Social Transformation through Art
Fine Arts as Global Perspective - HNRS 2113

Instructor(s): Megan Jacobs

Course Description

Art can reflect and alter the historical, social, and political framework in which it was created. We will investigate how art has been used as a tool to transform cultural perspectives, alter policies, and prompt social change from the 1950’s to present day. The Civil Rights movement, Women’s Liberation movement, AIDS epidemic, and environmental movement have had a direct impact on seminal artists and their methods of expression.

We will investigate a range of historic and contemporary artists whose methodologies, materials, and approach challenge cultural norms. JR, Ai Wei Wei, Vik Muniz, Alfredo Jaar, Mary Mattingly, and Mel Chin use mixed media, installation, photography, and performance art to confront economic systems, media representations, sexism, climate change, and censorship. Students will analyze the approach and material usage of historic and contemporary artists to further their own creative works.

During spring 2024, we will partner with the University New Mexico Art Museum to create political and social works about humans’ relationship with the natural world. Students’ creations will be made in dialogue with works on view from the museum’s collection. Through an investigation of materials and practices, students will have the opportunity to create works in dialogue with the themes of the exhibit Hindsight Insight 4.0. Students will develop a series of creative works, with an eye on climate justice, that promote social change through art.


Readings on the class website draw from the following sources among others:


  •   Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth and Katharine K. Wilkinson. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. One World, 2020.
  •   JR, Nato Thompson and Joseph Remnant. JR: Can Art Change the World?. Phaidon, 2015.
  •   Kaphar, Titus. "Can Art Amend History?" TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, April 2017,
  •   Lampert, Nicholas. A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements, The New Press, 2014.
  •   Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, New World Library, 2012.  
  •   Pultz, John. The Body and the Lens: Photography 1839 to Present. Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
  •   Wall Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Milkweed Editions, 2020. 
  •   Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth and Katharine K. Wilkinson. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. One World, 2020.


Course requirements will earn up to 1000 points distributed as follows:                                  

Participation and active engagement                        200 pts

Creative Exercises & Written Observations

     (40 points each @ 5)                                            200 pts

Oral Presentation + Class Leadership                        250 pts     

Creative Project #1: Museum “alter” piece                200 pts

Creative Project #2: Social Engagement Work          150 pts

About the Instructor(s): Megan Jacobs

Megan Jacobs (she/her) is an Associate Professor in the Honors College. Megan’s interdisciplinary honors courses range from a philosophical exploration of the good life, to evaluating art’s role as a socio-political tool, to exploring identity through photography. Broadly, her courses help students to hone their critical thinking skills in order to creatively construct their way in the world. Her teaching interests include fine art (photography, installation art, eco-art), design (design thinking, data visualization, exhibit design), philosophy (aesthetics, material culture studies), and fashion. Jacobs earned a BA in Fine Art from Smith College and an MFA from the University of New Mexico. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and has been part of exhibitions at Aperture Gallery, Saatchi Gallery, the Museum of New Art (MONA), The FENCE, Blue Sky Gallery, and Currents New Media Festival. Her work has been featured in Musée Magazine, Lenscratch, Feature Shoot, and Frankie Magazine.