Political and Didactic Art as a Feminist Strategy

Kelly Doley, Things learnt about feminism #1-95 2014 (detail). Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism 2017, installation view, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Photograph: Andrew Curtis

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Key Idea

The meaning of a work of art is always constructed in the mind of the viewer through processes of interpretation. However, artists can attempt to guide viewers’ interpretations to focus on specific messages. This kind of art is called didactic art – meaning that the artist is trying to tell the viewer something specific using art as their means of communication. Artists do this through careful selection, arrangement and combination of conceptual and formal content in their artwork. Didactic art can be explicit and obvious, or implicit and subtle, and it can be in any media. An explicitly didactic artwork might include text that literally spells out a message. For example the phrase “Stop War!” included in an artwork would be explicitly didactic. Whereas an implicitly didactic artwork concerned with the same message might depict a scene of the aftermath of violent, destructive conflict. Both could be said to deliver the same anti-conflict message strongly, but in very different ways. In both cases the viewer is arguably intended to make a personal connection between themselves and what is being communicated through the artwork.

By communicating a message through art, the artist is hoping to influence the way a viewer might think or feel after viewing the artwork. The reach of politics extends everywhere – encompassing moral, ethical, social and environmental issues, amongst countless others. The relationship of art and politics is various, complex and entangled. When an artist wishes to communicate an important, even urgent, political message, they can use their specialised knowledge and skills  as artists to draw attention to their chosen message through artwork in a unique way.

There are many reasons for choosing to make art to convey a message. An image or an object can tap into viewer’s emotions by being inspiring, uplifting, entertaining or devastating. For instance, artworks depicting the violence and devastation of war can bring a sense of visceral reality and emotional involvement to a viewer who has never actually experienced conflict first-hand. These strong emotions then become associated with the message, provoking the viewer to feel more connected to the issue than they otherwise might.

Key Definitions


The total complex of relations between people living in society.

Relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view. e.g. feminist politics, or office politics.[1]


Something that is didactic is intended to teach people something, especially a moral lesson.

Someone who is didactic tells people things rather than letting them find things out, or discussing things.[2]

Historical Touchpoints

Julie Gough, The Trouble With Rolf 1995. Courtesy the artist


  • If you made an artwork about an issue important to you, what would that issue be? And what would your artwork look like?
  • Design a poster to communicate a political idea. Concentrate on colour as the art element that you will use to invest your issue with emotion. Carefully select three key colours that will enhance your message.
  • Some people think important political issues should be discussed or written about in clear, didactic language, rather than in artworks, because the point of the message might be more likely to be missed in an artwork. What do you think? Argue three key points.


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics

[2] https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/didactic

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