Date of Award

Spring 5-2015

Author's School

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Author Department/Program

Graduate School of Art

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Visual Art

Degree Type



As intellectuals, artists must actively challenge societal power structures and the accepted way of thinking. Unless authority is questioned and discussed by the masses, the perception of power can segue almost seamlessly into actual power. It is the responsibility of the artist to disrupt these ingrained social systems through the work they create. According to Pablo Helguera, there are two different kinds of socially engaged artwork: the symbolic and the actual. While symbolic artwork focuses more on poetics and connecting with the audience, actual artwork emphasizes the functionality and applicable nature of the art. It is vitally important to blend these two forms of artistic practice. The symbolic form engages the public and evokes a response, while the actual form directs that response towards the physical fulfillment of social needs. There are a number of strategies and methodologies that I engage to address these social travails: context, dissemination, art as a media device, collaboration and the unsanctioned. When creating my own artwork, I take these strategies into careful consideration to most successfully engage the public.


English (en)

Program Director

Patricia Olynyk

Program Director's Department

Graduate School of Art

Committee Member

Zlatko Cosic

Committee Member

Zlatko Cosic

Committee Member

Noah Kirby

Committee Member

Ila Sheren

Artist's Statement

Michael Aaron Williams is a borrower and a hoarder. Perpetually torn between the white walls of a gallery and the enthralling rush of the unsanctioned; he borrows a context in both of these instances. Within the gallery, his work embodies a meditative, instinctual perspective on society and its ills. Cycles of power and cycles of conflict. These clashing structures that only serve to retard the productivity of the human race. In the public realm, Williams chooses not only to question these power struggles, but also to deconstruct and subvert cultural expectations. Whether these societal constructs are challenged on the surface of city walls in 15 countries around the world or at the local grocery store, Williams utilizes his work as a form of social experimentation and connection.

Williams’ studio is littered with torn pages and fractured bindings of the last two centuries. By surrounding himself with relics of the past, Williams draws upon an omnipresent need to connect with his heritage. He hoards remnants of the past to build a platform in which he can interact with the world. The utilization of context and focus on the audience has become an extremely important aspect of Williams’ work, permeating his entire artistic practice.

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