A Distinction between activist art and social practice
Any art, if done properly is part of a social ecosystem. Of course the agreed upon understanding about what social practice is goes further than that, focusing on the depth and complexity of human social mechanic and making work that performs insights and often directly intervenes in some social ecosystem. An example of this might be the distinction between Barbara Kruger and that of Suzanne Lacy. Kruger, the activist employs typographic methods to signal issues while Suzanne Lacy addresses issues with hands-on artistic interventions such as her 1994 “The Roof is On Fire”.
Direct intervention is one thing that sets apart activist art from social practice, a more activist art mode is often “about” an activist agenda employing art’s propagandistic side, intentional narratives to persuade, dissuade or direct.
Social practice on the other hand is characterized by being or becoming part of the narrative. Social practice gets involved and asks questions that professionals in the social service field might not consider (or have time to consider). The artist as interloper hopefully brings a fresh perspective brought about by the difference in priorities between artist and social worker.