Art As Social Inquiry combines art and advocacy as a way to engage audiences. Theresa BrownGold is the painter/writer/songwriter/performance artist behind Art As Social Inquiry.

I have often wondered why so many good people have such different and divisive opinions. Art As Social Inquiry asks the questions: Are we our opinions? Or are we something more? Then what? What is beyond the emotional charge of our opinions? And how do we get there?

Art As Social Inquiry — What is it?

Art As Social Inquiry — an artist-at-work painting portraits of real people whose lives embody the social issues of the day, issues like access to healthcare, immigration, how we die.

The artist did not expect the project to take her on a personal journey into compassion’s many layers — one epiphany after another because she was earnestly trying to understand others’ plights. Then one day the granddaddy of all eureka moments happened. She understood the way to self-liberation through compassion. In her many talks, the artist shares her personal stories about her discoveries and the portrait stories that made them possible. 

The artist also uses songwriting and performance art, two more art-making tools, to help us see ourselves in the bigger world, and the opinions we cling to. 


I want human suffering to stop. We all feel it. We anesthetize ourselves with whatever distractions — activities, acting out, or chemical self-numbing — to not feel our connectedness that exposes omnipresent human suffering. When we stop running from that connectedness, we give ourselves a chance to know our true nature – peace. Practicing compassion is radical self-love masquerading as giving to others. Art As Social Inquiry is a first step to understanding others’ plights. And a first step to our personal liberation. What happened to somebody else CAN happen to us. When we run from this fact, we are running from ourselves.


The paint’s luscious color and texture pull us into the stories. From this safe perch, we can learn and FEEL what it’s like to be priced out of the insurance market, be uninsured, and in desperate need of medical care, for example. And then we have a choice. Become part of the solution from a knowing place or find ways to convince ourselves that others’ pain does not affect us. Sometimes being part of the solution is just a compassionate smile or a hand-squeeze acknowledging someone’s situation.  They know they are not alone.

Our opinions affect our actions. Art As Social Inquiry unearths those opinions. 

The portraits/songs/performance art offer themselves up as recipients of uneasiness, justifications, political correctness, rationalizing, embarrassment, rage, sadness, compassion, hate, fear, hope, anxiety…whatever. The art will not yell back. But we can observe ourselves reacting to the faces and their stories, and perhaps reflect. Behind every social issue is a real person.

The hope is that personal connections are forged between the viewers and the subjects’ stories. What if what happened to somebody else — the “other” — happened to us? To even ask is a compassionate act. If we see ourselves in another’s place, we become part of the solution. Opinions are colored by the understanding that what happened to somebody else can happen to us. And if that is the case — and it is — what solutions would we want? 

Opinions are colored by the understanding that what happened to somebody else can happen to us. And if that is the case — and it is — what solutions would we want?

Theresa asks her subjects about their experiences trying to get healthcare.  The project puts a face to the sometimes very difficult and often impossible task of getting access to healthcare.  The artist uncovered tales of medical bankruptcy, insurance claim denials due to preexisting conditions, and even death due to lack of access to healthcare.  The visual drama of the large portraits makes the subjects approachable, and their stories personal.  Art As Social Inquiry hopes to refocus the healthcare discussion through the lens of compassion.  The artist has teamed up with advocacy groups and taken the portraits to senior centers, churches and other venues as a way to explain the healthcare law.  She has also used the portraits to demonstrate publicly at the US Supreme Court and Capitol in Washington D.C. to bear witness for her art subjects.

In  her art project, How We Die, the artist uses art to investigate how people actually die, what they fear, and how different cultures around the world view death, though not all deaths are physical. The Dina Nina Martinez portrait is a transgender woman’s story of shedding a persona — a dying — to get to her true self.  The artworks show us our fears and cultural conditioning, and tacitly ask, “How could we more fully live if we are not afraid to die?”

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