THE ART ACTIVISM PROCESS MODEL

DISCLAIMER

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. 

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Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. JIM JARMUSCH

NOW THAT WE’VE FOUND A PLACE, cleared the time, developed a routine, and are in the right frame of mind, we are ready to be creative. Fortunately, to help us navigate this terrifying creative abyss there are guides. Large design groups like IDEO and the British Design Council, “creativity experts” like Roger Von Oech, the design-thinking team of Jakob Schneider and Marc Stickdorn, and artists like Anna and Lawrence Halprin have created models for creativity with wonkish names like Service Design Thinking (SDT), RSVP Cycles, 3-1, 4D, or Double Diamond. Each has its own terms and structure, but all propose that there are similar stages we move through when doing creative work. The Center for Artistic Activism took these models apart and ran them through their flux capacitor. They named their product the Art Activist Process Model, or AAPM. In our opinion, the AAPM is solid, so that’s what we’re going to teach you. 

The four stages of the AAPM are: 

  1. Research 
  2. Sketch 
  3. Evaluate 
  4. Act 

These stages correspond with four roles an art activist needs to play: 

  1. Observer 
  2. Inventor 
  3. Critic 
  4. Worker Bee 

To employ the AAPM means moving through each of these stages and taking on each of these roles below.

1. OBSERVER: RESEARCH!

Nothing comes from nowhere. Whenever “new” forms of music emerge, upon closer listening they are soon found to be new combinations of preexisting music. Rock ‘n’ roll, for instance, came from combining elements of blues, jazz, and gospel with country and western-swing genres. Creativity does not appear, fully formed, as a gift from God, nor does it result from inborn talent or luck, it’s a process of making new combinations from old stuff. In order to make new combinations, we need to seek out inspiration and borrow various elements from diverse sources. 

Creative people are observers. Observing simply means moving through the world with wonder, using our senses, taking notice of and capturing anything and everything that strikes us, without judgment. Imagine yourself as an explorer on a strange planet collecting photographs, samples, and observations. Or a masterful detective, just arriving at the scene of a crime. The more research you collect, the more you have to work with. We all do this collection process all the time. In fact, you possess a lifetime of research you’ve already done. Our advice is only to do this more consciously and deliberately, and to recognize it as part of your creative process. 

Watching documentaries, going to art museums, and reading policy white papers are important forms of research, but they can also be narrow in scope. With research sources like these, it’s too easy to replicate combinations that have already been made, and so it’s important to look farther afield. Research and observation can be done anywhere, from noticing the colors and forms around you to reading a celebrity gossip magazine. Because research provides content for our work, we can find insights and inspiration in everything: history, economics, philosophy, popular culture, subcultures, current events, or simply people-watching. Research might be looking at art supplies, construction resources, and the physical landscape. Research can also be learning to tie knots or taking a trip through the dollar store, reading up on metal fabrication, registering for a class on screen printing, observing how paint moves on a surface, or learning the ins and outs of all the buttons on your video camera. 

You might also try: 

  • Staring at the clouds 
  • Watching fifteen minutes of a cooking show 
  • Visiting a niche museum (say, of the history of dentistry) 
  • Playing a game of table tennis with a six year old 
  • Wandering through a plumbing supply store 
  • Striking up a conversation with a stranger 
  • Walking a new way home 

This is all research. Explore!

2. INVENTOR: SKETCH! 

After collecting the raw material, we start making new connections. When we combine elements, they react with one another in new ways, but we don’t know how they will react until we do it. We can think of these experiments as rough sketches we will develop into finished work. Remember, sketches are not complete masterworks, only the initial steps we make as we work out an idea; the early drafts, the underpainting, the pencil sketch on the back of an envelope, or the bits of phrases and metaphorical connections a poet jots down in a notebook. 

The inventor is always trying to find new ways to solve problems by experimenting without judgment. Sketching out ideas is the simple means of taking our observations and putting them together in a rough form so we can step back and see if they work. If it helps, imagine yourself as a mad inventor in a laboratory, taking the parts you have collected and wildly bolting them together to see what happens. 

  • These two things are both blue, let’s put them together! 
  • These words sound the same, let’s swap them! 
  • What happens when we flip this upside down? Turn it inside out? 

Of course, every sketch doesn’t turn into an artwork, every note jotted down doesn’t become a poem. But every great artwork has a sketch or notes that came before it. Many of these experiments don’t work, but the surplus is required for innovation. Some art activists keep stacks of legal pads in their office where they jots down ideas; other’s studio walls and notebooks are filled with sketches. Still others swear by “mood boards” — collages they create from images and words cut out of magazines. Most of these ideas and images and influences go nowhere, but some do. In this phase of the AAPM, we are creating a wealth of experiments and possibilities. 

It’s easy to imagine ideas like fruit in a field and, as we wander through the orchard of our mind, we pick and choose the sweetest and ripest fruit, while leaving the unripe and rotten behind. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. We don’t get to pick only our good ideas. Rather than wandering in a field, it’s more like we’re back in the barn, inspecting all the harvested crops as they flow down a conveyor belt. Our ideas come in a singular stream, good mixed with the bad, bruised with pristine. 

Once we can see our ideas on paper, we can better evaluate them. This is why it’s important not only to write your ideas down but to sketch them, make drawings of them, however crude. We need distance from our ideas before we can truly understand them, and getting them out of our head and into a rough visual form allows us to step back and truly see them for what they are. We are used to expressing ideas in words, but words often force us into traditional patterns and clichés. We’re trying to break our habits of thinking; drawing helps us do that. And it truly doesn’t matter how well you draw. In fact, the worse you are as an artist the better the process might be, as you won’t fall into well-worn artistic ruts.

3. CRITIC: EVALUATE! 

So far, we have collected our research and made our sketches without judgment. In this stage of the AAPM we adopt a critical perspective and decide whether the sketch is a plan worth moving forward with, or whether it needs more work. Here we imagine ourselves as a judge whose sole duty is to look at what’s been made so far and ask: Will it work for what we want to do? 

We are all experienced evaluators already. We make judgments about all sorts of things throughout the day: this coffee tastes better with milk, this is the fastest route to work, these pants make my butt look fat. In this context, However, we’re going to give our judgments a new purpose: directing this critical gaze toward our own creative work. This critic works for you

Looking over our sketches, we should be asking: 

  • Do we need more research? 
  • Do we need more ideas? A different combination? 
  • Is this plan practical enough? Ambitious enough? 
  • Is it legible to our audience? Will the connections being made in the sketch phase be understood by others? Or is it speaking too much to only our perspective, experience, and ego? 
  • To what end are we working here? Are we still on track? Does this work in moving us toward our goal? Will it be affective? Will it be effective? Will it be the necessary balance between both?

It may be helpful to bring in a friend or two here and have them also critique what you are doing, as they’ll be able to see things you may not. This evaluation phase is the most difficult phase to master and we’ll return to it many times.

4. WORKER BEE: ACT! 

We have done our research, developed sketches, and critically pushed and probed them until we are pretty sure they will work. Now it’s time to act. We call this the “worker bee” stage because this is not the time to explore, create, or judge—it’s time to get busy! We all know someone who talks big and never follows through. They have great ideas, make big plans, and then… it just never happens. That’s not you. 

The production phase is the time that we do whatever it takes to get the job done: long days, late hours, calling in friends, breaking open your piggy bank, perhaps bending some laws… In this phase we are the dedicated friend, the loyal soldier, the trusted partner, or the “fixer” who does the job, no questions asked, with no supervision needed. We just do it. 

To get ourselves psyched up for this final stage, try playing inspirational music. Loud. One suggestion is from the early ’70s anarchist-psychedelic band, the Pink Fairies. The song goes like this: 

Don’t think about it 

Well, all you’ve got to do is do it 

Well, don’t talk about it 

All you do is do it! 

Don’t sing about it 

If you ain’t gonna do it 

Don’t write about it man 

If you ain’t gonna do it 

Yeah, do do do do do do do do do do do it 

Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it 

Aw, just do it 

It’s Rock n Roll 

And the message is: Do It! 

The song is called, appropriately, “Do It.” 

The Art Activist Process Model is just one way to organize your creative process. We find the structure is both clarifying and motivating in an undertaking that can become disorienting and even paralyzing at times. The AAPM borrows useful ideas for your benefit. And again, you will find what is useful for you and make it your own. That’s part of the creative process. 

EXERCISE: THE ART ACTIVIST PROCESS MODEL

Time:  A few hours, repeat when needed

The Art Activist Process Model (AAPM) is one version of the many “design thinking” methods for creativity. To help you navigate what can be a terrifying creative abyss, the process is broken up into four steps:

  • Research
  • Sketch
  • Evaluate
  • Produce

In this exercise you’ll try out the steps and see how they work together.

1)  Go to your creative place, in the time that you’ve set aside, and pull out your favorite pen or pencil and your sketchbook.

2)  Imagine you were a superhero. Pick one thing you wanted to say to the world and use that topic as a starting point. 

3)  Start up the AAPM.

Research: Spend some time on your computer, interviewing someone, flipping through magazines, looking at the books on your shelves, channel-grazing on your TV, or staring out the window. Allow your mind to roam freely, but keep that thing you want to tell the world in the back of your mind.

Sketch: Start playing with ideas and combinations of ideas that might make an interesting artistic activist piece. 

Maybe that “something” you came up with in step two is the problem of covid lockdowns and you spent some of your research time watching a reality TV show about home renovations. How might you put these pieces together? 

What could that look like? Jot down ideas in your sketchbook as they come to you. No pressure. Allow yourself to explore these odd combinations; be unrealistic, silly, and absurd. If you haven’t started moving from writing words to sketching images already, do so now. 

Evaluate: Time to bring in the Critic. Do any of your sketches excite you? Does one of them convey the message you want to communicate in a unique and provocative way? If so, good; work with it. Probe it, ask critical questions. Maybe you don’t have just one good idea. Are there two that seem promising? You may need to go back to the sketch phase to figure out how to combine these. As you work, you’ll probably need to bounce back into the Research and Sketch stages a few times in order to get your idea to pass muster. That’s how it works.

Produce: Imagine your task is to now complete your project. Write out an action plan for how you will do it. Write down the steps you’d take to get it done if you had a year and a thousand dollars. Then think about how you could do it if you only had a month, or a day, or only fifty dollars. Remember, you are thinking of ways it could be done. If you’re coming up with blanks when faced with some of the real logistics, bounce back to the earlier stages — do some research, revise your sketches, and evaluate the new plans. 

This exercise may take some time at first. Later, you’ll have more skills and knowledge, and when you return to this process, it will be easier and more fruitful. This is just an exercise to get you practicing the creative process. 

And remember to turn down the pressure.

CONCLUSION

The Art Activist Process Model is a useful tool for efficiently organizing one’s creative process. Drawing from various sources, we’re offering you the best of the best. We’ve covered the four stages of the AAPM, and each of the four corresponding roles the art activist must play throughout the process. This structure is reliable, providing clarity and motivation, which is really helpful because the creative process for developing art activism campaigns can seem daunting at times. At the end of the day, this is your process, and you need to do what works best for you. Now trust yourself, and DO IT.

Next Article: COMMON MISTAKES

REFERENCES:

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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