50 TITLES / 50 PERSPECTIVES: A Reader’s Guide to Art & Social Practice


If you think about how grand the concept/movement/idea of Art & Social Practice really is, it can be quite overwhelming. What started out as a grass-roots movement has also begun to infiltrate academia, creating even more ways in which people are thinking, researching and writing about the topic. With that in mind, I decided to create a reading list of 50 hand-selected titles that form a cohesive and well-rounded collection designed to reach a wide audience and aimed to define and understand the multifaceted field Broken City Lab’s engaged with.

During the selection process of this bibliography, I tracked down and read several published reviews and customer reviews from a variety of sources, and ensured that each title provided the collection with a different perspective or filled a necessary gap. For academic texts, I also tracked citations in order to determine their relevancy within the field. Therefore, whether you’re an artist, an academic, an educator, or just someone who is generally interested in learning what the heck Art & Social Practice is, you’ll be able to find a title or two to get your thinking started.

50 TITLES / 50 PERSPECTIVES: A Reader’s Guide to Art & Social Practice

Failure!: Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices



Antebi, Nicole, Colin Dickey, and Robby Herbst. Failure!: Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices. Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, 2007. Print.

A book of essays, interviews and artwork that traces the idea of failure through contemporary art, art protest and social practice.






Atkinson, Dennis, and Paul Dash. Social and Critical Practice in Art Education . Sterling, VA: Trentham Books, 2005. Print.

Emphasizes “the practical and critical” in art making, while using examples of art as social practice in times of social unrest to facilitate education.




Public Space: Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography : An Interpretation



Baird, George. Public Space: Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography : An Interpretation. Amsterdam: SUN, 2011. Print.

Provides insights into the use, identity and representation of public space from a variety of disciplines, particularly political and cultural theory.




Wildfire: Art as Activism


Barndt, Deborah. Wild Fire: Art as Activism. Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2006. Print.

Looks at ways in which academics blur the lines of art, activism and academia.  The book also looks at multiple art forms that address social change from different perspectives.  Also provides a Canadian and local context, as the author is visual arts professor at York University.



Collaboration in the Arts from the Middle Ages to the Present



Bigliazzi, Silvia, and Sharon Wood. Collaboration in the Arts from the Middle Ages to the Present. 35 Vol. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. Print.

Providing context outside of North America, this collection of essays is from British and Italian scholars discussing the concept and practice of social collaboration in the arts.



Taking the Matter into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices



Billing, Johanna, Maria Lind, and Lars Nilsson. Taking the Matter into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices. London, UK: Black Dog, 2007. Print.

Looks at art and social practice, and collaborative art from the practitioner’s perspective, rather than the theorists.






Bishop, Claire. Participation. Cambridge, Mass: Whitechapel, 2006. Print.

The book is a collection of articles looking at ways in which art can engage with life on a social and political level, with an emphasis on participation and community engagement.



Relational Aesthetics



Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2002. Print.

A defining and seminal text introducing the concept of relational aesthetics which takes art outside of private space and explores it in terms of human relations and social context.



Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader



Bradley, Will, and Charles Esche. Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader. London: Tate Pub., 2007. Print.

A reader which a collection of artists’ texts and critical writings that concentrates on providing a clear overview on the subject.




Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now


Bussard, Katherine A., Frazer Ward, Lydia Yee, and Whitney Rugg. Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now. New York: Aperture Foundation, 2008. Print.

Examines the street as subject matter, venue and source of inspiration for contemporary, socially-engaged art.




The Practice of Public Art



Cartiere, Cameron, and Shelly Willis. The Practice of Public Art. Hoboken: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Juxtaposes publicly-funded art to grass-roots socially engaged art practices.




Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization



Cauter, Lieven De, Ruben De Roo, and Karel Vanhaesebrouck. Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization. 08 Vol. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2011. Print.

Questions whether artists should be activists and what that means in terms of social responsibility.



The Practice of Everyday Life



Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Another defining text that examines how we interact with everyday life on an active level.




Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada



Cronin, J. Keri, and Kirsty Robertson. Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. Print.

Collection of papers that theorize connections between visual arts and oppositional politics predominantly from Canadian examples.



Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience



Da, Costa Beatriz., and Kavita Philip. Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.

Looks at how new technologies are beginning to influence socially-enagaged art, from the use of open-source software, to hactivism.




Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics


Deutsche, Rosalyn. Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics. Cambridge, Mass: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, 1996. Print.

The collection of essays focus on contemporary art, space, and political struggle, with an entire section dedicated to urban theory and the role of art within processes of urban change.



Cultural Planning: An Urban Renaissance?



Evans, Graeme, and MyiLibrary. Cultural Planning, an Urban Renaissance?. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Discusses how cultural planning can be a form of creative intervention and thinks about it ways in which terms of civic engagement.




But Is It Art? the Spirit of Art As Activism



Felshin, Nina. But is it Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism. Seattle, [Wash.]: Bay Press, 1995. Print.

Affirms that whether art is “art” is not important, rather, creative minds engaged with social justice is what is important.  It samples both activists and artists, to give a comparison and overview.



Dialogues in Public Art


Finkelpearl, Tom, and Vito Acconci. Dialogues in Public Art. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT, 2001. Print.

Presents a collection of interviews with individuals-artists, administrators, architects, a critic, a philosopher, a resident in a public housing project-who were involved in different ways with public art during the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s.




Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics



Foster, Hal. Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics. Port Townsend, Wash: Bay Press, 1985. Print.

Looks at ways in which art and politics emerge in postmodernism.




Conversations Before the End of Time



Gablik, Suzi. Conversations before the End of Time. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995. Print.

Uses an apocalyptic tone while addressing art as social 




Exercises for Rebel Artists: Radical Performance Pedagogy



Gómez-Peña, Guillermo, and Roberto Sifuentes. Exercises for Rebel Artists: Radical Performance Pedagogy. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes use their teaching and performance experience to create workshops that teach about radical performance in a social practice context.



Value, Art, Politics: Criticism, Meaning, and Interpretation after the End of Postmodernism



Harris, Jonathan.  Value, Art, Politics: Criticism, Meaning and Interpretation After PostmodernismLiverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007.  Print.

Provides a historical and postmodern overview, as well as through a post-colonial lens.



Education for Socially Engaged Art



Helguera, Pablo. Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. New York: Jorge Pinto, 2011. Print.

Acts a critical view of socially-engaged art by looking at its long heritage.  It is meant to be critical history for those who are engaged in the practice.




Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics



Hinderliter, Beth. Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Print.

An assemblage of essays about art historians, art theorists and cultural critics working at the intersections of art, aesthetics and politics.




Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society



Holmes, Brian. Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society. Eindhoven [u.a.: Van Abbemuseum, 2009. Print.

Looks at activist art from a geopolitical stand point, and cites examples from across the globe, which is overlooked in other titles.




Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices



Jahn, Marisa. Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2010. Print.

Presents texts from a variety of artists, activists, curators, and interdisciplinary thinkers that interrogate projects by cultural practitioners ‘embedded’ in industries, the government, and other non-art sectors.



Cultural Capitals: Revaluing the Arts, Remaking  Urban Spaces



Johnson, Louise C., and MyiLibrary. Cultural Capitals: Revaluing the Arts, Remaking Urban Spaces. Farnham, England: Ashgate Pub, 2009. Print.

An optimistic book about the power of the arts to enhance city images, urban economies and communities.



The Arts: A Social Perspective



Kaplan, Max. The Arts: A Social Perspective. Rutherford, N.J: Associated University Presses, 1990. Print.

Presents an optimistic assessment of how a turn towards creativity and the arts have led to sustainable urban development.  The urban development outlook on social practice in the arts is a nice contrast to the other more theoretical texts, and provides more insight for those interested in design or architecture.


Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art



Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern ArtBerkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

This book does not set out to only define and conceptualize community or socially engaged art, but to trace its antecedents in art history and locate it in relation to critical theory by providing a framework to evaluate it.



The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context



Kester, Grant H., and Inc ebrary. The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.

Provides an overview of the broader continuum of collaborative art, ranging from the work of artists and groups widely celebrated in the mainstream art world to the less publicized projects.


Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Spaces



Klanten, Robert, and Matthias Hübner. Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Spaces. Berlin: Gestalten, 2010. Print.

Looks at multiple artist’s personal project within public spaces, which is a shift from the focus of collective art in other titles.




Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism



Knight, Cher Krause. Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008. Print.

Compares art in public places and intervention art to art that is institutionalized.




Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes



Lord, Barry, and Gail Dexter Lord. Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes. Lanham, Md: AltaMira Press, 2010. Print.

An attempt to debunk how anything can be considered art, and why socially engaged art is valid.  An excellent starting point to begin thinking about these fundamental questions.



Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today



MacPhee, Josh, Deborah Caplow, and Eric Triantafillou. Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2009. Print.

A collection of contemporary politically engaged printmaking showcases art that uses themes of social justice and global equity to engage community members in conversation.



Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice: Inquiries for Hope and Change



McLean, Cheryl L. Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice: Inquiries for Hope & Change. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 2010. Print.

An action-oriented and transformative research text that points to a new path for hope and change while showing how the creative arts in inquiry and in action applied across disciplines can make a critical difference for individuals and society.



Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures



Miles, Malcolm, and MyiLibrary. Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Looks at socially engaged art from the perspectives of Marxism, feminism and ecology in relation to the city.







PSU MFA Social Practice – PSPJ ISSUE 1.” PSU MFA Social Practice. Web. <http://www.psusocialpractice.org/articles/>.

A brand new publication that is available free and online and features the newest scholarship that is coming out of the only program in North America that is completely focused on this topic.



What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art



Purves, Ted. What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2005. Print.

Thinks about how artists should be thinking about their role and responsibility as such, and how social practice can engage and affect peoples lives.




The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life



Thompson, Nato, and Gregory Sholette. The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. North Adams, MA: Cambridge Mass, 2004. Print.

Serves as a handbook to the new and varied work or interventionist art.




Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century


Raunig, Gerald. Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007. Print.

Argues that the most important contemporary art is made outside of the institution and has ties to social engagement, revolution and political action.





ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space and Social Consequence : A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice



Sacramento, Nuno, and Claudia Zeiske. ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space and Social Consequence : A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice. Berlin: Jovis, 2010. Print.

This book looks at curatorial practice of socially engaged art within “informal” spaces rather than traditional institutions.



Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture



Sholette, Gregory. Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise CultureLondon: Pluto, 2011. Print.

Focuses on cultural workers in terms of artistic production, which provides a Marxist view within the collection.




Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945



Stimson, Blake, and Gregory Sholette. Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination After 1945. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.

A collection of ten essays that demonstrate collectivist art social practice in the context of actual artist collectives.



Group Work



Temporary Services. Group Work. New York, NY: Half Letter LLC, 2007. Print.

Temporary Services are one of the most active and successful social practice collectives in North America.  Group Work compiles multiple perspectives of collaborative social practice from both artists, scholars, and even musicians.





Temporary Services. Public Phenomena.  Chicago, IL: Half Letter LLC, 2008. Print.

Public Phenomena is the result of over ten years of photo documentation and research of public interventionist art.




Journal of Aesthetics & Protest



The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest.” The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest. (2001 – 2012). Print.

The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest  is a Los Angeles based artists’ collective’s journal that “sits at the discursive juncture of fine art, media theory, and anti-authoritarian activism.”  It takes critical theory out of the academic or cultural institution.


Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011



Thompson, Nato. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011. New York, NY: Creative Time, 2012. Print.

A very new and current view and history of socially engaged art.  This title will work well as a historical introduction for undergraduates who are just beginning to research the subject.




Wu, Chin-Tao. Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1980s. New York: Verso, 2002. Print.

Looks at the opposite side of the spectrum and discusses how art is a commodity and has monetary value.  Contrasts well with the rest of the literature that focuses on the aesthetics of socially engaged art, rather than the inevitable business side of all artistic practice.  Also looks at art intervention within these institutions which brings the text back to a politically driven stand point.




Cultural Appropriation and the Arts



Young, James O. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. 6 Vol. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2008. Print.

Discusses the difference between copying art and stealing art in order to create new expressions.   Looks at ways in which artists have “stolen” bits of culture in order to appropriate them as social commentary, whether political or not.

21 Replies to “50 TITLES / 50 PERSPECTIVES: A Reader’s Guide to Art & Social Practice”

  1. Splendid list–I’m beginning to enter this conversation in my own work, as are some of my students, and I’ve already forwarded this resource along! A thousand thanks!

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