This is an insight written by Grace Russell on a lecture given by Audra Buck-Coleman as part of the Bahá’í Chair series on human nature.
The Potential for Art to Create Positive Social Change
March 6, 2018 was yet another interesting lecture that I am glad we had to opportunity to attend. Ms. Audra Buck Coleman pointed out some very captivating topics throughout the lecture in regards to the correlation between art and social change.
I definitely agree that art can be a more effective means of communication for some than oral or written work, so I think that initiating “socially engaged” art is a fantastic solution to understanding and easing some social tensions.
One exercise I thought very interesting was the Privilege Walk done by all of the students in a classroom. It would be eye opening to visually see the diversity within the room by having students move around based on upbringing and family life. Additionally, I thought the “Sticks and Stones” exercise was effective in answering the question of how location can influence your stereotype and biases.
When students became anonymous comments on someone else’s work, they weren’t afraid to write whatever bias they actually thought upon seeing the art. I think that exercise was powerful in showing that, even though someone can claim to be unbiased, your first instinct is almost always going to be influenced by the morals and ideas you were taught growing up. Someone can try to retrain their brain to not think that way, but it can still be hard to fully recover from the biases you learned early on in life.
Packing a Punch
Moreover, I loved that Ms. Buck Coleman brought up the Women’s March as an example for how art can cause social change. I am not a very artistic person, and frankly, I usually don’t understand the art in museums or see how they correlate to social tensions in a time period. But, I definitely felt how impactful art was back in January when I saw pictures of the posters from the march.
They packed a punch that words couldn’t. Truly, the art invoked a sense of power and determination within the women to display their feelings and hardships. They were able to say more without saying anything. Through protesting and art, empowered women fought for their beliefs. And while this march may not have been directly correlated to the rise of women running for office, I think it definitely encouraged women to get involved and raise their voices for what they believe.
One question the lecture left me with was this: how can Ms. Audra Buck Coleman apply this information she gathered to society as a whole? It’s easy to take these experiments and think, “Wow, that’s a great tool for teachers to learn about their students.” But how can it be applicable to not only observing social tension but relieving it, and on a much wider scale?
I think a good place to start is the schools. If people continue to witness the effects of art within a classroom, it can touch multiple generations at once. Parents could hear about the projects and help out their kids, siblings could get involved, and of course the students would be seeing first-hand how art can mirror emotions and problems.
Additionally, I wondered if the idea of social art could be transferred to other medias, like music and film. Since Ms. Buck Coleman is an Associate Professor of Design, she focused mainly on actual drawings and paintings, but art can incorporate so much more. How has the rise of powerful women in rap or pop culture helped to address social tensions, or has it at all? With the influence of movies and television in American society, could that be a more effective means of awareness and alleviation than art alone? I think that would be something worth looking into as her experiments continue.
Overall, this lecture was really eye opening to the effects art can have on people and how it can cause change. I would like to see some of these activities implemented at the University of Maryland, and if they already are, I would love to attend some in the future.
Watch the Lecture here:
About the Author: Grace Russell is an freshman studying Civil Engineering with a minor in Sustainability at the University of Maryland. She is interested in global environmental health and women’s empowerment studies.