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Aesthetics and Politics

How is aesthetics relevant to politics? Why study aesthetics in terms of the political? Is an artist ever independent from political reality? Can aesthetics influence environments and our lived experience? Is it possible for aesthetics to become institutionalized?

Bloomsbury Philosophy Library includes a selection of primary texts, secondary literature and exclusive articles connecting aesthetics and politics.

The featured content below focusses on theories of aesthetics and politics from a variety of time periods and cultural contexts, providing examples across a range of art forms.


Portrait of Friedrich Schiller by Anton Graff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction to Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man: In a Series of Letters, by María del Rosario Acosta López

Friedrich Shiller offers a powerful example of the ways in which philosophy can speak to its time and become a relevant form of critique. As an artist, Schiller understood his practice as a way of denouncing, subverting and interrupting what he saw as the forms of violence inhabiting his present. As a philosopher, he sought to clarify the sense in which this suspension, interruption, or resistance against violence can take place aesthetically.

In this new introduction to Schiller’s letters, María del Rosario Acosta López’s shows how approaching Schiller on his own terms, and following his own historically located concerns, we can arrive at a reading of his Aesthetic Letters as timely as ever.

You can read the introduction here.


Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man

For Schiller our aesthetic frameworks are always already intertwined with the social and political context we live in and they are transformed by it in ways that, in turn, transform our ways of perceiving and understanding the world around us. An attention to the aesthetic as condition of possibility of our experience means therefore, for Schiller, also an uncovering of the kinds of structures that quietly and unperceivably end up a-critically determining the way we act and interpret reality altogether.

This is the reason why, for Schiller, there is no political revolution without a revolution in the way we feel and sense the world. Or, put the other way around, our sensibility and sensitivity to the world are already determined by mechanisms of control and power which condition us in a certain way; they are as historically determined as everything else.

Aesthetics, in Schiller’s work, is the critical outlook par excellence. It is not merely one more topic in addition to ethics and epistemology, as it is for Kant; instead, it opens up and makes possible another ethics and another epistemology, new and distinct ways of knowing, feeling and relating to one another.

Read the Second and Third Letter here.


Front cover of Political Aesthetics

Political Aesthetics: Addison and Shaftesbury on Taste, Morals and Society, Introduction

The 18th century is often said to have involved a radical transformation in the concept of art: from the understanding that art is tool for some practical purpose, to the modern belief that it holds a distinctive and intrinsic value. By exploring the ground between these notions of art’s function, Karl Axelsson reveals how scholars of culture made taste, morals, and a politically stable society an integral part of their claims about the experience of nature and art.

Axelsson re-examines the political relevance of theories by two of the most prolific men of letters in the eighteenth century, Joseph Addison (1672–1719) and the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Axelsson shows that they were, first and foremost, seeking to fortify a natural link between the aesthetic experience and the consolidation of modern political society.

Political Aesthetics is a wonderful re-write of the history of early eighteenth century British aesthetic thought.

You can read the introduction here.


Front cover of The Bloomsbury Research Handbook to Indian Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

The Bloomsbury Research Handbook to Indian Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

This one-of-a-kind collection imitates the heterogeneity of Indian aesthetic experience in its unusually diverse range of topics. Not only does it cover contemporary scholarly, historical, creative and comparative extensions, criticisms, and transcreations of “rasa” theory, it presents a philosophy of artistic practices across a wide range of genres - epistemology, phenomenology, ontology, ethics, and politics.

Each essay affords a glimpse of the original philosophical research of a leading thinker in the field of Indian aesthetics right now in early twenty-first century. More than a history of Indian aesthetics and survey of Indian philosophies of art, these essays add new waves to the ocean of Indian reflections on art, aesthetic experience, and practice.

Mahatma Gandhi is widely perceived to be indifferent if not opposed to aesthetic experience. An icon of uncompromising moralism, Gandhi led a sparse life, in the austere surroundings of his ashrams and is assumed to be opposed to aestheticism and the arts that flourish in leisure. Openly critical of Western civilization and its seduction of the senses, Gandhi can be imagined to be out-Plato-ing Plato in denigrating the shadow-world that movies immerse us in.

‘Towards a Gandhian Aesthetics’ explores Mahatma Gandhi’s outwardly dry but inwardly highly emotional aesthetic life, enriched by his relationship to medieval devotional poetry and the Hindi poet Tulsidas.

You can read Tridip Suhrud’s essay here.


Front cover of Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics

Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, Jacques Rancière, translated by Steven Corcoran

Dissensus comprises a series of articles written by Jacques Rancière between 1990 and 2008 in which we learn about two of his most important concepts: the “aesthetics of politics” and the “politics of aesthetics”. The aesthetics of politics refers to the power of dissensual practices which can manifest social change. These are actions in which collective subjects’ exercise their equality and the way in which it is threatened through popular organizations in which existing rights are deployed or new ones are created, to assert denied entitlements and challenge conditions of injustice, creating institutions that allow for the expansion or creation of egalitarian possibilities. For Rancière, emancipation refers precisely to this demonstration of equality that anyone can put into practice, in various manifestations of their capacity.

In this illuminating collection, Rancière engages in a radical critique of some of his major contemporaries on questions of art and politics: Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou and Jacques Derrida. The essays show how Rancière's ideas can be used to analyse contemporary trends in both art and politics, including the events surrounding 9/11, war in the contemporary consensual age, and the ethical turn in aesthetics and politics. Rancière elaborates new directions for the concepts of politics and communism, as well as the notion of what a 'politics of art' might be.

You can read chapter 9, ‘The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes’, here.

You can read more about the life and work of Jacques Rancière here.


Front cover of Laruelle and Art

Laruelle and Art: The Aesthetics of Non-Philosophy, Jonathan Fardy

The first academic monograph dedicated solely to Laruelle's unique contribution to aesthetic theory and specifically the 'non-philosophical' project he terms 'non-aesthetics'. This undertaking allows Laruelle to think about art outside the boundaries of standard philosophy, an approach that Fardy explicates through a series of case studies. By analysing the art of figures such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Anish Kapoor, Dan Flavin, and James Turrell as well as the drama of Michael Frayn, Fardy's new book enables new and experienced readers of Laruelle to understand how the philosopher's thinking can open up new vistas of art and criticism.

You can read the introduction here.


Front cover of Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Visual Art

Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Visual Art, Edited by Ian Buchanan and Lorna Collins

Schizoanalysis holds that art's function is both political and aesthetic – it changes perception. If one cannot change perception, then, one cannot change anything politically. This is why Deleuze and Guattari always insist that artists operate at the level of the real (not the imaginary or the symbolic). Ultimately, they argue, there is no necessary distinction to be made between aesthetics and politics. They are simply two sides of the same coin, both concerned with the formation and transformation of social and cultural norms. Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Visual Art explores how every artist, good or bad, contributes to the structure and nature of society because their work either reinforces social norms, or challenges them. From this point of view we are all artists, we all have the potential to exercise what might be called a 'aesthetico-political function' and change the world around us; or, conversely, we can not only let the status quo endure, but fight to preserve it as though it were freedom itself.

Edited by one of the world's leading scholars in Deleuze Studies and an accomplished artist, curator and critic, this impressive collection of writings by both academics and practicing artists is an exciting imaginative tool.

You can read the introduction here.