How social media has changed art activism

What does your daily routine entail? How long can you get through the day without logging on to scroll through Instagram; or popping onto Facebook to see what’s happening in your friendship group? If you’re anything like me, Twitter is your news source.

The way that we interact with social media has changed the dynamics of activism. Never has it been easier to bypass the coverage of bias news outlets and do your own research into what may matter to you. Our peers and influences on these channels shape the way that we view the world and inform others of our opinions. Nevertheless, the importance of getting the message right for social media, is still something to consider. While some may luck out on a well-timed tweet, the crowded nature of the social sphere has provoked a new type of content creation. One that stops the user mid-scroll and engages them, sometimes enough for them to share on their own channels.

Creators and agitators have learnt to respond to and provoke with visuals that feed on the 'like reflex' - a term I like to use for visuals that have the ability to pull people in, regardless of the captioning that precedes them. In this era, one small well-documented action has the power of reaching millions, in under 24 hours no less. How is social media is playing a role in that link between artist and activism?

Making something "Instagrammable"

A protest placard has always been the place for a witty slogan, but never has it been more powerful than today, where a single piece of cardboard can go on to reach and influence thousands around the world. Activists now create with social media in mind, knowing full well that a well-thought out message can go viral just as easily as it was created. London’s reaction to Donald Trump’s state visit shows the alternative route creators are taking to protest; the Trump baby blimp stealing the spotlight and hogging our social media feeds for a good 12 hours.

It doesn’t always have to be about politics. Sketch Events recently collaborated with Wieden + Kennedy  to design, build and install a unique giant wave installation made from plastic waste in Shoreditch, just for World Oceans Day. The result was a tide of instagram posts highlighting the effects of plastic pollution. The secret combination - making something aesthetically pleasing and following up with a hard-hitting message to boot.

An immediate response

Some disruptors needn’t even leave the house to have an impact. An immediate response to a political occurrence can cause waves if it provokes an emotional response. Illustrators, designers and typographers need to be switched on at all times to seize the moment. You don’t need to have thousands of followers to go viral; you just need the right message to hit a nerve. Social media allows the opportunity for a single voice to go far and wide and the likes of Veronica Dearly, Jean Jullien and even Banksy are proof of the power. This arouses questions around causation is politics the stimulus for art – or art the stimulus to question politics? My point is that the two go hand in hand in this era, and creatives need to be poised for it. Activism has become a rapid response profession as opposed to a meticulously planned protest.

The power of the influencer

No matter your opinion on influencers, there are those that are creating content for change whether they be artists, musicians or writers. By using their platform creatively, influencers can inform and inspire, from Emily Coxhead’s publication and accompanying social channels ‘The Happy Newspaper’ to Caroline South’s creative use of beach waste within photography. The lifestyles of these content creators pulls people in and aligns them to the same methods of thinking. Just one look to song-writing over the years highlights the power of musicians alone; Blur and Oasis challenging the notion of working class via their music and at the time, heavily backing a young Tony Blair. Now we’ve moved onto Jeremy Corbyn’s grime rappers and South London anti-Tory post punk band, Shame. In 2018, these opinions can be broadcast at the touch of the button, without the need for a TV or radio.

Community matters

Who needs snail mail anymore? Let’s face it - social media means “being social” via online methods and this in-turn has allowed hundreds of like-minded individuals to connect and come together for a common cause. Private Facebook groups are rife with individuals looking to make change and Instagram is a source for seeking out those with the same point of view. Meetups for protests have become easier and the possibilities of public events are now endless. However, this in turn loses the proactive element behind activism and ultimately could stem true passion. We all know the famous phrasing  of “jumping on a bandwagon” every time a social movement comes along. It’s all about the balance.

How do you think creators respond to activism? Has the ease made us more passive, or do creatives have to actively think more on their feet? Answers on a postcard, or my latest Instagram post.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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