in the imagination and process of their creation.

There are other people, less visible, who practice the art of connecting people in ways that shift how we relate.


For social artists there is at least one other element that is included in their art form. Trust. Social artists practice developing trust with the people they seek to engage and connect. They develop a capacity to discern what is needed to take people into new experiences, with new people.

Creating conditions for new ways of relating

The current state of discord, division, violence, and opposition to one another is not an accident. We have designed and nurtured the current state of our social order.

Social change requires design and creation. There is much to learn from people who devote their lives and practice to imagination, design, and creation, and include people and our relationships in their process.

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