Arts, Ontology and Politics

Date: 25 - 31 August 2021

Location: Stadscampus, University of Antwerp, Belgium

Course description

The meaning of art is not obvious in contemporary visual culture. We can no longer take for granted that it is simply about creating beauty. Nor can we say it is about provoking critical reflection, since this fails to explain why art is necessary for this reflection. Since Walter Benjamin’s essay on the artwork, it has generally been accepted that the development of reproduction technologies has changed the meaning of art. In an era in which all individuals have become the demiurges of their own images and visibility, the question of how to distinguish artistic creation from this visual production has become difficult to answer.

In the wake of the postmodern theory of art, three concepts are dominant in contemporary art discourses. First, the notion of event: the artwork has an ‘evental’ character within a situated, social context. Second, the notion of materiality: the artwork draws attention to its own materiality, exposed in all its fragility beyond the familiar horizons or practical uses in the world. Third, the notion of art’s singularity or irreducibility: the process of artistic creation can only be designed and evaluated on the basis of choices and criteria that are intrinsic to this process. Needless to say, these three concepts point in very different directions and do not in themselves clarify the meaning of art today.

The aim of this summer school is to explore the social meanings and the critical potentialities of artistic creation today and to discuss the contemporary theories that intend to account for it. The starting point for this exploration is the legacy of Foucault’s discourse analysis, which treats the entanglement of artistic creation in power relations, and Levinas’s understanding of aesthetics, which strictly separates the transcendence of a work of art from the transcendence of ethics. We welcome student contributions (Master or doctoral level) that examine how and to what extent this double legacy is still at work in contemporary approaches to the relations between aesthetics, ontology and ethics/politics.

With a consistent programme of guest lectures, close reading seminars, debate classes and an evening programme with a film screening, a visit to the MuHKA Museum and a debate evening with contemporary artists.

Keynote Speakers: To be announced

Academic Coördinator: Arthur Cools

Organizing Committee: Arthur Cools, Jan Bierhanzl, Pascal Gielen, Geoffrey Dierckxsens, Leen Verheyen and Sebastian Müngersdorff

Course schedule

Soon to be announced.

Target group

​Master students in philosophy, but open to advanced Bachelor, Master and PhD students in philosophy or a closely related field. Participants should have at least completed two full years of undergraduate education (Bachelor level). PhD students in the arts can also apply. The number of participants will be limited to 20 students.

Study credits (ECTS)

​6 ECTS credits are awarded upon successful completion of the programme.

Students need to attend the scheduled course contact hours, perform satisfactorily in the continuous assessment task of the course (including presenting the research outline for your individual paper and a following debate class) and complete the final assessment task (an individual research paper due four weeks after the end of the summer school) in order to qualify for a certificate of completion. 

Participants who attend the scheduled course contact hours but don't complete the tasks will receive a certificate of attendance.

To include the credits in the curriculum at the home institution, participants need an agreement with the responsible person at the home institution.

Course literature

All study materials will be made electronically available two weeks prior to the start of the summer school.

Social programme

​To keep the minds fresh and to maximise interaction, a wide variety of fun and interesting social activities will be organised during evenings and weekends so participants can make the most of their stay in Antwerp.

Participants will not only have the opportunity to get to know their fellow class-mates and staff in a more informal way, but will also be able to get in touch with peers attending other summer schools at the Antwerp Summer University. A visit to the beautiful city hall, a networking reception, a guided city walk, a quiz night, a football game and a day-trip to another Belgian city such as Bruges or Brussels are only some examples of these activities.

All activities of the social programme are offered free of charge, in some cases participants will be asked for a deposit which will be reimbursed upon participation to the activity. 

Combine study and pleasure and spend a happy summer!