Constitution Day Reflections: How Freedom of Speech in the Arts Can Shape Our Society

By: Georgia Schumacher

September 12, 2017

On September 17, people and institutions across the US will celebrate Constitution Day, the day in 1787 when the 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the last time to sign the document they had created. At The Art Institutes system of schools, Constitution Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on how the freedoms outlined in our Constitution apply in our creative arts fields.

Among other rights, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives US citizens freedom of speech and freedom of the press, something we in the arts community benefit greatly from. As a form of speech and expression, all art, including music, film, graphic design, photography, and more, are protected from government restriction. Using this right, individuals have employed their art to make important political and social statements that have helped our country to evolve throughout the years. Below are a few of the many examples where art has influenced societal beliefs and actions.

Civil Rights Movement

Some of the nation’s most striking and powerful imagery comes from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Much of the music and visual art created during this period not only reflected the societal and political turmoil, violence, and inequality of the time but also helped to increase societal awareness as well as to inspire increased community action.

Anti-War Movement

Art has long played a role in shaping societal views on war, from the creation of propaganda and war posters from World War I and World War II, to the Vietnam anti-war protest poster art of the 1960s and 1970s that pushed Americans to think more critically about US involvement. Although songs promoting peace have been created in reaction to essentially every modern war or conflict, music with an anti-war sentiment was especially prominent during the Vietnam War. Filmmakers also played their part through documentary footage of Vietnam antiwar marches, while other videographers and photojournalists captured footage from the battlefields that impacted perceptions of those back home in America.

Feminist Movement

The feminist art movement emerged in the late 1960s, helping to create new opportunities for women and minority artists, bringing more attention to personal, social, and domestic experiences, and paving the way for future identity and activist art. Feminist artists often created work using alternative materials and media, including textiles, video and performance—areas with less of a male-dominated precedent than other art forms. In the 1980s, the Guerilla Girls emerged, using posters, billboards, and other artwork to highlight the exclusion of female artists and artists of color from both museum collections and the film industry. 

In general, the treatment of women in media, films, and marketing also gained increased attention and study in the 70s and 80s, as women continued to grow their presence within this area of the creative arts, including sponsoring advertisements to raise awareness of feminist issues and the launch of the famous Ms Magazine.

What the Constitutional Right to Free Speech Means for You

While the examples above are from the 1900s, messages in design, film, photography, games, and more continue to shape our society today in 2017. As an artist, you have the power to not only create art, but also the freedom to comment on the world as you see it. Through your work and this right granted by the Constitution, you too can influence the beliefs and actions of those around you. Art is a powerful tool and The Art Institutes system of schools is proud to help you learn how to use it. 

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By: Georgia Schumacher

September 12, 2017