Prophetic Activist Art: Art Activism Beyond Oppositionality

By Tom Block.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Prophetic activism represents a new paradigm of the ancient art of prophecy. Bringing together historic conceptions of prophecy with our post-modern cult of the individual, this model offers a contemporary spiritual palliative for our ailing human soul. It introduces a mysticism of action, where the historical search for personal realization is replaced by an ideal of the socially empowered individual, bringing God to life in this world through action. For the prophetic activist artist, the central facet of playing a legislative role through art demands that he or she proffer creative responses to specific problems. More than just venting their spleen, acting on blind emotion or looking to their art-making for cathartic release, prophetic activist artists must consider the issues at hand, understand them and provide a candle to help light the way out of whatever social or cultural morass that they involve themselves. This luminescence is provided through an activation of specific energies through the work of the artist. Here, art, and its historic purpose to raise the human gaze towards the highest aspects of the human spirit find a way out of the mausoleum of the contemporary gallery/museum world, and back into the world of the general public. Using my own experience as an activist/artist, including my Shalom/Salaam Project (www.tomblock.com/shalom.htm), Human Rights Painting Project (www.artsforamnestyinternational.org), and Cousins public art project (www.tempe.gov/arts/PublicArt/AATS.htm), I will limn the philosophical structure of this new manner of envisioning activist art, and then discuss specific manners in which art can be used for activist purposes. Most importantly this session will distinguish between shock or rage art – art that simply points out the horror of war, poverty, our American cultural desiccation or other social ills – and that which moves beyond this expression of anger, towards inserting a healing impetus into the general society.

Keywords: Art, Activism, Spirituality

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.19-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 476.826KB).

Tom Block

Artist, Washington, USA

An activist/artist myself, this theory has grown out of my own practice. I have presented my ideas underpinning prophetic activism at numerous conferences, symposia and universities over the past few years, including Perspectives on Creativity (Holy Family University, PA, 2008), Media, Spirituality and Social Change (University of Colorado, 2008), Globalization and Human Rights (Bethany College, WV, 2008), Rethinking Resistance 2007 (Emory University, Atlanta, GA), International Peace Research Association (University of Calgary, Canada, 2006), Peace and Justice Studies Association (Manhattan College, NY, 2006; Elizabeth College, PA, 2007), Southeast College Art Conference (Nashville, TN, 2006), Mid Atlantic Popular Culture Association (Philadelphia, PA, 2007) and the Committing Voices conference (Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, 2004). Additionally, I have spoken about prophetic activist art as part of the “Robert & Elizabeth Johnson Professorship in Leadership” lecture series (Franklin College, IN), and at other universities, including East Carolina University (NC), Antioch College (OH), Franklin and Marshall College (PA), American University (DC), George Washington University (DC), Michigan State University (MI), Ohio State University (OH), Hanover College (IN), Ohio University (OH), Manhattan College (NY), Washington Theological Union (DC) and others. I have exhibited my artwork at museums, galleries and non-profit spaces around the United States and Europe.

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