Esther Beunis

Esther Beunis
September 20, 2016
Utrecht University
MA Arts & Society
Dr. Edward Akintola Hubbard

Doris Sommer. The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014. Prologue and Chapter 1.
Soyini Madison. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance (second edition). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2012. Chapter 2

In her prologue, Doris Sommer takes off by briefly summing up the importance and need for a focus on interdisciplinary thinking when she states that “Necessarily hybrid t/m aesthetic value.” (p.7). For me this quote perfectly summed up the reason why a program like Arts and Society is necessary.

In the first chapter she introduces us to Antanas Mockus, the man who became Bogotá’s mayor. He turned artist and interpreter in order to revive a city from the top down. Sommer uses his work as an example to show that from the top, authorities can facilitate safer and more productive cities with more art, collective art-making that enlist citizens as co producers.

For me what stood out from her writing on Antanas Mockus is that pleasure is an essential part of social reform and politics and that without it, sustainable social change is hardly possible. However, what for example the mime traffic directors were supposed to do was install a feeling of shame instead of fear. I feel like Sommer did not go into as much detail on this effect whilst it is an essential part of the project and why it succeeded.

Another part of her text that strongly appealed to me (coming from a country known for it’s ‘Tolerance’) was where she addressed the meaning of that word in and of itself. A few years ago I wrote a comment on an article written by one of my former professors. He used the word ‘tolerance’ carelessly insinuating positivity and victory. My comment reminded me greatly of Sommer’s explanation on page 31 therefore I will note it down: To tolerate someone means to recognize and accept someone’s presence. However, this entails that the person who is the ‘tolerator’ still has a higher position then the ‘tolerated’. Merely tolerance does not cut the equal dialogue that needs to exist between the two actors involved. Multiculturalism itself is merely a form of tolerance in which it keeps putting itself as the center.” (Esther Beunis, Comment on Comment on Prof. Dr. M.J. de Jong’s article: “Multiculturalism: Perfume or Poison?”, 2012)

At that time, long class discussions followed and alternatives for the word were difficult to agree upon, we thought of the word ‘welcoming’. I am however deeply convinced by Sommer’s use of the word Admiration as a substitute. She points out how it shifts the balance of feeling and favors others without sacrificing self-love.

Another very interesting point she makes in this chapter on government-sponsored creativity is how maybe the New Deal has sponsored even artists that were making antigovernmental and critical art is exactly because of that: “Maybe leftists were being funded because they made public shows of their opposition to injustice, hunger and social inequalities. That way (…) the New Deal could capture even antigovernment protest as part of its program. (…) If artists had no stake in the state, they would surely have tried harder to destabilize it.” (p.42) This seems very plausible in a society that is deeply controlled by the Culture Industry that actively robs people of imagination and leads them into passive consummation.

In Madison’s article on Methods what stood out for me is how reality is always an interpreted reality as she points out in the first quote by Mary S. Strine. This has an effect on everyting method related and especially on qualitative interviewing. There are many things to take into account when using an interview as a method of gaining information. Most important to me seems the fact that you should always aim at being in dialogue with the other. Meaning that it is not a top down conversation but a symbioses of two people where one as an interviewer is at all times acknowledging that he or she does not know.

Madison also hints upon Memory and the Oral history that is a hugely interesting topic and reminded me of my readings of Walter Mignolo on language and oral history in his book ‘the Darker side of the Rennaissance’.

Esther Beunis
September 15, 2016
Utrecht University
MA Arts & Society
Dr. Edward Akintola Hubbard

Summary of Néstor García Canclini. Art Beyond Itself: Anthopology for a Society Without A Story Line (trans. David Frye). Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. Chapter 1: “Aesthetics and Social Sciences.”

 

 

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