Week 8: Thoughts on Dialogical Art for Social Change

Theory in Contemporary Art Since 1985, edited by Zoya Kucor and Simon Leung (Blackwell, 2005)

Conversation Pieces: The Role of Dialogue in Socially-Engaged Art

What I find interesting about the conversations of the high school students in The Roof is on Fire or Wochenklausur’s boat talks is that they create a whole new way of approaching political and social issues in the name of art. Since year dot various social structures have been created and not many have been successful.
Early modern philosophers rejected the idea of an aesthetic consensus achieved through actual dialogue with other subjects because it would fail to provide a sufficiently “objective” standard of judgment or communicability. In large measure this was due to the fact that they were writing in the epistemological shadow of a declining, but still resonant, theological world view. As a result the philosophical systems that hoped to compete with this perspective tended to simply replace one form of reassuringly transcendent authority (God) with another (reason, sensus communis, etc.). A dialogical aesthetic does not claim to provide, or require, this kind of universal or objective foundation. Rather, it is based on the generation of a local consensual knowledge that is only provisionally binding and that is grounded precisely at the level of collective interaction.
It seem the general concensus is that nothing works but democracy but politicians are corrupt so we’re all doomed. This doesn’t have to be the case, there are alternatives but all parties involved seem to want for the same result essentially. For instance with the boat talks even though all parties are coming from different backgrounds, points of view etc they all want the same thing, ie. get prostitute so off the streets. So perhaps these modes only work in situations where the artist carefully selects the particpants with the knowledge of how they will engage with each other. The author asks how these conversations can work to effect change, what is there to gin for each party? The answer is “connected knowing” discussed in Women’s Ways of Knowing by Mary Field Belenky. She and her co authors claim that
It is through empathy that we can learn not simply to suppress self-interest through identification with some putatively universal perspective, or through the irresistible compulsion of logical argument, but to literally re-define self: to both know and feel our connectedness with others.

The author documents the break away from art dependant on patronage and society to the one that works against it with the birth of Avant Garde.
Increasingly, avant-garde art sought to challenge, rather than corroborate, conventional systems of meaning, whether through Realism’s introduction of taboo subjects such as poverty and prostitution, Impressionism’s rejection of the norms of academic realism, Cubism’s even more violent dismantling of these norms, or Dadaism’s embrace of the absurd.
Perhaps people in this age can no longer be shocked and therefore to effect change the artist’s are finally getting right to the centre of the issues.


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