The Function of Art as Protest

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper.

-W.H. Auden

Auden, in all his turbulent wisdom, once told us that “poetry makes nothing happen.” Gasp, I know. But, he’s not alone here. Oscar Wilde tells us that “All art is quite useless,” in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

So does that make the term “protest art” an oxymoron?

Obviously, we’re a literary zine that publishes protest art, so you can probably see where this is going. The “Greats” may have said that art won’t do anything, but I’d be willing to bet that they didn’t base their whole careers off of something meaningless.

The truth is, words just sit on a page. Art can collect dust on some forgotten wall. Whether anyone reads it or looks at it, it’ll be there. Just, there. For it to mean anything, it’s not the poetry that needs to make something happen– it’s the reader.

Consuming protest art is all well and good. But, if your response is to go about your life as you did before, then you might as well have not seen it at all.

Our hope here at Serpentine is that the art we publish will change you in a way that throws you into action. The issues brought up in our content are real and affect real people. Most of these works will illicit an emotional response from our readers, and that’s intentional. We don’t want you to get comfortable with the emotional distance between you and words on a page or images on a screen.

Your activism starts off with educating yourself and becoming aware of the issues surrounding your cause. In our case, it’s feminism. This is a critical stage. If you don’t know, then you don’t know; and you can do more harm than good when you’re trying to make a difference for a cause you have no business inserting yourself into, because you have no idea what’s going on. This has the same flavor as flying a group of teenagers to some foreign country to build houses when none of them have even held a hammer before. Yikes. That’s a bad flavor.

That being said, feminist literature is a great place to start. So if that’s you, we’re glad you’re here! Poke around our website and maybe consider grabbing a print edition. Don’t stop there though, there is so much out there for you to read, watch, and listen to about the complex and vast issues included in feminism.

I hope you learn the rich history of this movement, as well as the ways it’s failed in the past and how we’re learning to do better (looking at you, white suffragettes) , but after that, I hope you act.


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