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How to Change the World Through Art (or Not)

Comedian and artist Casey Jane Ellison has some thoughts on the art world, and how you can change the world through your art... or your photoshopped nudes.

by Casey Jane Ellison
Oct 16 2014, 1:27pm

Dear Artists,

It is time. Arise! Stop Photoshopping your nudes and come with me! We’re going to change the world through art. Here’s how. 

Draw a cartoon of Muhammad. No, wait. That’s been done.

Spray paint your bliss on private property. No don’t. That’s pathetic.

Streak through public spaces to begin dismantling ideology. Hold on. First lose ten pounds.

We’re lucky these examples seem dumb to us. They, as artworks, are working as we roll our eyes at them. We are in a privileged position to get to struggle to think of new ways to use self-expression to battle the tyranny of oppression and its aesthetics. The aesthetics that pacify and subvert the masses are what we seek to derange. It’s so amazing how as activist artists, we can turn the people's cages into well-decorated cages.

We, as Millennial artists are in a long line of visionaries who changed the way humans see forever and ever. Remember when cows were forbidden subjects in any and all pastoral paintings? Chodes were fine, but cows were heretical. Patrons believed artists should depict only the sublime, and artists like Gustave Courbet were chastised for daring to depict reality in his work.

Gustave Courbet's A Burial at Ornan's

Those artists who fought for freedom of expression and rights to depict cows were damned to hell. They’re sainted now because they changed everything by insisting on their vision. We must bow down with infinite gratitude for those artists who died for our sins, like the Millennial, self-aware carbon units we are. But to really give thanks, we must uphold their revolutionary spirit.

It’s a wonderful time and the red sun rises over the lovely apocalyptic landscape of permanent war, social inequality, religious fanaticism, and GMOs. The artificial soil is fertile ground for the activist artist to sow her dangerous content. 

Our job as vessels instilled with divine right is to selflessly save all of the other poor, ungifted pigs that meaninglessly wander this earth. God works through us to improve mere mortals’ surroundings visually, culturally, and socially. We not only introduce new dialogues, we elevate the conversations. We provoke and enlighten an otherwise oblivious public. It’s what we as egomaniacs with god complexes do!

I mean it’s what we as artists and activists do!

A cynic might ask, “But Casey, isn’t art useless?” Good question, dork! Aesthetic expression describes the arc of human history. And unlike textbooks, aesthetic doesn’t pretend to be the absolute truth. The activist artist can see the great suffering and genius that went into the design, implementation, and realization of great palaces, portraits of aristocracy and sculptural monuments of divine kings. The cynical dork would walk by these works on their phone, not realizing the same infrastructure of suffering and genius exists built-in that very cellular device. It is essential to offer a visual argument for the sake of freedom. Dissent is freedom. Art is dissent.

Do an oil painting on your phone to show how its digestible design doesn’t fool you!

Actually... don’t. That’s a waste of a perfectly good phone.

Systems of designed aesthetics are used to tell a selected story of the people in charge, but art reveals what those people have really done. Propaganda and visual misrepresentations can brainwash a people for centuries and have. Activist artists have presented and still do present these misrepresentations in an art context and it becomes apparent how we have been lied to.

Remember how America shows you women as props and negative depictions of black people every day for as long as you can remember, in between commercials that explain in detail, how fat, ugly, and stupid you are? It takes a lot of careful design to curate such a convincing and hateful story. Design streamlines. Art reveals exactly what was there. Activist art is the reaction to a society’s unjust restrictions and its aesthetics.  

Because we have freedom of speech, there are plenty of injustices and their aesthetics to address, to make legible to the cynical dorks, to reveal to the ungifted pigs meaninglessly wandering the earth.

And begin! No, wait. One last thing. I didn’t mean to interrupt your work on your nudes especially if they’ll be fighting some aesthetic injustice.

Kay, go!

Love you,

Casey Jane

Casey Jane Ellison is a comedian and the host of Touching the Art on the Ovation YouTube channel. Follow her on Twitter.

cell phones
Muhammad Ali
Casey Jane Ellison
Gustave Corbet
Photoshopped nudes
activist art
Touching the Art
drawing Muhammad
A Burial at Ornan's
well-decorated cages