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What Is an Art Intervention?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

An art intervention is a way of interacting with people, a work of art or specific area. It is conceptual art that, depending on the ideas behind the work, also may be performance art. The idea is that, using artistic expression, those involved "intervene" in normal activities or beliefs to initiate some form of change.

The goal of an art intervention is always to stimulate modifications to existing systems. The fact art interventions promote leaving current systems behind means that people sometimes consider art interventions to be a way of symbolically protesting something and challenging present authority. Depending on exactly what the interventionists want to do, these challenges sometimes require extensive work to obtain permissions and licenses. Even when proper authority is granted, interventionists may face resistance from the public, simply because their views go against the norm. As a result, interventionists often have to assert their rights to freedom of expression and speech.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Art intervention usually begins when an interventionist identifies a problem in some area. The problem could be a lack of awareness, hypocritical behavior in a specific arena, poor economic conditions or even a broader, harder-to-define issue such as closed-mindedness. The interventionist then brainstorms to establish possible ways of making a specific statement through artistic means. Two interventionists do not necessarily approach a given problem in the same way. Thus, the scope of the intervention primarily depends on the imagination and artistic vision the interventionist has, although resources and permission access can limit the interventionist's choices somewhat.

Once the interventionist knows the exact method he will use to make his point, he gathers the resources he needs, if any. The next step is to gather authorizations for using whatever space or resources the interventionist doesn't own. Sometimes interventions are able to stage unauthorized interventions, but the legal repercussions of unauthorized interventions, such as arrest for destruction of property or creating a public disturbance, are a major consideration. Lastly, the interventionist prepares and executes the art intervention, often with the help of others who may or may not be monetarily compensated.

As a basic example of an art intervention, suppose an interventionist identified the destruction of forests as an environmental problem needing attention. The interventionist might create an elaborate display using various plants, trees, realistic stuffed animals and audio of nature sounds. At a set time, he might invite people to set the entire display on fire or destroy it with axes, drawing attention to the fact that people are one of the biggest threats to woodlands.

Any time an interventionist stages an art intervention, he pays close attention to the way in which people react. The reactions of those involved give the interventionist a concept of whether his perception of a problem was accurate. It also shows the interventionist the different arguments associated with the problem addressed and thereby lets the interventionist analyze the results under a specific cultural lens. Additionally, reactions give clues about the next steps the interventionist might have to take.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - Most of the intervention art programs I've been involved in have been just wonderful though and have involved a great deal of planning so that they would avoid those problems.

One example I can think of is the initiative that went through my town recently where artists would knit cute hats and scarves to give to the homeless and basically anyone else who needed them.


@clintflint - I guess that's sort of the same as people creating big art installations and then just leaving them there to pollute the environment.

I've also heard of art interventions where the artists and performers did their best to scare or shock people who didn't agree to be involved. I understand that they think their cause is just and that people need to be informed or convinced, but I honestly think this kind of thing does much more harm than good for any cause.


I have to say that in some cases I feel like art interventions are worse than doing nothing. I've heard, for example, of people who have arranged to have prohibited literature or films dropped into places like North Korea, where censorship is incredibly pervasive.

But they are putting whoever receives their intervention at enormous risk by doing this and they aren't actually achieving anything more than drawing a small amount of superficial attention from the wider world.

It's definitely not worth the risk that people might be punished or even killed over owning forbidden items.

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