Lecture

16 December 2006

Artists as (Public) Intellectuals

Artists as (Public) Intellectuals considers how the definition of the term “intellectual” in a broader sense might be expanded by thinking of artists as “knowledge producers” and thus as a type of intellectual, and discusses the ethical, political, and social implications of defining artists in this way.

If we see artists as “knowledge producers” can they also be defined as “intellectuals?” What new concept of the intellectual might be necessary to encompass the kind of non-totalizing and diverse art practices that create knowledge? What implications would this have on the entrenched division between thinking and making or thinking and doing? In opposition to the classic definition of a “universal intellectual,” who is “authorized” to dispense truths, Michel Foucault suggested the term “specific intellectual.” As Gary Hall explains (quoting Foucault), this individual is a “‘savant or expert’ with a ‘direct and localized relation’ to knowledge… The specific intellectual thus represents a ‘new mode of the connection between theory and practice’.” Alternatively, we could speak of the “public intellectual” whose approach to knowledge could be seen as more accessible and inclusive. To paraphrase curator Charles Esche, perhaps the role of the artist today might be to be a generalist in a time of specialization.

Defining artists as intellectuals also has a number of implications for artists and their artistic practices. First, we ask whether this label implicitly devalues creative work or takes focus away from the formal or aesthetic qualities of art. Is the function of an intellectual one that artists are willing or interested in taking on? What could this mean for how artists position themselves in the cultural, social, and political realm? In what kind of public sphere do artists operate, and what strategies do they employ to seek out and address various publics? As Simon Sheikh wrote in Representation, Contestation and Power: The Artist as Public Intellectual: “We must therefore begin to think of artists and intellectuals as not only engaged in the public, but as producing a public through the mode of address and the establishment of platforms or counter publics… in opposition to the reigning cultural and political hegemony of the specific society.” Are there “modes of address” that are unique to contemporary art and if so, how can they retain their autonomy and oppositional character?

Suggestions from the archive

Education Program

23 September–28 October 2019

Course: Art and Politics (BAK Public Studies)

From 23 September until 28 October 2019, BAK organizes the course “Art and Politics.” In six weekly sessions, the participants learn about how contemporary art relates to the political in an accessible way. The course is taught by Maria Hlavajova, BAK’s general and artistic director. Deadline for registrations: 17 September 2019.

Education Program

8-29 October 2019

Course: Instituting Otherwise (BAK Public Studies)

Part of BAK Public Studies, the course Instituting Otherwise, which takes place at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst in Utrecht from 8–29 October 2019, focuses on the possibilities of the (art) institution within and in spite of the current political predicament. The course is taught by Maria Hlavajova, BAK general and artistic director. Deadline for registrations: 2 October 2019.

Education Program

14 December 2018

Mapping Histories: Conversing on Visuality and Subalternity

workshop by Lisa Ito

On 14 December 2018 art historian and activist Lisa Ito gives a workshop “Mapping Histories: Conversing on Visuality and Subalternity” as part of the Royal Academy of Art Non Linear Narrative master’s program. The workshop is held at BAK in the framework of Propositions #7: Evidentiary Methods—the public program in the context of the exhibition Forensic Justice.