But Is It Art? the Spirit of Art as Activism

Nina Felshin, Author, Nina Felshin, Editor Bay Press (WA) $18.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-941920-29-2
The dozen essays here focus on a variety of artistic and cultural practices that help to define the ``art'' of public art and the ``activism'' of the activist artist. Informative and helpful new material on the Women's Action Coalition, the Guerrilla Girls and The Art and Homeless Collaborative comes late in this volume, after a great deal of eulogizing and laundry-list art history. The writers here--with the exception of Jan Avgikos, Elizabeth Hess and Tracy Ann Essoglou--too often take the claims of artists and the art world at face value, producing uncritical texts as propagandistic as the art they champion. Public art/activist art today exists at a critical junction in the social history of this country, questioning the nature of art, the political process, public perception and insidious forms of control and domination--including the often didactic and well-intentioned artist who condescendingly helps certain social groups for personal advantage. Only Avgikos, Hess, Essoglou and Andrea Wolper manage to rise above the tide of informational prose to question if such art actually fufills the good intentions of its creators. And only Avgikos suggests the advantage of calling these practices ``art''--they fill artistic requirements, not according to abstract criteria, but according to the big money of granting organizations and museums. Lastly, poor photographs and the difficulties of describing this art ex situ deprives it of much of its power. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
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