Artist or Activist?

In so many ways artists and activists are extremely similar.

Artists create things that others cannot even imagine. They use images, music, acting, and other media in a way that the vast majority of the population simply can’t, to create things that others believe to be impossible. Artists use their vision and creativity to make the impossible possible. They also tend to be outsiders. They see the world in a different light, and because of that, their behavior tends to fall outside of traditional societal norms in many ways. Artists pursue their craft even though the general public believes the majority of creative pursuits to be invaluable.  And they have the ability to make a huge impact on the world by sharing their gifts over and over in the face of inevitable failures.

Activists aren’t that dissimilar. Activists see a world that others cannot imagine. They use tactics to get attention and share their truth with the general public who might not even be aware of the issue or are uneducated on the topic. They tend to be in the minority. Their thoughts and actions anger others because they call into question rules and regulations and even our personal inability to deviate from ‘how things should be.’ They are also constantly discredited. Opposition will find all sorts of reasons to invalidate an advocate’s cause so that the narrative falls into the accepted societal status quo. “They aren’t protesting the ‘right’ way,” “they don’t have jobs,” “they just want attention and being political is a fad,” “what they REALLY want is …,” are all common arguments made to discredit activists. But still they continue to show up against adversity and they slowly change narratives of societal norms even if it wasn’t in the way they had envisioned.

I constantly see artists criticized for being involved in politics. When they are outspoken they are criticized for not ‘staying in their lane’ and are told they should just ‘shut up and create pretty things that entertain us.’ You see people commenting online with general thoughts of ‘I used to look up to you and be a fan till now.’ This is especially prominent in the discourse around actresses and actors who have a wide fan base.

So why do so many artists tend to get involved in politics?

I think the main reason is artists ability to see the world in a different way than most. Because artists are able to create the impossible, they are idealistic and can already see the change in their mind others can’t.

I also think artist aren’t as afraid of being ostracized or ‘not belonging’ as someone who is more conservative with their life choices. Their threshold for failure and ridicule in the public eye for not following expectations have been a narrative for them their entire lives just by pursuing creative endeavors. It is because they live outside societal norms and are indeed still living and thriving that they are living proof that being subversive is possible and often beneficial. But nothing is scarier to those who follow the rules than seeing someone who didn’t follow the rules still succeed and maybe even living a better life. Because it calls into question all of our choices, sacrifices, experience, and belief that we did things the way they had to be done.

Artists are also risk-takers who are used to failure. An artist’s work is completely subjective and they face criticism for almost everything they create. Because of this routine of failure followed by persistence, learning, and trying again, they accept that risks are a part of creating something truly great. And this cycle of facing an obstacle, failing, and trying again with no precedent for success (except for their own vision and belief of success) is embedded in how artists navigate the world in a way that the general public doesn’t.

I also have come to know that most artists have more diverse experience than most when it comes to the kinds of people they have met and worked with (this is not a criticism to those who haven’t). Artists cross paths with all sorts of diverse individuals bound together by the pursuits of creative endeavors. This makes them more empathetic to the plight of others because they can put a personal connection to causes. They can put a face of a friend behind an injustice instead of just thinking of a group of people as ‘those people.’

Artists also tend to be lifelong learners. When you make a living constantly creating new things you are always learning. Meeting new and diverse people as mentioned above is also extremely educational. Being ‘Liberal’ is now thrown around like a dirty word, but the reason many colleges are defined as ‘Liberal Arts’ is because they have a very diverse foundation and give you the opportunity to look beyond what you thought you knew. Artists aren’t as afraid to question what they believe to be true and they are more open to changing their minds because of this ability to constantly question what is possible and keep learning.

I have been an artist since birth and I also feel I am supposed to use that gift to be an activist for others.

But I haven’t spoken up as loudly as I know I am able because of the general displeasure and disapproval I have from my peers, family, friends, and internet trolls. Being different from the rest of your family and/or the entire community you were raised in is extremely hard, losing respect from friends and those you love for thinking differently is also hard, and internet hate is absolutely no joke. Take it from me, being threatened or bullied by people you don’t know is frightening (and I know it is not just me who is uncomfortable with online bullying as a watch more and more people become silent online).

But I also know my greatest impact as an artist has been achieved when I create work that is considered ‘political.’ It is because the work comes from my heart. It is because I am telling stories that communicate on a level that resonates with meaning beyond aesthetics. The work speaks not for itself but for others.

When I look back at my work, politics has creeped out in editorial illustrations, comic strips, paintings, online posts/blog posts and more. Being an artist and an activist is intertwined in my life just like so many other aspects of life that cannot be separated into distinct boxes. I can’t just ‘stay in my lane’ and I support any artist who dares to be outspoken because we can make a real impact. I try to keep these questions in my mind when I share my truth even when I am reluctant and afraid: What is the point of being an artist if you don’t share your work with the world? What is the use of posting online and having a following and not trying to make the world a better place?

I hope to continue to speak out through my work and I encourage you to support artists who do. They are using their platforms to speak their truth and that is scary as hell sometimes. But it is truly a display of strength and a public service to continue to do so when you have the gift of being an artist. Because sharing that gift with the world can make a real impact. Below are examples of political work I have made.

“Our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This is a light-hearted editorial illustration I made for our campus news paper. It called into question the controversial Minnesota use of “Duck Duck Gray Duck” instead of the more widely referred to childhood game of “Duck Duck Goose.”

This is a light-hearted editorial illustration I made for our campus news paper. It called into question the controversial Minnesota use of “Duck Duck Gray Duck” instead of the more widely referred to childhood game of “Duck Duck Goose.”

This was the first truly controversial work I ever created. While on display at a student showcase a patron inquired on purchasing the work. One of my professors was so taken aback by it that they covered the work and removed it from the show. This work enlisted two very distinct reactions; adoration and censorship. A true litmus test for a political work.

This was the first truly controversial work I ever created. While on display at a student showcase a patron inquired on purchasing the work. One of my professors was so taken aback by it that they covered the work and removed it from the show. This work enlisted two very distinct reactions; adoration and censorship. A true litmus test for a political work.

I also created some semi-political cartoons for my college paper.

I also created some semi-political cartoons for my college paper.

This work was created in honor of the Pulse Night Club shooting victims. The two oranges not only represent Orlando, FL but also love blooming from two of the same.

This work was created in honor of the Pulse Night Club shooting victims. The two oranges not only represent Orlando, FL but also love blooming from two of the same.

This is the work I am best known for. It is also the work I get the most hate mail for.

This is the work I am best known for. It is also the work I get the most hate mail for.

Here are some signs I created for the women’s march. Thank you to IBTRAV for the amazing "Working Girl" illustration.

Here are some signs I created for the women’s march. Thank you to IBTRAV for the amazing "Working Girl" illustration.