(This post is based on excerpts from a Jan. 11, 2008, piece "Exploring democracy and citizenship through art" by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Marianne Combs; read a transcript or listen on-line)
The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota has pulled together several works of art from its permanent collection for a current, long-term exhibition titled "Who is a citizen? What is citizenship?"
In a few weeks, the museum will open one of several smaller exhibits that deal with notions of the democratic process. The traveling exhibition, Paul Shambroom: Picturing Power, is organized by the museum's lead curator Diane Mullin.
Mullin says the goal of the exhibition is to create a place where people can talk about issues and students can start thinking about their own responsibilities as citizens. "Art can teach us or demonstrate things about democracy," says Mullin, "but art can also participate in democracy because artists are in very important ways contributors to discourse, and contributors to our society. So they can put forth proposals and propositions to make us think about things, to make us think about where we live, how we live."
"Nobody Around Here Calls Me Citizen," painted by Robert Gwathmey in 1943, shows a tired black man next to the number two, implying he's a second class citizen. The lion in the corner, however, indicates his potential power. (Image and caption courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum)
Harry Boyte says he believes that "when art is really civically powerful...it puts a public language to [our] private discontents, [helps us] to see them as shared, and capable of redress and action." He adds that art, at its best, illuminates the world and has the power to both anger and inspire.
What do you think? Has art ever taught you about democracy, or angered and inspired you to take action? What artists would you say incorporate democratic themes into their work?