‘Making the World a Better Place’: activist creativity

This document is still very preliminary, design to be much revised. I need to think much more about the style etc for the diagram. But this is the start of a process developing a creative and ethical framework for my practice going forward. To be a key focus for my work in SYP.

Social responsibility of the artist and implications of discussions around First Things First for the types of work I take on, how I negotiate aims with different audiences and how I develop final outcomes.

My perspective is inevitably linked to my identity as a privileged Western white woman from Cambridge in the South of England. It is also linked to my political perspectives in relation to feminist, socialism, environmentalism and experiences in many other countries when working for international development agencies, including an anthropological research background.

My own work, if not always overtly political, does come from a set of underlying subjective values : a concern with human rights, gender, cultural diversity and democracy together with environmental sustainability. These values however often involve difficult trade offs, conflict of interests and difficult choices. This means messages – like life – are rarely simple or straightforward.

Be visionary, not just negative

First Things Next: Thoughts and Responses

Rick Poynor’s ‘First Things Next’ (insert Harvard ref) is a response to the legacy of Ken Garland’s First Things First.

Poynor re-iterates the need for designers and visual communicators to think about the types of messages they are communicating and how their work can make the world a better place. The diagram text extracts below attempts to contrast the different positions he discusses between:

  • those who see the influence that design has over society as requiring designers to be ethical in all their practice
  • those who see calls for designers to impose any political/ethical messaging as professionally unrealistic for designers and patronising to their viewers.

Direct messaging

Direct messaging and campaigning can often lead to resistance from people with very different underlying values because they start from different premises.

Over-graphic representations of horror and suffering can also lead to compassion fatigue unless there is a clear message on what people can do to address what they are seeing. (!! Insert refs from documentary photography eg Sontag ‘the pain of others’ etc.

Some of the work of feminist and anti-racist collage artists and graphic designers like Barbara Kruger and Martha Rossler was very effective in its time. Though it can become cliche and dated once people have become used to the ‘message’ – and also the fact that messaging does not necessarily change much.

But I like the overtly political and often angry aesthetic of Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Michel Basquiat and the graphic novels of Marjan Satrapi and Art Spiegelman.

Creating Beauty

I have a strong minimalist ascetic streak, behind the excesses, a strong belief in the spiritual value of the natural world and that human beings do not have the right to destroy it. I believe there is great value in producing work that makes people happy in simple ways, emphasises and reasserts beauty – as long as that concept of ‘beauty’ is not elitist, stereotyped, manipulative or leading to overuse of the earth’s resources.

This means I am very drawn to work of writers and illustrators like Shaun Tan, Antoine Saint-Exupery and Sarah Fanelli.

Open questioning/ indirect messaging

I prefer work that takes an indirect messaging approach, aiming to present different questions and approaches for the viewer to think about and make up their own mind.

Much of my previous work on OCA visual communications courses has been of a personal/ psychological/aesthetic nature. I am interested in relationships between people, and the internal struggles that relationships and social engagement involve. Particularly from a feminist perspective and negotiating conflicting cultural influences in my life.

Suggesting solutions and actions

Imagining and creating new ways of doing things

I would like to work further on imagining and creating images of alternative ways of seeing and doing things. To inspire change through showing what is already beautiful and possible in our world if we just open ourselves to see it.

Visual Narrative: Approaches and Emerging Questions

Made with Padlet

Towards a Framework for Activist Creativity

Useful quotations

In all creative processes a number of possible ideas are created (‘divergent thinking’) before refining and narrowing down to the best idea (‘convergent thinking’)…But the Double Diamond indicates that this happens twice – once to confirm the problem definition and once to create the solution. One of the greatest mistakes is to omit the left-hand diamond and end up solving the wrong problem.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council.

If we make assumptions about what we can and can’t do we are locking off a range of potential solutions.

Downs 2011 p144

“Most of the best ideas I have come from doodling, or playing around with markers – creating ideas from making mistakes.”

Ivan Brunetti 2006 (in Hignite, 2006 quoted OCA Coursebook p148

“Rather than simply ‘failing’ embed risk-taking into your creative process by:
establishing challenges or harder ways to solve a problem
allowing yourself room to play with ideas without ‘finishing’ the project
adjusting the filters that edit what you think are appropriate reseacrh materials or ideas.

Course text p51.

I work across a range of physical and digital media: sketching/drawing, printmaking, photography, collage, painting and animation/moving image. I enjoy risk-taking and ‘happy accidents’ of discovery – and what I learn from ‘unhappy messes’ about how far and in what directions things can be pushed.

!!How to deal with tensions between audience feedback and ‘voice’?? choice of work, identification of appropriate audiences, at what stage to engage? and how far to push??