Culture Manifesto: The Increasing Importance of Art as an Engine of Change

When the going gets tough, the tough make art.

When the going gets tough, the tough make art. And in America today, there's some tough going ahead. That's why AlterNet is renewing its commitment to covering the arts and culture. Sign up for our new culture newsletter here. As we progressives seek to tell the story of America and the change we want to make, and as we look to present progressive ideas to the wider population of Americans, it is through the arts that we are likely to make the broadest impact. You can't hum a piece of legislation, but a song can process complex ideas in eight bars. A film or television show can either reflect our experience back on us or distort it -- either way, to an effect more powerful than a pundit's quip can deliver. A spoken-word piece, be it rap or poetry, can name a dilemma in a stanza -- the same dilemma a wonk takes pages to illustrate. There's often more truth told in a work of fiction than there is on the nightly news.

In most successful movements for social change, artists are in the vanguard. In many cases it is their soundtrack, their visual sensibilities, their literature that comes to define a particular movement in the popular imagination. Think of the civil rights movement and the role played by music. Recall the anti-war movement of the 1960s, propelled by rock 'n' roll and psychedelic art. Remember the controversy stirred by artist Judy Chicago's art installation, The Dinner Party, which told the story of the women's movement with provocative imagery.

But the work of artist-activists is just one half of the equation. The other entails the ways in which popular culture absorbs and reflects the tensions of our age, and represents us as Americans. Those works demand the attention of the critical progressive mind.

Going forward, you will find more media criticism, such as Don Hazen's look at bad behavior by men of "Mad Men," the popular AMC series. You'll also find analyses of culture industries, like Culture editor Julianne Escobedo Shepherd's take-down of monopolies in the music business.

And we want to hear from you. What music are you listening to? What films are you watching? What fiction are you reading? Is there a video about to go viral that you think we should know about? Please let us know, using AlterNet's "site feedback" button.

As we head into a new year, let's renew our spirits with a injection of creativity. As Emma Goldman told us, a revolution without dancing is not worth having.

Sign up for AlterNet's new culture newsletter.

Adele Stan is AlterNet's Washington Bureau Chief.
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