CALL FOR PAPERS: Art in Common(s) - Understanding Art and Communality

Experiences of art are mostly something we have together: we gather for the live moments of music and performative art, we mingle around exhibited objects at art venues in public and semi-public spaces, we embrace the togetherness in the dark of the cinema theatre, and even literature, the solitary nature of reading notwithstanding, is a matter of sharing imaginaries, which is probably why we have in turn always been so sociable about literature in an ongoing and ubiquitous conversation at dinner tables and conferences, in journals and reading circles. Our goings about art are communal, and encountering artworks is a particular modality of being together with other people. Moreover, the social encounters that take place around art often also delineate common spaces, zones of togetherness or zones of opposition, but always zones that differ from other social spaces. The mere existence of art, and all the different uses of art, instigate social relations and social forms with a potential import also beyond the traditional realm of art.

Easy as it is to recognize this imbrication of sociality and art—in so many guises, and in countless instantiations—it has never been a core piece in modern theories of art. Aesthetic experience has been described, analysed, and investigated with a stern focus on the relation between the artwork and the beholder, between the sensuous form and the sensitive appreciation. Much less attention has been given to the collective experience, and the experience of togetherness, at play in the uses of art. This one-sidedness is itself a historical legacy of modern art. According to Arnold Hauser, the mode of existence of artworks underwent a radical change throughout the eighteenth century from being objects commissioned by authorities to being commodities brought to the market-place and offered to anonymous buyers. Under absolutism, art was predominantly representative, celebrating sovereign and clerical powers in place, whereas in the new bourgeois context, the understanding of art came to focus less on its representative function and more on its aesthetic function. Hence, the modern understanding of artworks came to focus particularly on the qualities of the artworks themselves and the ways in which they are appreciated by their users.

But concomitantly with this new privatization of art experience, modern societies also developed a public discursive space where the experience of art could be made into a matter of common concern, as described half a century ago by Jürgen Habermas. The modern mode of existence of artworks, then, is really twofold: art is a commodity to be delectated (and fetichized, of course, as per Marx’s insight in the commodity form), and art is a matter of public concern. The traditional focus on the artwork as a source of individual experiences mirrors its role as a commodity that can be purchased in the marketplace and appreciated by a consumer. The focus on the artwork as a meeting place for an interested forum, on the other hand, highlights the way in which art actively participates in organizing commons and communities within the public sphere.

The ESSCS 2021 summer school is dedicated to this other side of art. What is the nature of aesthetic experience, when it is no longer considered as an address to me and to my particular sensation, but to us and to our common sensibility? What kinds of publics are being instigated by different artworks? What is a public in the first place, and how do publics emerge around publications, concerts, exhibitions, performances? Which forms of political agency come with the public nature of art? And how can the ways in which we gather around artworks inform our understanding of democracy and of being in this world together?

The summer school will introduce an array of approaches to better understand the intersection of art and communality, historically as well as theoretically, across different artforms, genres, and political situations. Through keynote presentations, workshops, master classes and paper sessions we will contribute to an ongoing discussion. The summer school welcomes students from the different disciplines studying art and culture as well as those concerned with the social modes of existence of art and the ways in which it contributes to our living together.

In the spring of 2021, students from the participating institutions are invited to take part in a preparatory online forum tasked with defining the formats and streams that will structure the conference event in the summer of 2021. To join the working group, please write to Ida Albert at Copenhagen University ( not later than November 23, 2020.

Final call and application deadline

The final call for contributions will be posted on February 15, 2021, and the application deadline will be March 29, 2021.