WP3 — My Fellow Prisoners

Matthew Risinger
9 min readDec 8, 2020


I used to hate art. It was something I avoided at all costs and was never something I even considered looking into as an interest. Funny how times change like that, isn’t it. Now art is something I cannot live without, in fact, I don’t know who I’d be without my art or art being in my life. It has redefined who I am, how I think and see the world, and the people I surround myself with. Art is at the essence of everything we as people do. I see it everywhere, it is like a pair of glasses seared into my eyeballs, except, I wanted the searing into my eyes to happen. Art answers questions, helps us tell stories, is our only explanation of countless history, and, perhaps most of all, equates us with one another. It doesn’t matter your background, we can both be awed by a work of art. Or we can both hate it, they pretty much have the same effect on the viewer.

In my WP1, I talk about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the impact it has had on my thinking and decision making ever since my 8th grade school year. Much of that piece of writing ties into the effect that art and design have on my perception of the world now. Much of what Plato references, breaking from your chains, seeing the light, and trying to help your fellow prisoners, is what you get from looking at art. These movements can be easily explained in art: Dadaism and Marcel Duchamp clearly express the idea of breaking from your chains and exploring how far art can be pushed in any one direction before it is rejected. Evidently, a sink urinal is that direction. Seeing the light is fairly clearly seen in the frescoes of ancient Rome and Italy, the works of David and Michelangelo illustrating beautiful religious scenes in an elegant and romanticized way. For them, they were casting light upon those believers, using the voice of God in a visual marker. Helping your fellow prisoners is seen today, in guerrilla propaganda through Black Lives Matter posters, Banksy works criticizing the elite and powerful, and local Instagram infographics that share information in bite size pieces. So much of what art is for me, isn’t the art, it’s the idea behind it. In order to first break from your chains, you need to recognize them, and Dadaism and my first semester at USC helped me to fully understand that.

In my WP1, I reference an old history teacher of mine, Mr. Zapler, who offered this interesting critique of the school system in my sophomore year history class, saying “No one is making you stay! Nothing stops any of us from getting up and walking out the door to do other stuff. So what, the dean calls mom? What really happens? Are you in control of your own life or are you really at the mercy of your parents and the dean?” While this example fits solely with a typical public school system of block scheduling and daily attendance and rules being enforced, the logic ties itself to art so strongly that I have a hard time ignoring it now. Dadaism rejected modern capitalist society. They used nonsense and protest in their works. Dadaist artists expressed their discontent with violence, war, and nationalism, and were close to the radical far-left. The whole point behind Dadaism was to prove that anything could be art if the artist declared it to be. This was to prove that if everything could be art, then nothing could be art. This outraged many artists as Dadaism deemed their labour intensive artworks meaningless. If we don’t yet see the connection between the two, let me help spell it out for us. Dada artists rejected the capitalistic, 9–5, material nature of society, much like the school system we currently employ in the United States. Dada artists pushed what could and couldn’t be art, sometimes too far for their own members. Mr. Zapler, flaws and all, is advocating the same thing. Reject the notion that you need to be here! Reject the idea that one slip of paper from Glenview, Illinois will ever grant you meaning in this life! Meaning is self ascertained, it cannot be awarded by a dean or a priest. Your time is valuable no matter how you use it, just like your art.

My art was valuable even before I thought it had its own worth. I mention in my WP2 that I used to hate art class, as I never followed directions or did what was asked of me. “I never liked art. I failed those classes throughout elementary and middle school. I often ignored directions, got frustrated at the arts and crafts aspect of art, or did something completely different than my class — or so I am told, I don’t remember these experiences very well.” Although now I view everything I create as an amazing piece of art thanks to my ego that protects me from harmful criticism, it was my Dad who told me that my middle and elementary school art was amazing as well. He often describes how he would receive art pieces I’d make with a failing grade, look at them, and be beyond impressed. He claims he never understood why I was failing, as the pieces I was making were dynamic, interesting, and distinct from those of my classmates. To my Dad, that is what gave my art value. I share that same notion now, too.

Seeing the light is the second key factor in my own intellectual discovery, and I am not even sure that I have seen it yet. As Jon Bellion, my favorite musician, has said “there’s levels to this onion, bitch.” I do believe there are some levels I have not discovered yet. Of the ones I have discovered, I like to believe that I can see the light outside the cave. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of finding the light, in my experience, is that it actually involves disconnecting from technology more than it pertains to re-engaging. The most prominent light I have found in this specific cave is that, although much of my career exists within a digital social media spectrum, so much more of my life exists outside of it. I am sure this comes off as me being a wanna-be hipster, but I rarely use my phone to share on social media when out with friends. So much more of it is about living in the moment. The photos of people hanging out? I never take those. I much more enjoy the memory of being with them. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate a commemorative photo of friends or look down upon those who celebrate in that way, I am more stating it is simply not my way of living. My experience has taught me that living with your friends in the moment holds so much more value than one snapshot. Watching as they open their cameras is like opening my third eye, as the world slows down as they click their buttons, I watch from behind seeing them all take photos. “Sure, that’d be a nice pic. It’s so cool seeing Miranda again, isn’t it” I often think to myself. The ability to disconnect in real time, when so much of my life revolves around being a slave to social media and the corporate machine that is sports and culture, is truly worth more than its weight in gold.

Seeing the light is about much more than one change though, it involves a lifetime of experience and internal reflection to really achieve breaking away from your chains and seeing the light. Although Plato had only one interpretation of Allegory of the Cave in his mind — his own — it has become to mean so much more. For me, seeing the light is more than simply achieving a level of enlightenment. Seeing the light can include finding the good in the bad or vice versa. As of late, this interpretation has held true for me. As I mention in my WP2, “The next 9 months won’t be easy, but you’ll be with those you love and be creating work that makes an impact. You helped defeat a fascist, have had your work on countless news sites, and are in a much better work environment now. Life is on the up. You’re creating daily, have rekindled your tinder, and see the future as ripe with opportunity.” This, as of late, and in a time of intense need, has been me finding the light at the end of my cave. In this passage, I go on to reference how hard life actually has been, and how desperately I need a positive change to help get us all back on track. This is finding the light. Recognizing the shadows that are being cast, but looking to the light for the good that exists within the shadows. It is only possible for shadows to exist if there is light being cast close by. A cheesy sentiment, yes, but one that offers solace to a nation and a world in need of some motivation. With so many suffering and losing livelihoods, loved ones, and a sense of comfort, looking for the good to soon come is how to get through the bad we are currently in.

Art is a reflexive practice. It is only as healthy and inspiring as its creator. Art does not need to be healthy to be good though, in fact, it is often most critically acclaimed when it pulls on strings that critics didn’t know the artists could find. Finding the light in the future is often a good way to find inspiration for art or pieces you have yet to create. Landscapes, figure drawings, and animations are often created out of an artists imagination, and having this positive mindset allows the artist to create these idealized versions of the future. Recognizing the struggle, however, is also important. The most effective way of finding and illustrating the struggle, however, is photography. War-time, depression, and refugee photography is among the most impactful art mediums about these subjects. My mind is often drawn to the wildly famous photo Dorothea Lange took of the homeless mother during the great depression. That photo, composed within seconds after asking a single question, exists in archives across the world as a perfect snapshot of the pain and labor those living in that era felt.

Lange’s photo did what many other art mediums and other news outlets could not: helping the fellow prisoners as it pertains to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In that shot, Dorothea Lange demonstrates the experience of millions of Americans at this time, enlightening those in power and helping to free other prisoners of the burden of making their position need to be discovered. Although much of Plato’s allegory is individualized, the aspect of attempting to free your fellow prisoners ties the idea into class consciousness and the awakening of the working American. My experience in attempting to help free the other prisoners of my cave still exists in an infancy, as it is the latest step of my own journey of discovery. My advocacy exists within my skills of art and design, acting as the creative director of and organization called Settle for Biden. Through the use of graphics, videos, paintings, and other forms of digital media, I have attempted to make positive change in the trivial system that is American politics. Although Plato would argue that I am still lost in my cave advocating for change in such a broken system, I do believe that good faith and efforts play a role in breaking free from your chains.

My fellow prisoners need the help to break away from their chains the same as I have begun to break away from mine. In my experience so far, the best way to do this is through selfless actions and donating your time, skills, and money towards a cause or causes you believe in. Art has helped me achieve this goal, as I have been able to turn my passion for art into actionable things that my fellow prisoners can use to escape their chains and eventually feel the sunlight. My quest to free myself from my shackles is far from over, but I do believe that I am on the way to finding the water and flowers outside my cave, as Plato describes, and heading back inside to help my fellow prisoners escape from their chains, and allow the cycle to continue for generations. Art has changed the way I view the world and the impact I want to leave on it, and Plato has aided me on this journey of self discovery.

Although much of my work currently revolves around both sports and politics, my own internal art practice, as being discovered through my college education, focuses much more on my own life experience and how I can apply that to a larger audience. The pain, grief, joy, excitement, and all other emotions that occur within a year can all be translated into beautiful works of art that any one audience member can feel and see. It is my hope that I will be able to convey these emotions, and one day allow to strangers to bond over a piece of art that they see. I hope they like it. Or they can both hate it, it pretty much has the same effect on the viewer.

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