Glossary

Public Engagement

GLOSSARY

Help us create a glossary of terms connected to socially engaged art by submitting your own terms and definitions. We encourage input from students, scholars, curators, and others knowledgeable about the field. Feel free to send alternate definitions, or to create new descriptions for undefined terms.

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Conversational Art [Also see Dialogical Art, Dialogue-based Public Art]
“[Conversational Art] cannot appropriately be defined within the current art-historical discussion…When…[it] seeks to transform the distance between art and its audience, it does so by changing our sense of the ‘space’ of the artwork itself, by making us rethink fundamental questions concerned with the category of the aesthetic.” (Homi K. BhabhaThe Location of Culture, London: Routledge, 1994.)

Civic Engagement

Collective Art Practice

Community Art

Conceptual Art

Cultural Commons  
“A Cultural Commons is a cultural resource shared by a group, which can generate one or more social dilemmas. A Cultural Commons is defined by the confluence of three dimensions: culture, space and community.” (Walter Santagata, Enrico Bertacchini, Giangiacomo Bravo, Massimo Marrelli in Cultural Commons and Cultural Communities

Dialogical Art 
A term derived from theorist Mikhail Bakhtin and applied to socially engaged art in writings by Grant Kester. (GK) “[Dialogical art] aims to replace the 'banking' style of art (to borrow a phrase from the educational theorist Paulo Freire)—in which the artist deposits an expressive content into a physical object, to be withdrawn later by the viewer, with a process of dialogue and collaboration. The emphasis is on the character of this interaction, not the physical or formal integrity of a given artifact or the artist’s experience in producing it… Dialogical projects…unfold through a process of performative interaction.” (Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, California: University of California Press, 2004, p. 10.)

Mikhail Bakhtin, "Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity" and "Art and Answerability" in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin, edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov, translated and notes by Vadim Liapunov, supplement translated by Kenneth Brostrom (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).

Dialogue Based public Art  
[See conversational art and Dialogical art] A term coined by Tom Finkelpearl akin to what Homi K Bhabha called “Conversational Art” and identified by the practice of artists organizing human interaction around ideas of communication. Tom Finkelpearl, “Five Dialogues on Dialogue-Based Public Art Projects,” Dialogues in Public Art (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), pp.270-275.

Fluxus
Informal international group of avant-garde artists working in a wide range of media and active from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. Their activities included public concerts or festivals and the dissemination of innovatively designed anthologies and publications, including scores for electronic music, theatrical performances, ephemeral events, gestures and actions constituted from the individual’s everyday experience. Other types of work included the distribution of object editions, correspondence art and concrete poetry. According to the directions of the artist, Fluxus works often required the participation of a spectator in order to be completed See Performance Art. (Michael Corris)

The name Fluxus, taken from the Latin for ‘flow’, was originally conceived by the American writer, performance artist and composer George Maciunas (1931–78) in 1961 as the title for a projected series of anthologies profiling the work of such artists as the composer La Monte Young (b 1935), George Brecht, yoko Ono, Dick Higgins (b 1928), Ben, Nam June Paik and others engaged in experimental music, concrete poetry, performance events and ‘anti-films’ (e.g. Paik’s imageless Zen for Film, 1962). In a manifesto of 1962 (‘Neo-Dada in Music, Theater, Poetry, Art’, in J. Becker and W. Vostell: Happenings, Fluxus, Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme, Hamburg, 1965), Maciunas categorized this diversity under the broad heading of ‘Neo-Dada’ and stressed the interest shared by all the artists in manifesting time and space as concrete phenomena. Influences of Fluxus noted by Maciunas included John Cage’s concrete music (1939) and intermedia event at Black Mountain College, NC (1952), with Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and others; the Nouveaux Réalistes; the work of Ben; the concept art of Henry Flynt (b 1940); and Duchamp’s notion of the ready-made. (defined on MoMA by Michael Corris from Grove Art Online, Oxford U. Press)

Happenings

Inquiry Based Methods

Institutional Critique 
Scrutinizing and confronting the structures and practices of our social, cultural, and political institutions. (Anne Ellegood)

Intervention

New Genre Public Art

Open Source

Performativity

Postmodernism

Public Art

Public Engagement 
A movement (and function) within museums and cultural institutions to forge greater connections between the institution and visitors. Public Engagement may emanate via an education department, marketing department, visitor services, or some combination of any of these. Public Engagement is also a curatorial department at the Hammer museum that focuses on presenting works of art that create an exchange between the visitor and the museum and often skews toward social practice. This term is also used with different meaning outside of the arts. For example, Public Engagement is an office of Obama’s White House, formerly Office of Public Liaison. The terminology may also be used to describe engagement with the public on the part of academic institutions and universities. (Allison Agsten)

Relational Aesthetics 
“A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, pg. 113)

Relational Objects (Lygia Clark’s term)

Rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari)
In media theory, rhizome is an evolving term that stems from the theories of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari as first definted in A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia. It has been offered as an explanatory framework for network(both human and machine) theory and hypertext, although a strict reading of Deleuze and Guattari does not support these interpretations. Their rhizome is non-hierarchical, heterogeneous, multiplicitous, and acentered. The term has been applied broadly outside of media theory, as Deleuze and Guattari intended. (Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, ‘Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, in Leitch, Cain, Finke et al (ed), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, London: W W Norton & Company Inc, (2001), pp. 1601-1609.)

Positioned as the introduction to the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Rhizome principally constructs a model (a new map) for apprehending the constitution and reception of a book. As Deleuze writes, “the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world” (11). This model, framed metaphorically around rhizomorphism, also extends itself within the text to the study of linguistics and politics. (annotation by Dan Clinton, University of Chicago)

Site-Specific Art

Social Practice

Social Sculpture

Socially Engaged Art 
“The uncomfortable position of socially engaged art, identified as art yet located between more conventional art forms and the related disciplines of sociology, politics, and the like, is exactly the position it should inhabit. The practice’s direct links to and conflicts with both art and sociology must be overtly declared and the tension addressed, but not resolved. Socially engaged artists can and should challenge the art market in attempts to redefine the notion of authorship, but to do so they must accept and affirm their existence in the realm of art, as artists.  And the artist as social practitioner must also make peace with the common accusation that he or she is not an artist but an “amateur” anthropologist, sociologist, etc. Socially engaged art functions by attaching itself to subjects and problems that normally belong to other disciplines, moving them temporarily into a space of ambiguity. It is this temporary snatching away of subjects into the realm of art-making that brings new insights to a particular problem or condition and in turn makes it visible to other disciplines. For this reason, I believe that the best term for this kind of practice is what I have thus far been using as a generic descriptor —that is, “socially engaged art” (or SEA), a term that emerged in the mid-1970s, as it unambiguously acknowledges a connection to the practice of art.” (Pablo Helguera in Education for Socially Engaged Art, 2011)

Social Justice

Spectacle