Art and politics (2): Massimo Mila to graffiti

31 Oct

How to move from such a broad topic as ‘art and politics’ to a proper research question?

Firstly, thinking of one of my own ‘personal icons’, Italian musicologist, mountaineer and member of the resistance during WWII, Massimo Mila, I have chosen for a shift towards ‘artists and intellectuals’ political activism’.

Secondly, considering that an appropriate topic should give answers to such questions as, amongst others, who, what, where, when, how and why, I have searched for some inspiration in both the International Encyclopedia of Communication and the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (online available through the UvA-Library: restrictions may apply outside the UvA-network).

Even the quickest glance at these subject-specific encyclopaedias can provide answers to some of the aforementioned questions. Searching for ‘artist’ and ‘activism’, the International Encyclopedia of Communication retrieves amongst others the entries ‘art as communication’ and ‘graffiti’, whose ‘See also’ sections further refer to related headwords such as ‘propaganda, visual communication of’ and ‘collective action and communication’.

Graffiti and street artists’ motives for action being a quite controversial issue (both in art-historical and socio-political terms), a research question I would like to work on could be the following: «What role have minority rights claims (i.e. ethnic, sexual) played in promoting murals and graffiti art from 1970 to the present day in the United States?»

Having an idea of what minority identity meant for the street art production of such painters as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and mostly keeping in mind that I can gradually rephrase my topic according to the resources I discover while searching, I set to the following steps of identifying the key concepts of my research question, devising search terms for each concept, and use these terms to search for scholarly literature in appropriate information sources: these all being the subject of a next (and last one on ‘art and politics’) post.

Photo’s: Massimo Mila’s was taken in 1935 in Turin’s prison when he was arrested on the charge of antifascism. Amsterdam Street Art‘s website provided the graffiti’s pic.


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