When Art Breaks the Law | Summary and Q&A

May 15, 2014
The Art Assignment
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When Art Breaks the Law


Law-breaking in art can be socially and artistically constructive, as seen through historical examples of artists challenging societal norms and expressing political dissent.

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Key Insights

  • 🥰 Modern art, particularly during the modernism and postmodernism periods, often pushed the boundaries of acceptable behavior and challenged societal norms.
  • 💖 While law-breaking art may not always be good art, it can be a powerful tool for drawing attention to injustice and sparking conversations on social and political issues.
  • 💁 Artists like Pussy Riot and Ai Weiwei have used law-breaking as a form of protest and activism against oppressive systems of government.
  • 🧑‍🎨 The ethics of law-breaking art are complex, and its impact depends on the intentions and societal context of the artist.


Here at The Art Assignment, we're big fans of not breaking the law as we point it out several times when signing off. Please don't break the law. Please don't break the law. And please don't break the law. Don't break the law. SARAH URIST GREEN (VOICEOVER): After the Meet in the Middle and Stakeout episodes, many of you expressed concern about tres... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the concept of law-breaking become associated with avant-garde art?

The term "avant-garde" originally described artists who served the needs of everyday people rather than the rich and powerful. However, it later became associated with artists who broke the rules of art, using abstraction and unconventional techniques.

Q: Is law-breaking art always good art?

Not necessarily. While law-breaking art can be provocative, it is not always inherently interesting or impactful. However, when it brings attention to questionable ideas and government systems, it can be seen as important for sparking conversations about injustice.

Q: What were Pussy Riot's motivations for breaking the law in their performance?

Pussy Riot's performances, such as their 2012 performance in a Moscow church, were meant to challenge unjust laws protecting religious spaces in a supposedly secular society. They also criticized the interference of the Russian Orthodox Church in politics and human rights issues.

Q: How has Ai Weiwei used his art to challenge the Chinese government?

Ai Weiwei's art encompasses sculpture, installation, photography, and video, but his greatest artwork may be his blog, which served as a platform for social and political critique. By conducting a citizen's investigation into the Szechuan earthquake, he openly questioned the government's responsibility for the poorly constructed schools that caused many deaths.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The video explores the concept of law-breaking in art and acknowledges the concerns raised by viewers about trespassing or violating privacy in previous art assignments.

  • It highlights how art history has seen instances where breaking the law has been pivotal in creating impactful and thought-provoking art.

  • The video discusses artists such as Chris Burden, Pussy Riot, and Ai Weiwei who used law-breaking as a means of social and political commentary and activism.

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