ITP blog ยท socially-engaged-art-digital-practice

Week 1 - Reading Response

9 September 2019


  • How the Art of Social Practice Is Changing the World, One Row House at a Time by Carolyn Miranda, Artnet News, 2014
  • A Strong Couple: New Media and Socially Engaged Art
  • First part of Dangling Conversations: Ongoing Knowledge Generation in Proyecto Paladar by Elizabeth Grady
  • Education for Socially Engaged Art by Pablo Helguera, Introduction and Chapter 1
  • Radical Technologies by Adam Greenfield, Introduction and Chapter 10
  • Living as Form by Nato Thompson


This week's readings shed light on what the emerging field of socially-engaged art (SEA) is and is not, providing a much-needed foundation for this course. Still, they left some questions unanswered and suggested space for continued redefinition and evolution of the genre. I noticed some parallels with topics I covered in Critical Objects last semester, as well as some connections to Faking The News (specifically, my final project, where my group created a fake digital persona on Instagram and Facebook which engaged with our ITP classmates) and Designing Club Culture (sparking ideas and questions around whether the club environment can be a space for socially-engaged critical intervention).

One important part of the definition of SEA seems to be the extended time required to evaluate the work in this genre. It takes time for the symbolic gestures presented by the artist during their (relatively short, at least initially) engagement with a community to be realized and appreciated as producing lasting practical outcomes. Social change and impact does not come quickly; herein lies part of the value of SEA. Still, this art form definition is a little uncomfortable for most people (including myself) not well-versed in modern and contemporary art history, mostly because it looks like (non-art) activism or community service on the surface. The shift towards treating all aspects of a community's lived experience as available for labeling as "art" (suggested in Living as Form) is a difficult but necessary change in our mental models.

I found the examples of SEA pitfalls in Living as Form particularly thought-provoking. For example, do something useful rather than telling people what they already know (Rick Lowe), and avoid art which simply advertises the artist's career or something destructive like gentrification. I hope to follow the suggested advice around these pitfalls: develop local, long-term, community-based works in order to avoid "fetishization of activist culture and showing it to the world as though it were [the artist's] invention."

I had some trouble with A Strong Couple: New Media and Socially Engaged Art. The article was a bit obtuse and I'm not sure how the first computer virus work is socially-engaged (it seems just concerned with the social issue of AIDs, and I dont see how its audience participates).

Radical Technologies was enjoyable to read; I'm excited to explore more of this text. The future scenarios outlined at the end of Chapter 10 are fascinating and inspiring in terms of ideas for social interventions an artist might carry out today.