Accepted paper:

The revolutionary practice of art theory: pedagogical diagrams for art and social change since the 1960's


John Cussans (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I discuss the pedagogy of diagrams within contemporary art as a consequence of the transformation of the field since the 1960's and the recent Educational Turn in the arts. I ask what parallels might be drawn between these changes and the Ontological Turn within anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

Since their transformation in the 1960's, contemporary art and arts education in the UK have been characterised by an increased dependency on 'Theory', a shorthand term used to contain an eclectic body of thought, drawn from a range of academic, non-art disciplines (notably anthropology, continental philosophy, critical theory, cultural studies, cybernetics, economics, feminism, linguistics, Marxism and psychoanalysis). Such alignments were not new, as modernism, particularly in its revolutionary and avant-garde modalities, attests to. What was new was contemporary arts' systemic deconstruction of its own traditional media and formats, a critical engagement with the implicit ideologies informing its practices and institutional dynamics, and an increased attention to collective, socially-engaged, performative, conceptual and dematerialised modes of practice. It is this shift, I propose, that lays the foundations for an attention to the diagrammatic in the practice of contemporary art and arts education. The 1960's also marked the beginning of a pedagogical mode of artistic practice, typified by Joseph Beuys' Information Action performance at the Tate in 1972. This shift towards teaching as a mode of artistic practice has culminated recently in the so-called Educational Turn within the arts, where teaching, alternative pedagogy and the creation of spaces for alternative arts education have been framed as works of contemporary art in themselves. In this paper I will consider how attention to the diagrammatic within contemporary arts practice and pedagogy relates to these earlier and recent phase shifts, and how these changes might be understood in relation to the Ontological Turn within anthropology.

panel Pol06
Diagrams of revolution: an experiment with social and material morphologies