Kalamazoo College Hosts Conference on Art, Social Justice, and Critical Theory

Kalamazoo College will host a three-day conference of international artists, philosophers, social justice practitioners, and other scholars examining how art and aesthetic experience are connected to human freedom and social thriving.

Art, Social Justice and Critical Theory will be held May 16-18 on the K campus. The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is requested. A complete conference schedule is available at https://reason.kzoo.edu/criticaltheory/conference along with information on presenters and registration.

“Some of the leading philosophers of art and aesthetics in North America and Europe will join with artists, social justice practitioners, scholars, and students to focus on the connection between art, freedom, and social justice,” said conference organizer Kalamazoo College Associate Professor of Philosophy Chris Latiolais.

“This will truly be a unique gathering and one that will appeal to academicians and lay audiences across a spectrum of disciplines.”

According to Latiolais, invited speakers and panel members will address questions such as: Do experiences of natural beauty and art change how we experience the world and ourselves? If artwork illuminates critical issues, what type of understanding or participation do they require from their audiences? Might aesthetic experiences open us to new personal and political commitments?

“Answers to these questions have perplexed artists, critics, and scholars for centuries,” Latiolais said. “We invite all attendees to listen, learn, and lend their voices our lively discussion.”

The conference, co-sponsored by Kalamazoo College’s Philosophy Department and Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, begins Thursday evening, May 16, with a keynote address on “Active Passivity” by Martin Seel from Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, Germany. Latiolais describes Seel as “Europe’s most celebrated critical theorist of art and aesthetics.”

Lambert Zuidervaart, author, professor of philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, and a member of the graduate faculties in theology and philosophy at the University of Toronto, will join Seel as a featured commenter and panel moderator throughout the conference. Before moving to Toronto in 2002, Zuidervaart was a professor of philosophy at Calvin College for 17 years and served as board member and president of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Other invited speakers include professors Paul Guyer (Brown University), Richard Eldridge (Swarthmore College), Michael Kelly (University of North Carolina), Elizabeth Millán (DePaul University), Sandra Shapshay (Indiana University), and Veronique Fóti (Pennsylvania State University).

According to Latiolais, Friday May 17 will focus on theoretical issues of art and aesthetics and includes a panel discussion on murals and public art featuring artists and scholars from Ireland, Wisconsin, and Kalamazoo, including Arcus Center Artist-in-Residence Sonia Baez-Hernandez. Martin Seel delivers a second keynote address Friday evening titled “Theses on Pictures and Films.”

Saturday, May 18, will be devoted to four panel discussions on performance art, the aesthetics and politics of food, museums and curatorship, and religious art and material culture. Panelists will include Grand Valley State University Professor of Art Paul Wittenbraker and numerous Kalamazoo College faculty members and students.

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Andy Brown

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As the Director of News and Social Media, Andy shares the stories that distinguish Kalamazoo College through social media, the Web and the news media. Contact him at abrown@kzoo.edu.