A People’s Art History of the United States

250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements

Taking American art history out of the museum and into the streets, an “eye-opening, history-enriching, and superbly well-illustrated exposition of the union of art and activism” (Booklist)

“A much welcome, fresh view of American political art.” —Paul Buhle, co-author of A People’s History of American Empire

Inspired by the pathbreaking work of Howard Zinn, A People’s Art History of the United States is propelled by a democratic vision of art, showing that art doesn’t just belong within the confines of museums and archives. In fact, art is created every day in the street and all around us, and everyone deserves to be a part of it.

Called “important” by renowned art critic Lucy Lippard, A People’s Art History of the United States introduces us to key works of American radical art alongside dramatic retellings of the histories that inspired them. Richly illustrated with more than two hundred black-and-white images, this book by acclaimed artist and author Nicolas Lampert is the go-to resource for everyone who wants to know what activist art can and does do for our society.

Spanning the abolitionist movement, early labor movements, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and up to the present antiglobalization movement and beyond, A People’s Art History of the United States is a wonderful read as well as a brilliant tool kit for today’s artists and activists to adapt past tactics to the present, utilizing art and media as a form of civil disobedience.


“Written in accessible prose, Lampert’s wonderful book is suitable for the university classroom or the union hall, the anarchist bookstore or bedtime reading for teenagers. When teaching on art and social justice at the university level, A People’s Art History of the United States has become the go-to book on the subject.”
—Dylan Miner, associate professor, Michigan State University, and author of Creating Aztlán: Chicano Art, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Lowriding Across Turtle Island
“A much welcome, fresh view of American political art.”
—Paul Buhle, co-author of A People’s History of American Empire
“Inspired by the revisionist social histories of Howard Zinn, Nicolas Lampert’s A People’s Art History of the United States is an inspiration in itself. Looking beyond an art world framed by museums and markets, Lampert surveys American activist cultures from the colonial era to the present. His passion for social change and his optimism about creative and constructive resistance come on strong in this well-written and wonderfully illustrated book. Highly recommended.”
—Erika Doss, professor of American studies, University of Notre Dame
“As much as it is easy to say that there are many histories of art that aren’t those of the commercial system, the backing up of that statement with counter-histories is no small task. Here we have a tremendous contribution to a history of art that demonstrates how critical culture is to the production of people’s movements.”
—Nato Thompson, chief curator, Creative Time
“This book is an excellent jumping-off point for anyone unfamiliar with the powerful social justice roots of American culture, offering wonderful examples of historical points along the timeline of agitational American art. Lampert’s credentials as an activist artist give him an insider’s view of this important yet marginalized subject. It’s an antidote to the conventional ‘Art’ model where form dominates content and artistic creativity is reduced to marketable commodities.”
—Lincoln Cushing, author of All of Us or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area
“In an image-based culture such as late-stage American capitalism, political art is frequently deployed as a stand in for political engagement itself, with little explanation of the social context that drove the work into being. Nicolas Lampert gives us the stories behind the potent images that have changed the way we think about ourselves, which is the point in studying them in the first place.”
—Avram Finkelstein, ACT UP NYC
“By introducing the significant role that artists have played throughout the history of the United States, Nicolas Lampert offers readers the delight of returning to a familiar narrative and discovering a fascinating reinterpretation. This well-wrought interdisciplinary text demonstrates that artists do not merely respond to and record the events transpiring in their lifetimes; they also shape these events by applying the tools of their profession to accomplish clearly articulated political agendas.”
—Linda Weintraub, author of Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Art’s Meaning in Contemporary Society
“Historical amnesia is rampant in U.S. politics today, no less so in the visual arts, where the current wave of social practice art often suffers from a lack of awareness of what came before. This is an original piece of research, pointing us toward a vast territory of reconnection.”
—Suzanne Lacy, artist/writer, Otis College of Art and Design
“This is an important first volley in what I hope is an ongoing fusillade of people’s art histories. There are many more stories to tell, here and abroad. Those relayed by Nicolas Lampert offer models for an art that actively engages in and helps change the course of history.”
—Lucy R. Lippard, author of Get the Message? A Decade of Art for Social Change

News and Reviews


Truthout calls A People's Art History of the United States "fascinating" in their review.

Largehearted Boy

Nicolas Lampert's playlist to accompany A People's Art History of the United States on Largehearted Boy

The Indypendent

The Indypendent looks at art, political dissent, and A People's Art History of the United States

Goodreads Reviews