Call for Papers: Subversive Beauty

Association of Art Historians Summer Symposium, 30 June -1 July 2011, University of Loughborough

Traditionalist perceptions and representations of beauty in the visual arts are commonly aligned within classical philosophy, the aesthetic doctrine of Immanuel Kant and the ‘canon’ of art. But how can the elusive notion of subversive beauty and artists’ multivalent attempts to negate, question, deconstruct, or otherwise rupture the most dominant and popular ideas surrounding beauty (i.e. ‘ideal beauty’) be theorised and historically contextualised? How does ‘beauty’ ironise, fetishise, parody and signify what is ‘other’, different, monstrous, fragmented, grotesque or abject?

‘Subversive beauty’ embodies a plethora of visual culture practises and a diversity of themes. It carries a long and polymorphous history, exemplified by, amongst others, André Breton’s celebrated principle of ‘convulsive’ beauty (1928) and Hal Foster’s influential notion of the ‘anti-aesthetic’ (1983). Nonetheless, in recent times, some of the most radical counter-propositions pertaining to normative beauty have become institutionalised, and have thereby arguably lost much of their power to subvert. Heartney’s insightful words on beauty as a potentially ‘double-edged sword’ touch on this historically, politically and ideologically sensitive issue, posing challenging questions for the art historian, critic and theoretician regarding the often ambiguous and precarious relationship between beauty and subversion in the visual arts.

We invite paper proposals from postgraduate students that seek to address the concept of subversive beauty across all periods in visual culture, engaging in a dialogue that prioritises political embodiments, institutionalisation, social discourses, historical contexts, aesthetic purposes and ideological determinations or may present new critical positions pertaining to the contentious role of subversive beauty in art. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

Ethics and politics



Gender, sexuality and the body


Non-visual senses and/or synaesthesia

Papers should be 20 minutes in length and abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted along with a C.V. to: by 29th April 2011.

Submissions are open to AAH student members only

Symposium organisers: Jenny Gypaki, University of Edinburgh, Victoria Irvine, University of Glasgow, Basia Sliwinska, University of Loughborough,

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