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Art History, Theory, and Criticism PhD: Discussing the Field


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Hi All,

This topic is for those who wish to openly engage in dialogue on research interests, why the PhD in art history (why not cultural studies, continental philosophy, or media studies), and any tangential discussions that break out.


To break the ice, I suppose I should go first, briefly.


As an artist, art educator, and art writer, I found art history in undergrad as an artist. It was really Dada, Surrealism, The Situationists, Joseph Beuys, and Andy Warhol that had a profound impact on my thinking. Reading, writing, and looking at art have long been important and art history has been a fascinating outlet for going deeper in cultural knowledge.


My interests are:




Visual Studies

Critical Pedagogy and Critical Theory

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality, Age, Ability, Education, and Language 

Social Justice

Art Education


The Educational Turn

Artistic Research

Social Practice

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That's a long list of interests!


Perhaps these are oversimplistic questions and reflect my ignorance, but how do you correlate postmodern and altermodern with social justice issues related to race, class, gender etc?


Or, do you really correlate them or do you see them as divergent planes where ideas of social justice are concerned, given that they are not really synonymous terms?


Do you feel that postmodern and altermodern perspectives approach the questions of social justice in different ways?


Further, as an artist, does your art flow between the postmodern and the altermodern, while experimenting with social justice?


I am not being critical in a negative sense, but just trying to understand all this further from your point of view.



Edited by Seeking
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These are good and very difficult questions to answer! I will likely not be able to do a good job here because I need to think a lot more about them (maybe years). I also want to know about your interests as well. Please lay those out if possible.


I am not an artist anymore. I made my last piece in 2003. If I had to pick what I am, I primarily identify as an art educator. I write about and research artists, art theory, education, and teach as a way of performing art history. As a practice, I am very concerned with social justice and critical pedagogy. Making art became less communicative and writing filled that void for me.


The Postmodern and Altermodern are pretty interesting in thinking about different ways of viewing cultural conditions and practices across the Humanities under capitalism. For me they signal a way of thinking about how cultural production and artist projects inform how we interact at various levels of culture. They serve as broad systems of historicizing and situating moments as being on some kind of trajectory. Postmodernity was viewed as a moment of confusion and contradiction and the Altermodern as examined by Bourriaud, is an attempt to say that culture has kind of picked up where capitalist modernism left off--a kind of continuation of a more linear project under new sensibilities put forth by decades of postmodernity and globalization.


Jameson wrote "postmodernism or the cultural logic of late capitalism," which directs this idea of modernity/postmodernity/altermodernity towards a condition being smacked by the confusion and disorientation of global capitalism.


For me, notions of social justice and race, class etc. cannot be separate when discussing cultural fields like art. Art and life are inextricably linked, they inform one another, so in following that logic--one's context (background) in conjunction with more external systems like political economy (capitalism and institutions) must be considered too. Art is made by people--people make up culture and the images, forms, circumstances, organization, and material in a given culture community.


There are really strange large confusing systems that govern us in the world--namely institutions that feed authoritative capitalism. In these institutions there are power holders with tremendous influence. In the art world, we can see this very clearly. 


I recently asked a really open and general question around social practice: Can art (or should art even try to) provide a way out of this strange life under capitalism (and the current art world)? What is the role of art today? What should the role of art be today?


A friend responded with points in which I enthusiastically agree:  "I am disinclined to divide discussions like this from class and race. What I mean by this is that so many power positions in US art schools, museums, galleries are held by people who are power evasive around these issues--color-blind racists, pro-capitalist exploitation (without admitting this) etc. Why would we expect this to be different in a country like the US with such an incredibly reductive electoral political system and such weak working class/racial justice/economic justice social movements? 

The whole movement to create the label "socially engaged practice" seems like a power evasive move designed to not deal with the realities of political economy. There is a really strong- and really weird new-agey quality to a lot of "socially engaged" practice that feels creepily akin to Scientology. While, I am certainly not against art moving out of the "art world"- I also think we need to focus energy on invading/occupying the institutions of the art world in ways that lead to dramatic changes in the power structures. Art Schools/departments would be great places to lodge a full scale democratization practice that seeks to de-corporatize the university."


Again, I am not doing a very good job here. I may have to revisit these after more thought.

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Thanks, Hal.


About me - I am interested in cultural theory in all creative disciplines - visual, performance - including cinematic and audio-visual - and literary arts.


I am interested in looking at theoretical models from a historical perspective. I feel theory without history is directionless and history without theory is not quite upto the mark.


At the same time, I try to engage in theoretical discourses in a simple, layperson's language. I feel there is no need to go obtuse in order to engage in theoretical discussion. In fact, in my opinion the mark of a great scholar is that s/he should be able to explain his/her complex innovative theoretical critiques in a language that any student just out of high school can understand. 


That said, I am a kind of an iconoclast - I am a follower of none. If I don't agree with a scholar/theorist/philosopher, I don't follow their ideas just because it's the in-thing to do so. I don't feel obliged to accept anyone's theories as the last word. I feel there can be no last word in cultural theory, or in any academic discipline for that matter. So, at some stage you may see me saying things that may sound outrageous. Beware.  <_<


Since this is a forum for Art History, let's stick to the issue of cultural theoretical criticism in relation to Art History.


The question of exploring the issue of social justice vis-a-vis the divergent ideas of Postmodernity and Altermodernity in the context of Art History, Theory and Criticism is an important one.


Since you have said you'll revisit this issue after thinking about it, I'll wait for your revisit.


Thanks again.

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Hi there,

I've been thinking more and I guess I am not considering notions of social justice in postmodern discourse of that of Altermodernity, as I see them as larger cultural currents that no one person decides on per se.


I think doing social justice in art history is really interesting because we see so many societal injustices playing out in the art world in art schools, art programs in universities, art museums, art galleries, auction houses, etc. These institutions really do exclude certain voices of color and class. Social justice for me is really looking at political economy and the systems that govern us--these kind of larger than life structures that seem unmovable and exploring how those impact race, class, gender, sexuality, language, age relations among people and the art viewing world.


My focus has long been on social justice education, which seems like a more ideal target because education is so tethered to culture and society at large, but we could and should say the same thing about art right? People, culture, society informs and shapes art theory, history, and criticism, so it is logical that we apply social justice to the art world and the field of art history as well.


If accepted, I want to focus my work on using a social justice and critical theory approach to critiquing Social Practice and certain performances of art history.



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