Socially engaged art

RELATED TERMS: Modernism and avant-garde art practice

Vid Simoniti points out that the work of politically committed artists has radically shifted since the mid-1990s. A new generation of artists has sought not just to represent social reality, but to change it, by blending art with activism, through social regeneration projects, and even by oursuing violent political action. This form of contemporary art prompts a rethinking of theories of artistic value. These works, Simonitit contends, make a convincing case for a pragmatic view of artistic value, a view which is often dismissed. The pragmatic view, when properly applied, sets the bar very high indeed. Within this view, art that tries to change society should be considered ‘good’ art only when it succeeds in making tangible differences.

Thus, for socially engaged art, there is a critical difference between an art that engages in the politics of representation and the art institutions, and an art that engages in wider political practices. Socially engaged art has tended to follow particular patterns: it has focused on communities defined by place; artists have usually been in a strong position relative to the human community or environnment that forms the subject; and it has been assumed that there is a clear distinction between the work of artists, who are able to give voice to disadvantaged communities, and the actions of business which has tended to ignore these voices.


Simoniti, V. (2018) ‘Assessing socially engaged art’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 76(1), pp. 71–82. doi: 10.1111/jaac.12414.