Protest Art and Music

Protest Art and Music

Protest as an expression for change can take many forms, from physical to economic to artistic.  Art and music have a rich history of conveying protest messages in unique and creative ways.


A Brief History of Protest Art looks at artists from the Dadaists to Guerrilla Girls, and others viewed as “the most politically impactful artists of the last century.” An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017, includes themes such as Resistance and Refusal; Strike, Boycott, Advocate; Stop the War; and Abuse of Power. Art Responds to Women’s Suffrage: Pro and Con features American and British women cartoonists whose political art in that time period represented varied views of the issues.

Articles accessible via the Campus Library consider protest art from varied perspectives. Considering Feminist Activist Art by Mary Jo Aagerstoun explores the subjects and strategies of feminist activist art. In Visuality in teaching and research: Activist art education Michael Emme presents art education as a form of activism. Stanley Diamond, in Subversive Art explains the potential of art to be emancipatory.

E-books are another source of ideas and information. Protest! : A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics by Liz McQuiston examines and illustrates political art as diverse as prints, posters, murals, graffiti, fine art, and political cartoons, going all the way back to the 1500s.

A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements by Nicolas Lampert covers the colonial period through the present day, focusing on both trends and individual artists. Doing Democracy: Activist Art and Cultural Politics by Nancy Love includes both visual arts and music (as well as other art forms, such as performance), and describes how the use of art can deepen the experience of democracy.



The Ongoing History of Protest Songs offers “The Historical Development of Protest Music” that includes Beethoven, Billie Holiday, Odetta, Lead Belly, the Almanac Singers, and more. You can also listen to a playlist of selections from their “Protest Music Hall of Fame.” Paste magazine provides its selection of The 50 Best Protest Songs of All Time, with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” at #43 and “the Pill” by Loretta Lynn at #35. The Woody Guthrie Center covers folk music broadly, with extensive archives delving into protest music.

In the e-bookThe New Age of Social Protest Music, John Miller examines how protest music bridges divides and empowers movements, with a brief historical overview. The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music by Jonathan Friedman is an anthology that explores how the human condition is illuminated through protest music, looking at numerous countries and time periods. Conflict, Identity, and Protest in American Art, edited by Makeda Best, focuses on how art is used in war protests in various historical periods, and how it can change national identity.

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