Can Visual Art Defy Society?

I know for certain that the power of the arts can rebel against the world in a variety of different ways. For instance, art in the 1990s was used to present "broken" or "grotesque" imagery which at the time reflected the economic struggles and the dissatisfied and rebellious youth at that time. But what about today in 2016? Does art of our time need to completely change our current state, or will it only encourage our demise?

Can Visual Art Defy Society?

Personally, visual art and music always had an impact on me when I was young - it was the first time I ever saw The Snowman that inspired me to pick up the pencil and pen for the first time. For me, the short film's art style presented a dream that I longed to be real, and ever since then I've been using this early influence as a way of establishing my own fantasy. For most other artists, this type of influence helps to lay the foundations to fight for a cause, or to deliver a message.

Banksy is one such artist - he is well known for his distinctive yet controversial graffiti art that carries satirical messages, especially ones that concern current issues, such as the wealth gap, capitalism, consumerism, and migration.

British Police Pride

It is his artwork that has influenced my views on the world, especially in this piece regarding the current state of the self-admiring British police force. His work, despite his anti-establishment views, has gone on to sell millions of copies due to his powerful influence.

The point is that he projected our thoughts and feelings on our current society by using visual art to reveal the worst in us all.

Artists like these are key to the growth of the modern world, considering the amount of issues that we're facing, and since our generation is now starting to come of age, someone needs to make amends!

Hitler Poster

Of course, not every artist is the same. Art in the past has often been used as a weapon, as propaganda, to control people, especially in Nazi Germany, where there was endless amounts of portraits of Adolf Hitler, forcing the German people to accept his regime, thus creating a Fascist society, rather than defying it.

Also, you can't forget about the aesthetic movement of the 1890s, where artists embraced the concept of l'art pour l'art ("art for art's sake"), which means that art was created in order to avoid any social or political critique in their work, as artists of that period worried it was starting to ruin art by being too involved within society, as they saw art and society as two separate entities. So art isn't always defiant as we'd expect.

But it is possible that society influences the visual arts as well, and sometimes as a result the art that's produced can influence society in reverse; it's as if art itself seems to have a mind of its own, and we've lost control over our own creation. One critic has stated that, "Though not all art is quickly accepted by mainstream society, it is nevertheless an expression of the human condition."

For me, I love seeing visual art and using art to change our rules and break down our boundaries - it is more impactful and (dangerously) beautiful than any other message that we use. So my answer to defiant art? Hell yes! Art is the most effective way of bringing about change, and thanks to the power of technology, the visual arts is much more accessible, which can potentially lead to a much bigger impact than the renaissance waiting to happen, and my goodness am I waiting impatiently…

This piece was written for my Gold Arts Award Unit 1, Part D: Forming a view

I'd love to hear your views too in the comments below!



  • Renaissance, for instance, was shown to challenge the rationalism of the enlightenment era.
  • In many oppressive states, art is seen as a voice of freedom that goes against the beliefs of that state, e.g. Hitler's Germany, Islamic State.
  • "Though not all art is quickly accepted by mainstream society, it is nevertheless an expression of the human condition." -


  • Art can be used as propaganda – not the voice of the people.
  • In some cases, society influences art.
  • Some people can even reject art due to irrelevant or offensive beliefs
  • Most artwork can very quickly lose or change their meaning, i.e. the Confederate Flag in early 2015 due to the Carlston Shootings
  • Aesthetic Movement of the 1890s


  1. Art of the 1990s -
  2. The Snowman -
  3. Who is Banksy? -
  4. Policemen -
  5. Steve Jobs -
  6. Banksy Sales -
  7. Art as a weapon -
  8. Hitler poster -
  9. Aesthetic movement -
  10. Peacock Picture -


Luke Taylor

Luke Taylor Contributor

I work as the Network Administrator for Voice. Having completed my apprenticeship at Unit Twenty Three, I continue my work supporting Voice and the Youth Network in whatever way possible. Music is my passion, and I will happily talk about all the bands you've probably never heard of!

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  • Tom Inniss

    On 13 June 2016, 18:07 Tom Inniss Voice Team commented:

    Very well thought out - wish I had something to add to the discussion but you covered it well!

  • Emrys Green

    On 21 June 2016, 14:21 Emrys Green Voice Team commented:

    What a brilliant article considering the history, state of culture and more. You've balanced your views and referenced some great resources.

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