Contexts for Making
Understanding Socially Engaged Art
Socially engaged art is an artistic practice that focuses on social effect.
It can critique broader social and political issues through creative expression rather than directly conveying meaning. Socially engaged artists operate in the context of a social and political climate. Their work is not simply intended to be functional, nor is it intended to sit in a gallery on the wall or a pedestal so, in this sense— this work differs from the traditional understandings of art, craft, and design.
Socially engaged artists often operate in the margins, in the uncertain, and they emerge from unpredictable places and their art operates alongside and within other networks, most obviously through grassroots activism.
To paraphrase UK artist Ian Nesbitt, socially engaged art can coax new shared understandings out of the darkness and confusion; a good example of socially engaged art in the craft context is the ceramic work of Ehren Tool:
Socially engaged art practice is interactional.
It is an art form that is influenced by a social context. The practice is affected by the conditions in its environment; and, social engagement is at the heart of its art practice, and, for this reason, it is less focused on the object itself, although, in some cases, the object can be the outcome.
There is no complete agreement on what constitutes a meaningful interaction or social engagement, but, what characterizes socially engaged art is its dependence on social intercourse as a factor of its existence.
Socially engaged art engages the community for a significant purpose.
Socially engaged art falls within the tradition of conceptual process art but, it does not follow that all process-based artists are also socially engaged. So, socially engaged art is a type of art practice that ties contemporary art and contemporary art criticism together.
Socially engaged art is a form of art that is created for personal or social action, combining a form of activism with the visual arts.
Socially engaged art requires understanding, participation, and accountability.
It is generally understood to involve artistic production that interacts with and is responsive to, social issues. Socially engaged art for the uninitiated, however, usually means art that in some way engages society or social movement.
The term 'socially engaged art' can refer to a wide range of works, including actions that challenge, expose, protest or intervene.
For more information on socially engaged art in the craft context, you can check out these artists: