What's particularly perverse about the newspaper industry's race toward rock bottom in 2008 is the fact that it was an incredible year for news: the Olympics, the presidential campaigns, Obama, the economic crash, and two wars, on top of the usual crush of natural disasters and exposed crooks, closet cases, and hypocrites. Art has stirred from its slumber, too, with artists grabbing the world more tightly and shaking it. These are the shows of artists whose effects I really felt this year.

1 WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at Vancouver Art Gallery. It's tricky keeping art moral. There's something inherently, wonderfully amoral about art—it does nothing, really—but its stubborn independence is the same thing that makes it our only potential way out of this whole mess, the only moral thing we've got going. This huge historical exhibition, which is the first-ever survey of feminist art from 1965 to 1980 and is up through January 11, is not just a tribute to radically creative and creatively radical human beings, it is something that was missing from the world until now. It is also a tribute to people who were, and are, right.

2 Robert Irwin: Primaries and Secondaries at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Irwin is 80 years old and never better, and this retrospective had the double benefit of presenting the trajectory of his work back to his earliest abstract paintings as well as two major new installations. The show also was the occasion for what may be the best presentation of one of Irwin's signature discs ever—these things veritably hang in thin air when they're installed right, which is seldom. Irwin is, simply put, one of the most important artists alive. He makes you know that you and the world in front of you may be all you have, but that's all you need.

3 Dario Robleto at the Frye Art Museum. Robleto's art is made of wondrous items, things that make you believe they are not really what the wall labels say they are: crushed human bones, the powder of pituitary glands, woolly mammoth hairs, rain that fell hundreds of years ago, dolls made by Civil War amputees, bullets bit by soldiers in pain. In effect, Robleto's is the same project as Irwin's, although their works and their styles could not be more different. The point is to know that the world is both real and incredible.

4 The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti's Renaissance Masterpiece at Seattle Art Museum. For all the big-name, big-ticket stuff that paraded through SAM this year (impressionists and Old Masters, Roman sculpture from the Louvre, Edward Hopper's women, the long-awaited Coast Salish show), this show of just three golden panels from the Florentine baptistery—shining in a darkened room—was the only exhibition that was truly heavenly, truly worth its billing as a real live star.

5 Susan Robb: The Challenge Nature Provides at Lawrimore Project. Robb is a midcareer Seattle artist whose work is an act of devotion in the face of great discouragement. Her subject is nothing less than the state of the natural world, but her gestures in sculpture, installation, and video are as humble as the tiniest movement of a piece of wire attaching otherworldly flowers to a clump of crystals or the flying of a school of enormous garbage bags. This was her greatest show yet.

6 Multiplex at Western Bridge. Often what drives the shows at the private space Western Bridge are heart and humor (deriving from the style of director Eric Fredericksen and the taste of the collectors the Trues—this found its apex in the 2007 show Insubstantial Pageant Faded), but in this case, what we got was breadth. A survey of the last 10 years of video-making, here in fine form was the world of video with all its possible connections and possibilities: glossy cinematic production (Isaac Julien), random documentary action identified and captured as vernacular choreography (Dara Friedman), high jinks caught on tape (Jack Daws), rapturous painterly abstraction (Takeshi Murata). A new meaning for the word "multiplex."

7 This Is the Worst Trip I've Ever Been On: Acculturation in a Pre-Apocalyptic Age by Anne Mathern and Chad Wentzel at Crawl Space. These two best friends—each quite the artist—made each other even better with a show about distance, longing, separation, and translation. Sound, sculpture, photography—whatever it took, including Wentzel and his sister singing "Dona Nobis Pacem" over a speakerphone.

8 Don't You F#{%ING Look at Me!: Surveillance in the 21st Century at 911 Media Arts Center. The story of this show is that a great idea has its own power; it doesn't need big budgets and fancy galleries. You even had to stand in a hallway to watch one of the works in this little survey, in which the London artist Manu Luksch introduced the concept of CCTV filmmaking. Because 911 Media Arts Center is so out of the way, I found myself entirely alone in a theater, watching Gary Hill's 2003 masterpiece Blind Spot, in which a man and a camera do silent battle, feeling like the luckiest person alive.

9 Home Field Advantage by Matt Browning at Crawl Space. Best artist debut this year. He's got a sense of humor and a sense of history, and he united middle-school chalkboards, baseball, monochrome painting, abstract expressionism, and knitting in the space of six-by-nine inches in a single, intensely lovable object made from the yarn of deconstructed baseballs.

10 12 Views by Claire Cowie at James Harris Gallery. This Seattle painter's work has never been so exquisite or so much about death, but in an open, white expanse of space sort of way. There was curiosity and loss in these 12 separate paintings of multicolored imaginary landscapes. They connected in an implied horizon line that followed all the way around three walls of the gallery like a 19th-century panorama. And the trees: dendritic wonders. recommended