Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

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Class, Labour and Picturing of the Social

Image: Robert Koehler, The Strike, 1886, 181.5 x 275.6 cm, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Source: Wikipedia commons.

Join us for the latest in our autumn research seminar series with speaker Professor Alex Potts (University of Michigan).

In this presentation, Professor Alex Potts takes the social as having to do with class and political economy. He focuses historically on the later nineteenth century when a major reconfiguring of the social took place with the increasing industrialization of the economy and the emergence of new political movements – such as socialism, communism, anarchism and social democracy – and intensified labour activism.

In thinking how the social understood in these terms was visualized in the art of the period, it is imperative to move beyond a search for direct depictions of what we now consider the major issues of the day, even if such searches are a necessary preliminary. The productive question to ask is: how did the new social concerns of the time enter into processes of visualizing and picturing the world, and how was a visual rendering of the fabric of the social achieved?

Potts will focus on two motifs that figure persistently in the realist and naturalist art of the period. One takes the form of groups of figures assembled in situations evocative of a larger social whole, and the other of scenes of labouring. At this juncture, Marx’s focus on labour in his so-called labour theory of value was normative rather than exceptional. The issue of labour was central to thinking about the so-called ‘social problem’ across a wide political spectrum and became significant feature of artistic representation in a way that it had not been before.

The venue for this presentation is Room 1.08 in the Parkinson Building, University of Leeds.

It is free to attend and all are welcome.

This session is convened by the MA History of Art and Centre for Critical Materialist Studies as part of the autumn research seminar series organised by the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

Image: Robert Koehler, The Strike, 1886, 181.5 x 275.6 cm, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Source: Wikipedia commons.

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