Code: PD-2

Panel Discussion

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:

    1. "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.
    2. "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 effort.
    3. "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