The contents of this article are for information and educational purposes only. Patriot Propaganda does not officially recommend using any of the tactics, techniques or procedures presented. 


Having just the vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution. STEPHEN SONDHEIM 


Art can do all sorts of amazing things: it can inspire, horrify, alter our perspectives, and allow us to imagine things that seemed unimaginable. But it’s not enough. In order for the emotional affect of art to have political effect, art needs to be combined with activism. 

Activism, as the name implies, is the activity of challenging and changing power relations. Activism does not necessarily mean a mass protest outside a government building to demand more resources; it can just as easily mean organising a small homeschooling collective among parents in your neighbourhood, thereby empowering the community to create new resources for itself, and fight fifth-generation warfare at its core. There are many ways of doing activism and being an activist, but the common element is an activity targeted toward demonstrable outcomes: changing a policy, mobilising a population, overthrowing a dictator, or organising a childcare collective. The goal of activism is action to generate an effect

Art, on the other hand, doesn’t often have such a clear target. It’s hard to say what art is for or against; its value often lies in demonstrating or provoking new perspectives. Its impact can vary from person to person, is often subtle and hard to measure, and its meaning is not necessarily unitary, with sometimes contradictory messages layered into an artwork. As we suggested above, good art, in our opinion, always contains a surplus of meaning: something we can’t quite describe or put our finger on, but which moves us nonetheless. Its goal, if we can even use that word, is to stimulate a feeling, move us emotionally, or alter our perception. As the art critic, Lucy Lippard, puts it, “Art is suggestive. The motion it inspires are usually e-motion.”

In short: Art is an expression that generates affect. Stripped down to the essentials, the relationships might look like this:

At first glance, these aims seem at odds with one another. Activism moves the material world, while art moves the heart, body, and soul. But effect and affect can be complementary. We’re moved by affective experiences to take physical actions that result in concrete effects: affect produces effect. And concrete effects have affective impact, generating personal emotion: effect produces affect. This complementary combination can either be called “affective effect,” or sometimes “effective affect.”  


Time: 30 minutes

People are often moved to act by their emotions. In this exercise, we are going to practice infusing our actions with emotions, in order to move others to act. 

1.     Take the issue you are working on: for example, raising the minimum wage in your town, or stopping the return of mask mandates in your children’s schools. 

A traditional activist campaign addressing your issue might include objectives for an audience like:

  • Attending a meeting
  • Reading a flyer
  • Signing a petition
  • Joining a coalition
  • Attending a demonstration
  • Visiting a politician’s office

If you are an experienced activist you will probably come up with a list far longer and more detailed than this one. The list above is just an example, so feel free to substitute your campaign’s actual objectives to make the exercise more practical.

2.     Now here’s a list of possible emotions that might motivate your audiences to take these actions:

  • Curiosity
  • Comfort
  • Grief
  • Humiliation
  • Desire
  • Surprise
  • Compassion
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Shame
  • Outrage
  • Wonder
  • Confusion
  • Joy
  • Belonging
  • Schadenfreude (pleasure in the misfortune of others)

3.     Now mash-up the two lists. How can efforts toward achieving your practical outcomes be imbued with these emotions? How can a demonstration provide people with an experience of comfort? How can a petition convey the pain of not being able to visit your grandparents in an elder care home before they died, or to attend their funeral? How can a visit to a politician help that politician understand the pride of an agricultural labourer organising with their fellow labourers? Write down at least three ideas that come from different combinations of objectives and emotions.

As you create art activist pieces in the years to come, remember there is real value in traditional activist tactics and objectives. But make sure you’re also including the emotional experiences that make people want to do these things. Art activism comes from these combinations.


As art activists, we are always trying to create experiences that generate feelings that have demonstrable impact in the world. This is the brass ring of art activism. We always reach toward it, sometimes we grab it and sometimes we miss. But balancing affect and effect in a piece is what makes this practice an art. 


This article was adapted from Duncombe, Stephen, and Steve Lambert. The Art of Activism: Your All-Purpose Guide to Making the Impossible Possible. OR Books, 2021.

Other References:

Sharp, Gene. From Dictatorship to Democracy. Serpent’s Tail, 2022.

Beer, Michael, et al. Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2021.

Popović, Srđa, and Hardy Merriman. CANVAS Core Curriculum: A Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle: Students Book. Serbia, CANVAS, 2007.

Marovic, Ivan. The Path of Most Resistance: A Step-By-Step Guide to Planning Nonviolent Campaigns, 2nd Edition. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2021.

Sholette, Gregory. The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art. New York, United States, Macmillan Publishers, 2022.

Clark, Howard; Garate. Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns. Revised edition, War resisters’ International, 2022.

Thompson, Nato. Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-first Century. Melville House, 2015. 

Gavin, Francesca, and Alain Bieber. The Art of Protest: Political Art and Activism. Gestalten, 2022.

Miller, Matthew, and Srđa Popović. Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. Random House, 2015.

Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. Vintage; Reissue edition, 1989.

Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. Ig Publishing, 2004.

Abbott, Daniel. The Handbook of 5GW: A Fifth Generation of War? Amsterdam, Netherlands, Adfo Books, 2021.

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