Grant H. Kester is Professor of Art History at the University of California, San Diego, author of
Within and Beyond the Canon
This chapter introduces some of the key themes that will be explored in the remainder of the book as they have been elaborated in recent art criticism. This will entail an examination of the specific ways in which theorists identified with the avant-garde tradition sought to critique socially engaged art practices. It focuses primarily on the work of Jacques Rancière, with a shorter discussion of Chantal Mouffe. These theorists were deployed to justify the claim that socially engaged art possess no legitimate “aesthetic” value. As such, they can play an important diagnostic role in the book’s broader analysis. Through a closer examination of these critiques, one can develop a more precise understanding of the ways in which the aesthetic has been mobilized as an evaluative category in contemporary art theory and a clearer sense of how engaged art practices challenge this set of beliefs.