Beautiful Trouble- Elsie Campbell

The book Beautiful Trouble by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald explains the ways in which people, artists, and socio-political movements have employed art and creativity as means of protest. The authors go over various cases in which art was used for such a purpose, they explain core tactics, principles, and concepts “that drive creative activism.” The authors clearly outline that the book Beautiful Trouble shows different tactics and tools, but does not explicitly instruct. Some examples of the case studies explained in the books are as follows: Couple in the Cage, Mining the Museum, and Streets into Gardens.

Couple in the Cage was a performance art set up where two artists presented themselves as American Indians preforming traditional tasks. The goal was to shed light on the animalization of non-western peoples and the horrors of colonialism. The piece also served to provide proof that racist beliefs permeate our society. Mining the Museum was a show that essentially shuffled, dug up, and exhibited a museums collection to tell a different story, not the glorified, classy way a museum appears to be impartial, but instead as a demonstration of satirical irony by showing everything through a dramatized perspective of white privilege. The show was successful because it was “suggestive rather than didactic, provocative rather than moralizing.” Lastly, Streets into Gardens was a demonstration piece where dancers and citizens of New York City took to the streets to dance and play in response to a move that the city was trying to make to pave over gardens and parks. The movement embodied the ideal “if they’re going to pave over the places where we play, then we will play in the places they’ve paved over.” Streets into Gardens was successful because it viscerally demonstrated who and what would be lost by the paving over of the gardens, in addition, it was easily understood because it was presented in the context of a broader environmentalist campaign.

Personally, I think it would be very interesting to read further into this book. The introduction and the excepts definitely captured my interest. In all the cases discussed, the ‘pieces’ were very unconventional from an artistic sense, they all could seem to be something that is more a social or political act or event. However, I think that the creative aspects employed and the heart of the mission for each piece really does give weight to the idea that protests and political demonstrations (and less conventional pieces of art) can still be considered art. If anything, protesting like the Streets into Gardens protest seems almost a natural next step for modern art. I see similarities between these protest-works and the video works we saw of Shirin Neshat, only in these cases they are done live. These similarities make it plausible that protest as art is a very natural next step. Further more, I think that the motivations behind the protests and the ways in which the protests, as the book put it, ‘show without telling’ the ideals and morals and goals of the protest is very akin to a lot of art throughout human history. Art is meant to make you feel and react and think, often without directly telling you, thats what a newspaper is for. So, in that sense, the indirect yet powerful protests rest at eye level with more conventional pieces of art.

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