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How to Use Art As Activism

How to Use Art As Activism

In the week since Trump was elected president, America has witnessed an uptick in hate crimes, racial slurs, and violence. People everywhere are feeling lots of feelings: scared, angry, helpless, optimistic, you name it. The question is, how do we deal with them? Peaceful protests, writing letters to your local reps, filming videos, and even just talking it out with friends are incredibly important. But it's equally crucial to take a break for yourself and just process what's going on around you.

Expressing your creativity—through painting, drawing, sewing, writing, taking photos, making movies, even just coloring in an adult coloring book—is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a card-carrying Artist™ to find relief by making art (though, newsflash, if you’re creating art, you are, in fact, an artist). As Toni Morrison famously said, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work, there is no time for despair, no place for self pity, no need for silence, no room for fear, we speak, we write we do language, that is how civilizations heal.” So in other words, the suckiest times call for art the most. 

As Teen Art Salon founder Isabella Bustamante, who pretty much dedicates her entire life to giving young people the resources to tap into their inner artists, explained, “Channeling your creative energy is never pointless.” Don’t be intimidated by the whole concept of “making art;” the process is what matters, not the final product. “The things you create tell you about yourself, and from them you can learn how you see the world around you," she said. "Even if you are the only person seeing what you’ve made, the private experience working emotions out through creative experimentation is confidence building, and provides refuge within your own company.”

NYC-based art curator Brittany Natale agrees. “Art, for me, has always been a positive way to transmute painful, negative experiences into something inspiring and impactful,” she said. “I always felt that it was important for me to take all of my 'baggage' and instead turn it into something that ultimately nurtured and helped me grow more as an individual. I call it 'upcycling the trash'." And if you need some inspo to get started, look no further than your own Instagram feed. Cleo Wade’s poems champion compassion and kindness; Sarah Sophie Flicker uses the platform as an outlet for art and protest, and our new favorite Insta-illustrator, Mari Andrew, somehow manages to channel universal anxiety into spot-on cartoons.

And while art is no replacement for therapy, it can help you deal with what’s happening in your life, whatever that may be. “Establishing a safe space for yourself to create, even if it’s just doodling in your composition notebook, is a vital tool for escaping the circumstances and conditions of dark times,” Isabella added. “Use art as your opportunity to actually construct your own reality. Producing a visible work is an exercise in validating something that is meaningful to you, and imagining things other than what seems pre-determined, restores your agency.”

So go restore it; we'll be doing the same.

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