Module Description (Updated 01 May 2018)

Can the rise of Donald Trump and the emboldening of the new right across the West be read partly as the result of a collective failure of cultural production? Despite the forces of institutional fine art, popular music, Hollywood film, broadcast comedy, and the mainstream mass media mobilising against Trump and the ideologies which brought him to power, the constituencies whom he claims to represent remain solidly unmoved. Indeed, their resistance, hostility and responses to liberal, diverse and progressive politics are frequently and loudly targeted at [perceived] manifestations of this politics in contemporary media (see: the online reactions to 2016's Ghostbusters reboot; Gamergate; alt-right meme culture etc.) A new set of visual subcultures have arisen within the new right, as memes, repurposed symbologies and an appropriation of post-modernist conceptions of performance, irony and critical detachment push back against attempts to constrain them.

In the face of these failures and the metastasising of agile and virulent forms of right-wing visual culture, what is the role of political art? How can contemporary political artists respond to politics in 2018? And indeed, we must ask: is political art ever effective in driving social change?

This course considers the relationships between politics and the making, selling and exhibition of art since the Reagan / Thatcher years to the present. From the inexorable rise of modes of art making simultaneously revelling in and claiming to critique the excesses of consumer capitalism, via the use of artistic methods to resist the authoritarian governments of the Soviet bloc, to the issues of representing and responding to the perpetual war on terrorism following September 11th, 2001, weekly lectures will examine both the practice and the theory of contemporary political art, and seek to examine the often conflicting relationships between artists and the institutional systems of the art market and the museum world which facilitate them. Additionally, as art and culture increasingly rely on philanthropy and sponsorship, we will consider the influences of corporate culture and government money on the contemporary art-world, from art fairs such as At Basel, via corporate art schemes run by BMW, Becks and Hugo Boss, to the recent controversies regarding sponsorship of the Tate by BP.

Ultimately, the course will ask what strategies of political art making are effective in their stated aims, and to what degree political art and politics writ large are truly intertwined.

Course Aims

The aims of this module are:

• to provide students with a grounding in the relationships between contemporary art and, politics, and the limits and possibilities of political and activist art.

• to explore issues related to the main developments in contemporary art practice in Europe, America and beyond, and to be able to relate those issues to the politics, social contexts and ideological debates of their times, and subsequently

• to present students with detailed case studies of artistic engagement with various political issues, including those of gender, race, class, terrorism, labour relations and democracy;

• to encourage students to examine issues relating to their own engagement with political issues via artistic practice.

• to introduce students to specialised debates in past and recent literature around the role and interpretation of contemporary art;

• to learn to summarise and re-present key theoretical and historical arguments concisely

• to raise student awareness of different methods of approaching the discipline through analysis of chosen texts;

• to stimulate students to develop skills in written communication through essay and oral communication and debate in seminars.

Learning Outcomes:

1. a sound grasp of the history of contemporary art and its relationship to a variety of political issues;

2. the ability to interpret contemporary art practice and texts which criticise and theorise it based on sound knowledge of the appropriate historical and interpretative contexts;

3. the confidence to subject the artworks and texts studied to critical analysis;

4. the ability to communicate complex ideas concerning representation, medium-specificity, (post-)modernity, and political ideology;

5. the ability to engage with and produce detailed textual analysis relevant to works and theoretical debates on contemporary art;

6. an ability to discuss the political aspects of range of contemporary art practice, and demonstrate all these competences through seminar presentations and, one coursework essay of 4,000 words and an limited-time research exercise.

7. An ability to summarise and synthesise academic sources