Rebellious and Deviant: Art as an Act of Revolution

A Response to Carina’s “It Only Takes a Flicker to Light a Room and Spark a Revolution”

Carina Pagotto’s art piece “It Only Takes a Flicker to Light a Room and Spark a Revolution” is a response to Grainge’s article about the 1998 film Pleasantville. The film itself blends black and white 50’s aesthetic with modern technicolour film techniques to explore the nature of nostalgia, our relationship with media and the social movements of the 60’s. Carina’s piece also uses a mixture of black and white and colour to do an art piece depicting six social justice movements. She starts in complete black and white depicting slavery of ancient societies, then moves to colonial African enslavement, woman’s suffrage, Indigenous rights, Islamophobia post 9/11, and the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. As she moves through each of these human rights struggles each panel receives more and more colour. The final panel for the LGBTQ+ has the most colour in a nod to the community’s choice of pride representation with a rainbow flag. This final panel is mostly, but not completely in colour. This is Carina’s acknowledgement that while the treatment of these groups have improved there are still struggles for equality and acceptance.

The title of Carina’s piece “It Only Takes a Flicker to Light a Room and Spark a Revolution” is important to the overall message of her piece. That is, that her art not only depicts revolution but is an act of revolution itself. This idea of art as a tool of revolution, and sometimes the spark of such revolution is depicted throughout the 1998 film Pleasantville. In the film, reading is a revolutionary act and art becomes an act of rebellion. When youth in the film start going to the library it is associated with the same level of deviancy, and brings about the same fear in the adults as them going to Lovers Lane. The idea that when art and knowledge come together it creates something powerful is nothing new. The movie alludes the real life destruction of literature in the book burnings by the Nazi’s in World War Two. Art can carry with it powerful ideas and reach thousands of people. It can be, as Carina suggests in her piece a spark in its own right.

First though is the debate on how to look at art. The Kantian idea of Pure Gaze, Bourdieu’s idea of popular aesthetics and the concept of authorial intent. Is Carina’s art piece valuable not in the diverse groups she represents but in the way she drew them, in the lines of pencil that she used? Or does the value of Carina’s piece come from the representation of these marginalized groups? To either of these questions, does Carina’s own intent as the creator of the peice matter in its interpretation? For the sake of analyzing art as an act of revolution Bourdieu’s concept of popular aesthetic is the most valuable for two reasons. First, revolutions are movements of the people, meaning that the concept and art created must be understood by the people. It is not the form but the function that is important and it is not what the creator intends but what people interpret that creates meaning in these pieces. Second, in art used for social justice it is the content of these works that spread a group’s message and make a commentary on humans rights issues. In analyzing art as revolutionary, looking at the content of that art and the message created for/interpreted by the people is what is important in determining whether that art is indeed a spark.

Carina acknowledges in her final panel for the LGBTQ+ community by leaving a few strands of hair white that even if things have gotten better the struggles of the groups she depicts are not over. An example of a contemporary play about the struggle of the LGBTQ+ community and the modern world is The Laramie Project. Inspired by the murder of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in a hate crime for being gay The Laramie Project is a ladder play that explores the aftermath of the murder on the town of Laramie. The play raises questions such as: Is the town of Laramie homophobic? Is the United States in general homophobic? Where does this hatred and fear come from? Is the older generation more homophobic than the younger? After one young man is killed in a hate crime, does the whole town deserve to be labeled as homophobic to the rest of the world? The play raises awareness to real and dangerous reality of being out and queer in the world. By putting the town of Laramie on the stage the play comes off almost as trial, with the audience left to condemn or forgive Laramie for what they let happen in their town. The play puts a real world act of hatred on the stage and challenges the audience to question how it ever could have been allowed to happen. This is what art can do in raising awareness for and challenging problems in our society. While theatre is an excellent and powerful cultural tool for social justice it is not a very accessible one. Film on the other hand tends to be more widespread and able to reach broader audiences. I think a film series that matches Carina’s piece in that it is narratively about revolution, but also ideologically is Star Wars.

Before dismissing Star Wars as unintellectual because of its popularity, I would argue that is because of Star Wars’ pop culture status in the modern world that it should be examined. Something draws so many people so avidly to these films, and while to an extent some credit can be given to their masterful practical special effects, it is also the ideology of these films that draw people in. Star Wars follows the adventures of The Rebel Alliance, a group of people who rise up against an Evil Empire. This theme carries through the franchise but is made most clear in the newest addition to the canon Rouge-One. Rouge-One follows a woman who reluctantly joins the rebels and fights the Empire. It is the story of a woman faced with injustice who must decide to fight and how much she is willing to sacrifice in her pursuit of justice. The film shows the difficulty in standing up against injustice when it can be easier to do nothing, and the importance of doing so anyway when lives are on the line. This is message of social justice and awareness regardless if it applied to a galaxy far far away or any of the real world issues depicted by Carinas art. As Carina’s piece suggests it only takes flicker, a spark or as it may be a message carried in a work of art to start a revolution.

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