Art and Politics:
Alain L. Locke’s Aesthetic Pluralism
This session (panel discussion) will address the philosophy
of Alain L. Locke. Specifically, it will examine various ways in which art,
and the aesthetic, serves to further human freedom and understanding. This work
is very important in that it addresses the work of an important, though often
overlooked, figure in American philosophy. Locke’s place in the American cannon
has yet to be fully explored. His work often offers an important perspective
that serves to further radicalize the insights of fellow pragmatists such as
Dewey and James.
For instance, in his essay "Values and Imperatives"
Locke bemoans the failure of American philosophy to address the emotional aspects
of human behavior. He says, "(W)e again have made common cause with the
current scientific attitude; making truth too exclusively a matter of the correct
anticipation of experience, of the confirmation of fact. Yet truth may also
sometimes be the sustaining of an attitude, the satisfaction of a way of feeling,
the corroboration of a value. To the poet, beauty is truth; to the religious
devotee, God is truth; to the enthused moralist, what ought-to-be overtops factual
reality. It is perhaps to be expected that the typical American philosophies
should concentrate almost exclusively on thought-action as the sole criterion
of experience, and should find analysis of the emotional aspects of human behavior
uncongenial. This in itself, incidentally, is a confirming example of an influential
value-set, amounting in this instance to a grave cultural bias." One way
in which Locke hopes to correct this "grave cultural bias" is by moving
to the aesthetic.
Locke’s aesthetic pluralism is interesting in its
own right and has many implications for social and political reform. In this
session we will discuss how, for Locke, art can increase and enlarge human freedom;
how it can raise, clarify, and radicalize issues of race and ethnicity; and
how it can serve to provide both social criticism and positive policy recommendations.
There are three confirmed participants for this session.
Here are the three abstracts:
- "Aesthetic Agency: Locke and Du Bois:"
Locke believed that propaganda ultimately fails to achieve its objective;
that new and enriching perspectives are possible through art for its own
sake; that it is through the agency of art that we have a great hope for
enlarging human freedoms; and that the search for absolute Truth, the Good
and Beauty should be abandoned. I argue that Alain L. Locke’s aesthetic
pluralism has resources to defeat the aesthetic realism informing W.E.B.
Du Bois’s criticism of Locke’s emphasis on the importance of art.
- "Thinking (with Locke) About Three Works
of Abstract Art:" Richard Powell claims that in the 1960s and ‘70s
several Black artists began to resist the perception that abstract art was
antithetical to issues of race and ethnicity and to "experiment with
forms of abstraction that were engaged in explicit discourse about a black
consciousness." Looking at the work of Barbara Chase-Riboutd, Sam Gilliam,
and Frank Bowling we well reflect on Locke’s views of earlier abstract work
to see whether or how his view might help us past the dichotomy between
politics and abstractions which is reaffirmed in Powell’s claim about these
artists of the ‘70s. Dewey’s notion of sentimentality will also aid in this
- "Individual and Community: Artistic Representation
in Locke’s Politics:" Alain Locke’s essay "Negro Youth Speaks"
brings to light an aspect of his theory of democracy that is often hidden:
the individual. Much of the scholarship on Alain Locke’s politics focuses
on cultural or group representation in democracy. Locke was a pioneer in
the effort to recognize marginalized groups in democratic decision-making.
Recent scholarship in democratic theory more generally, on the other hand,
emphasizes increased political awareness of individual participants in deliberations.
This paper will re-examine Locke’s politics and aesthetics in search of
the individual. Using "Youth Speaks" as a guide, I hope to situate
Locke’s theory within more contemporary writings on deliberative democracy
that propose alternative modes of communication so as to facilitate more
authentic participation by individuals, especially individuals from previously
under-represented or marginalized groups. In other words, I examine critically
Locke’s proposal that art speaks for the individual as well as the group
in political dialogues. I will look at artistic representation as communication
in the form of social criticism as well as positive policy recommendations.
Leonard Harris, Purdue University
Ann K. Clark, St. Mary’s College
Sally J. Scholz, Villanova University