This is What Democracy Looks Like!

By: Cynthia Fowler  

Even before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, many American artists were creating works that seriously critiqued the fragile, if not illusory, the status of democracy in the United States. With its aim of participation, social practice art has been at the forefront of these efforts, and in this regard, curator Nato Thompson’s writing has been most instructive. He provides copious examples of social practice art that has created spaces for participants to “suddenly become aware of the power of collective action and witness a stark contrast between the rhetoric of capitalist democracy and its nascent mechanisms of discipline and control.” But what does this mean for works of art created by individual artists, particularly those works relegated to art museums and galleries? What role do these works play in advancing activist efforts to reclaim democracy? And how might we imagine a relationship between these two types of art practice that would support efforts of resistance against the rise of fascism? This paper will consider the tension between social practice art and art objects made by individuals as an important site for imagining both the potential for a democratic society and the need for activism to reestablish democracy in America.

Democracy, Social Practice, Art
2020 Special Focus - Against the Grain: Arts and the Crisis of Democracy
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Cynthia Fowler

Professor, Art, Emmanuel College, United States
MA, United States