It’s okay to not know what you don’t know – the activism of art

The earth is round. Yet some still say it is flat. It's okay to change your mind when you have new information.  The arts make it easier to open your mind to new information.   Recently I got told I had stopped doing "activism".  People in my life felt disappointed and that I had "sold out" from my days of more militant activism.  But what is happening for me is far from selling out.

The earth is round. Yet some still say it is flat.

It’s okay to change your mind when you have new information.  The arts make it easier to open your mind to new information.
Recently I got told I had stopped doing “activism”.  People in my life felt disappointed and that I had “sold out” from my days of more militant activism.

Something my work in community arts has taught me, is that the arts are activist without necessarily appearing to be activist.
And I’ve copped my fair share of abuse in my life for militancy, often in person, and often physical.  I’ve faced off with neo-Nazi’s and been a whistleblower for over 25 years.

I was familiar with anger and rage and my activism reflected that, but it didn’t make me happy or fulfilled in my activism.  I think, at nearly 50, I’ve earned the right to define how I do activism.

But now I am focused on messages in the arts, which influences culture and behaviour more than we often realise.  For example, some of the movies we presented in the 1950’s we shudder at now. But they were made as reflections of the 1950’s and some films challenged social norms of that time.
As for militancy, it’s no longer effective for me (I don’t mean for others and I don’t mean as a whole). And honestly, I am not sure attacking someone for believing 1950’s movie ideas (let’s call them flat earth concepts) is always useful.  Does a direct challenge work all the time?

Activism aims to get people to uptake knowledge of a topic for a cause.  Some people feel unless you are militant and visible you aren’t doing activism.  But is knowledge transmission (as activism) some mythical cake that we must serve a certain way? Art presents many cakes in many ways. We can have our cake and eat it too.

IMHO It’s not okay to attack other people based on lack of research and the recitation of old information (your own or theirs).  And even when I have been militant, I haven’t been shouty at people, it’s a waste of my energy and not who I am. It also has health implications for me with a hypertensive disorder.

If your enemy is the dogma of flat earth thinking then raging because someone doesn’t hear you, is dogma, in and of itself. Making your message accessible to more people makes the dogma fall away.

We don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t know unless we get access to information.

The arts is often the bridge to that new information.  It may not be the hammer that is the preferred tool of those who call themselves the militant activist, but it is no less a form of activism.
If someone is tuned into their 1950’s movie thinking, they might need another movie to watch.
The arts acts can encourage people to look at a representation or information that is current and outside of their personal experience instead of old ideas.

Not knowing is not a crime, it’s where we all start – it’s when people deliberately continue to cause harm after knowledge is acquired that can be a problem (and lead to hate crimes).
Arts representations can present knowledge in ways that don’t punish people for not knowing – particularly for social justice activism.
So, we either bring people along with information or we spin in an endless discussion of who is right and who is wrong – when the reality is the answer is more nuanced.
This is where the arts have a power that overt political commentary does not – it gets to the politically unengaged.

But also, critical appraisal of representation and information is a choice – and watching the same channel over and over will produce no critical appraisal (just brainwashing).  So art’s representations for change have to be particularly innovative and carefully constructed.
The key is variety of information and representation and my arts practice aims for a greater variety and intersectionality in the arts. The arts can provide people information through representation and step away, unless asked otherwise.

People will choose what they do with that information. It can be counter productive to try and police how they take that information on board.
Hammering in information may work in some contexts, but it can also make the hammer worn but still only a hammer.

A poem might open someone’s mind. Or a theatre performance. Or a song.

Or they may still believe the earth is flat.

Enough talk of “woke”. It’s simpler than any mysticism.

The earth and the people on it are about to face bigger challenges that it ever has before.

Doesn’t matter if your agenda is human rights or economic rights or any other rights, the planet is going to vote us off it, if we don’t get our shit together.
In short, I don’t want to do activism like some activists who use rage do.  I don’t want people to be afraid of me because they didn’t know about an important issue.

Fear and rage are the oppressors tools.

It you want people who don’t know to be curious about a representation outside of their own experience and want to learn – then look to the arts.
The arts can work to bring people together (and be “activist” if that’s what people wish).

There is still a place for militancy, because the oppressed have a right to be angry, but I cannot do it anymore, it’s had serious health implications for me.
If I have to apologise for wanting to be more effective and not risk my health, then we’ve forgotten why we do activism in the first place.

So thanks for your concern about my selling out but I am happy to stay in my arts lane and concentrate there. If that makes me a sell out, then consider my soul sold to the arts.

It’s also the form of activism that is right for me, there’s plenty of room for different forms of activism, there isn’t one “right” way.

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