Art that Challenges and Confronts

Art about race, social injustice and inequality, whether challenging, confronting, or bearing witness, feels so important and relevant to the moment we are living right now. This page has resources to help students interested in exploring challenging topics with links to articles and artists who work at this edge.

read New Yorker article on Kerry James Marshall's America

Responding to feelings and events

Many students want to make art about challenging topics that are clearly important to them, and yet often struggle with how to do so meaningfully. Generalizing can lead to stereotypical or clichè solutions, like depicting a gun = violence. Being specific seems to help. As does having a clear understanding of context and history. Ask yourself, what kind of relationship do you have with the issue, what personal values do you feel are being violated? You dont have to be a victim of racism to feel anger, you dont have to be a refugee to feel adrift. We can respond to powerful feelings from wherever we are:

  • from direct experience
  • as a witness
  • confronting privilege
  • by challenging the status quo
For a creative challenge go to Seed: Bearing Witness 

    Resources by topics

    articles and links to help you gather information, ideas and material to support your research in your portfolio, for The Comparative Study or The Extended Essay  and to fuel and inform your own creative expression.

    Race in America

     "An artist’s identity and experiences implicitly inform, and in some cases even drive, the work they create."

    African American artists past and present ...  a few of the many

    Carrie Mae Weems

    Kerry James Marshall 

    Horace Pippen

    Jacob Lawrence

    Romare Bearden

    Betye Saar

    Amy Sherald

    Lorna Simpson

    Robert Colescott

    David Hammons

    Fred Wilson

    Jean Michel Basquiat

    Kehinde Wiley

    Kara Walker

    Faith Ringgold

    Mark Bradford

    Alma Thomas

    Barkley Hendricks

    Mickalene Thomas

    Titus Kaphar

     This art 21 playlist Portraying the Black American Experience shows 14 videos of artists who expand the conversations we have around bias, race, and representation.

    White artists respond to racial discrimination

    Ti-Rock Moore explains that "Political or protest art: both are suitable ways to describe my work. My responsibility as a white ally, artist and activist is not simply to acknowledge racism outright, but to target those namely fellow white Americans who turn a blind eye to systemic oppression." And perhaps she speaks for most artists when she says, "I have been an activist for decades, but I know that my art speaks much more loudly than I ever could."

    Artist Carson Ellis combed through the database of police killings that resulted in fatalities of unarmed African Americans. She picked 20 of them to illustrate and read everything she could about them. "I cried and cried," says Ellis, who is white. "It brought me face to face with very hard truths about being black in America, and about being white in America. I never doubted the existence of racism, but after this, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it."

     source: Washington Post article on The most powerful art from #Black Lives Matter

    Need a bit more background? Try this brief history of Black art in America 

    NYT art that challenges and confronts racism

    An article that reviews books, music and films that address racism. Each of these is a portal into exploring racism, with specific characters and stories, jumping off points for making visual art. For example...

    “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction book, 2010)

    “This American Life,” “House Rules” (podcast, 2013)

    “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates (article, 2014)

    “Formation,” Beyoncé (music video, 2016)

    “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” A Tribe Called Quest (album, 2016)

    “Revisionist History, “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment” (podcast, 2017)

    I am black alive and looking back at you. (June Jordan)

    Elizabeth Alexander writes:

    "There are so many visual artists responding to this changing same: Henry Taylor, Michael Rakowitz, Ja’Tovia Gary, Carrie Mae Weems, lauren woods, Alexandra Bell, Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter, Steffani Jemison, Kerry James Marshall, Titus Kaphar. To pause at one work: Dread Scott’s “A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday,” which he made in the wake of the police shooting of Walter Scott, in 2015, echoes the flag reading “A man was lynched yesterday” that the N.A.A.C.P. flew outside its New York headquarters between 1920 and 1938 to mark the lynchings of black people in the United States.

    ... three short films that address the Trayvon Generation with particular power: Flying Lotus’s “Until the Quiet Comes” (2012); his “Never Catch Me,” with Kendrick Lamar (2014); and Lamar’s “Alright” (2015)."

    - excerpt from The Trayvon Generation, Elizabeth Alexander, June 2020, The New Yorker Magazine

    Gender bias

    National Museum of Women in the Arts - get the facts

    Khan Academy brief history of women in art-  How have women been represented, underrepresented, and misrepresented in art history?

    Gender Identity

    Rise Art  Contemporay artists questioning gender norms

    6 emerging figurative artists who re-define gender identity through depictions of the body, dress and everyday objects, challenging traditionally feminine and masculine ideals to blur boundaries.

    There are many other topics not discussed here, other forms of social injustice, racism, religious persecution, sexual abuse, environmental damage, sadly the list goes on. Whatever topic speaks to your heart, maybe you can find a meaningful way to address it, taking your invitation from the same creative challenge at the top of this page.

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