The book “art and social change: a critical reader” tells about how art influences social change. They try to break down and dissect how art and social change is interrelated. This book came out in 2007 as a partner to the previous volume of the Classic Forms of Resistance. This particular publishing, however, is made of a vast collection of texts and manifestos which have been separated into 4 main chapters. They have been grouped together according to their relevance in either political or social history.
The four main sections of the book are namely: the Paris Commune of 1871, the Soviet Revolution of 1917, the social uprisings of 1968 and the 1989 revolutions in the former Eastern Bloc. The editors, Will Bradley and Charles Esche, invited 6 critics to give their own unique interpretation for some of the texts in the anthology. These critics have been more than careful to ensure that the conversation is light and that the soul of the book lies in the historical documents archived by the artists and activists. They bring light to the texts highlighted but are careful enough not to put in their own biases when possible.
The book takes on a genealogical approach which allows the reader to come up with his own interpretation of the progress of the material and even the relevance of the topic to present times. A genealogic approach focuses on the continuity and avoids numerous layers of time and dates. This makes the book more focused on the relevant transitions in the arts and also the changes in society whether it is through politics or human behavior.
The book claims to be centrally focused on the “globalization of modernism”. Critics that have actually gone through the book often argue that this is only partly true. They feel that the editors have not looked into or might have purposely ignored the Social arts from southern European countries such as Spain, Italy or even Greece. Even more so, is the complete absence of relevant texts from authors coming from the Asian or Australian continents where “globalization of modernism” is said to have taken place for a number of decades.
In fairness to the editor’s, they have also paid tribute to several countries such as France, England, Germany, the Netherlands and several Eastern and Northern European nations. Though the majority of the book has been mainly composed of contributions from authors from the America’s such as the United States, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, it is baffling to note that the mural painting movements in Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros in Mexico have not been given any mention at all nor has the commercialisation of art and the dangers associated with it been discussed. This last point is an obvious omission considering the recent debates over how art was being used in advertising (such as these luminess air reviews) to sell the ideas of a social conscience but solely for profit.
The broad scope of the book only leaves more room for more artists in the future. Though well interpreted, it still lacks the balance to be able to project a fair accounting of the progress of art with regards to social change. The next volume should put a focus on the sub cultures and creative expressions brought about by social movements during the past to the present.