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This ain’t the Sistine Chapel

Contributed by

“We have no art. We do everything as well we can.”

Balinese saying
In Sum

Sky-high artistic expectations can not only slow you down, but can also critically impair execution of your tactic and strategy.

As artists, we often have the desire to produce the most beautiful, provocative and breathtaking piece of art we can. This can be a wonderful thing — sometimes. Other times, it’s more important to get something out into the world that’s just beautiful enough to do the job, and then move on to strategic necessities.

Here are a few cases when seeking perfection could backfire on you:

• When building community is a key goal of your project, creating a high bar of perfection can discourage broad participation.

• When you have that Oh shit, it has to be done in 24 hrs! or We need a small army to get all this done! moment of panic, it might be better to wrap it up and move on to other tasks.

• When you are out of money or other resources, or on the verge of depriving other essential parts of your action of being funded or resourced.

• When the banner or prop will be viewed from hundreds of feet away or is not the centerpiece of the action.

• When the prop will be smashed as part of the action or taken into custody by the cops.

In short, if it’s in your strategic interest to spend all your time and/or money on the “artfulness” of your action, then go right ahead and do it. But if painting the Sistine Chapel undermines your effectiveness, then do only what is strategically warranted and save your sanity and energy.

HOW THE OPPOSITE IS EQUALLY TRUE: There are times when quality really does matter, and an appropriate attention to detail will get you the respect and the response you desire.


Nadine Bloch is currently Training Director for Beautiful Trouble. She is an innovative artist, nonviolent practitioner, political organizer, direct-action trainer, and puppetista. Her work explores the potent intersection of art and politics; where creative cultural resistance is not only effective political action, but also a powerful way to reclaim agency over our own lives, fight oppressive systems, and invest in our communities — all while having more fun than the other side! Her affiliations include work with Greenpeace, Labor Heritage Foundation, Nonviolence International, Ruckus Society, HealthGAP and Housing Works, and Bread & Puppet Theater. She is a contributor to Beautiful Trouble book and We Are Many, Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation (2012, AK Press). Check out her monthly column on WagingNonviolence, “The Arts of Protest.”


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