Aesthetics and Activism: Visiting an Artist’s Studio in Oakland

Evan Bissell Studio VisitLast Monday, students in the Artist as Activist class ventured to Oakland to visit with local artist Evan Bissell in his studio. Students were struck by Evan’s work, and especially his public projects, as each piece requires a tremendous amount of research, active collaboration and a balance between aesthetic and activist intentions.

“Activist art can communicate ideas about both individual and community experience, to a wider audience; it can make public that which has been ignored, silenced, or otherwise kept from public conscience.” – Don Adams and Arelene Goldbard, Community, Culture, and Globalization

For students, the visit reinforced that socially engaged art connects people and encourages people to ask questions; through the translation of ideas, socially engaged art can transform spaces and the minds of others. Evan reinforced the idea that art is a ways of participating in a community, and that activist art can help people make sense of the world around us. Students left the studio space feeling empowered, inspired and more knowledgeable about what it takes to create a successful work of social-justice based art. As one student commented, “I have learned so much about why art is necessary and USEFUL! I think it is a question a lot of artists have, and I am learning that artists can actually have an impact. I believe that all of society can be built up and improved by art.”

Beginning next week, students in the class will start to hone in on their final projects as they envision the right space outside of the school’s walls to install the works, consider the best materials and media for their message and cultivate a strong reasoning behind why they have made their work and how they want it to impact others.

Stay tuned for Friday, Feb. 27, when another Oakland-based artist, Seth Eisen, will visit the class at Bay to talk about his practice as a social activist and artist.

– Ascha Drake, Visual Arts Faculty

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