The Mirror, The Hammer, and the Art of Revolution / by Chris Hall

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.  

Bertolt Brecht 

I can think of a few works of art (and societal constructs) I'd like to reshape with a hammer.

Holding a mirror to society in art, even in Avant-Garde art, doesn’t always work if one wants to effect any kind of societal change.  Mirrors only reflect the surface of things, and too often the problem is hidden, disguised, or bone deep. 

But sledge hammer tactics are equally problematic.  If you show your cards too early, there is the risk that the enemy will be able to compensate, dodge and parry accordingly.  If one’s mission is to win the hearts and minds of the people, using shock tactics might turn more people away than convert.

"If you want to tell the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you."  This quote is attributed to both Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.  I like the idea that one can disguise the medicinal dose with a touch of sugar . . .  though I have to admit I am not always fond of saccharine sweetness.


Maybe it is time to fight dirty, use the language of the enemy to infiltrate the system, disrupt and destroy from within.  In this regard, I like Guy Debord’s ideas concerning detournement (the political prank, culture jamming).  Guy Debord and others of the art movement Situationist International used detournement to nearly overthrow the French government of Charles de Gaulle in May 1968, the closest that art has even come to effecting such a change