Raoul Hausmann, The Art Critic, 1919–20

Aesthetics and Politics: Mediating Experience and Social Transformation

Instructor: Gabriel Rockhill
620 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

What is the relationship between radical politics and art? Over the past century, this has been one of the key questions for thinkers engaged both in aesthetic thought and social transformation. During the early and mid-twentieth century, figures like Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Bertolt Brecht argued about the potential meanings and political contributions of realism, formalism, committed art, the avant-garde, autonomous art, and epic theater. Could radical art lead, provoke, or transform society? Would it be a part of a greater aesthetico-political apparatus? Was the revolutionary potential better found in new mass and popular arts like cinema? Across Europe art movements became part of political life and political life increasingly expressed an aesthetic vision of mass politics from Communism to Fascism, to the nascent forms of post-war liberal democracy.

Following the chaos of the World Wars, aesthetic and political thinkers alike had to confront new sets of questions about the relationship between aesthetics and politics as well as re-engage these older conversations. In recent years, Jacques Rancière has proposed to radically rethink art and politics as ‘distributions of the sensible’: instead of searching for the privileged link between art and politics, he has argued that we should understand them as fundamentally connected insofar as they produce the sensory frameworks mediating our perception of—and interaction with—the world. Meanwhile, cultural theorists like Stuart Hall have called new attention to the potentials in popular culture and “subculture,” while literary critics and post-colonial thinkers, like Edward Said, have emphasized the role of art and literature in imperialism and national imaginations. What does this long history of engagement with questions of aesthetic and political life have to tell us today?

In this course, we will explore the nuances of these debates surrounding art and politics, while keeping an eye on how these questions unfold in the twenty-first century. By addressing topics including the social stratification of the arts and popular culture, the nebulous world of power politics and financial manipulation, and the role of culture in imperialism and postcolonial resistance, we will explore how thinking about art and politics together can reshape the future of both.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 05 — April 26, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Open