Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2018

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Laurie E. Hicks

Second Committee Member

Owen F. Smith

Third Committee Member

Michael Grillo

Additional Committee Members

Susan Groce

Joline Blais

Carol Ayoob


As art has become more and more coopted in globalized capital, and the role of art as labor has become more and more obscured by questions of class and increased technological reproduction, socially engaged art (SEA) is a gesture toward the reclaiming of art as communal (and therefore inherently class-conscious) event. By a careful analysis of the role of the market in the identification of something as art, and the role of celebrity as a function of such a christening, I take a critical stance as a basic methodology for what is ultimately a class-based analysis of art, as suggested, for instance, by the work of Ben Davis. It is only by the careful working out of such class assumptions regarding not only art, but the act of writing about art, and certainly the act of writing about art in a dissertation within an institution that bears authority regarding the establishment of art practices, that the ground can be cleared for a constructive argument. This is an argument that has only gained in force in the art world itself as more and more artists have sought to create artistic experiences outside of the normative function of the gallery or the power structures of the university. By examining the class structure of art practice, the dissertation will assess the role of art as labor, and the role of art in production of community cultural development. Through various socially engaged projects, I analyze art not as an objectoriented means of production within a system of commodities, but as the encapsulating “house” of community. As such, art practice is that which opens onto self-realization of the collective within the horizon of the new. This, it should be noted, is also most often today seen as the role of science. The position of the expert haunts both art and science, but whereas it is a burden for art to carry such a vestige of neoliberal enlightenment, science readily accepts the figure of the expert in science as the one who enlightens. In this way, both art and science make truth claims, but science—in its aspects as cultural guardian of positivism—leads into a labyrinth of technology; art, on the other hand, leads into the open. Education, therefore, is not something that teaches art, but is in itself an art practice, a socially engaged practice that is fully in keeping with a class-based notion of art. Through the communal production of knowledge, art again has a particular truthvalue that is established through communication. Art is both an inherently political discourse, but also that discourse which is established through the creative and intimate space of silence (again, a space that is foreclosed through the vantages of power). Through education, through the juxtaposition of “class” and “Class,” art establishes a radical aesthetics, in the old sense of radical—getting to the root. This radical act, then, is the radical act of site-specificity of the immediate temporality that constitutes the practice. As a landscaper prior to beginning my art practice, I understand art as “earthwork,” the tending and nurturing inherent in gardening, but also the clearing necessary for such an event to take place. As I have suggested, this is exactly what is required for art as radical rootedness to come to the fore. Art is a temporal modality of being: it is inherently futural in its activation, though rooted in the past. That is what has drawn me to print as propaganda, knowing its rich history, but also its possibility as what Carse calls an “infinite game.” Art is a necessary communal practice that has been coopted to support the logic of late capitalism. This has uprooted it into the flow of commodities through the art market. Experimental practices such as socially engaged art are necessary to destabilize and undermine this power structure to retain the grassroots, radically democratic nature of art.

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