Art and Politics

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
23 February 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Can the emboldening of the new right across the West be read partly as the result of a collective failure of cultural production? Despite the forces of institutional fine art, popular music, Hollywood film, broadcast comedy, and the mainstream mass media mobilising against Donald Trump and the ideologies which brought him to power, for example, the constituencies whom he claims to represent remain solidly unmoved. Indeed, their resistance, hostility and responses to liberal, diverse and progressive politics are frequently and loudly targeted at [perceived] manifestations of this politics in contemporary media. A new set of visual subcultures have arisen within the new right, as memes, repurposed symbologies and an appropriation of post-modernist conceptions of performance, irony and critical detachment push back against attempts to constrain them.

In the face of these failures and the metastasising of agile and virulent forms of right-wing visual culture, what is the role of political art? How can contemporary political artists respond to politics in 2025? And indeed, we must ask: is political art ever effective in driving social change?

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with a grounding in the relationships between contemporary art and, politics, and the limits and possibilities of political and activist art.

  • To explore issues related to the main developments in contemporary art practice in Europe, America and beyond, and to be able to relate those issues to the politics, social contexts and ideological debates of their times.

  • To present students with detailed case studies of artistic engagement with various political issues, including those of gender, race, class, terrorism, labour relations and democracy.

  • To encourage students to examine issues relating to their own engagement with political issues via artistic practice.

  • To introduce students to specialised debates in past and recent literature around the role and interpretation of contemporary art.

  • To learn to summarise and re-present key theoretical and historical arguments concisely.

  • To raise student awareness of different methods of approaching the discipline through analysis of chosen texts.

  • To stimulate students to develop skills in written communication through essay and oral communication and debate in seminars.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Have a sound grasp of the history of contemporary art and its relationship to a variety of political issues.

  2. Interpret contemporary art practice and texts which criticise and theorise it based on sound knowledge of the appropriate historical and interpretative contexts.

  3. Subject the artworks and texts studied to critical analysis.

  4. Communicate complex ideas concerning representation, medium-specificity, (post-)modernity, and political ideology.

  5. Engage with and produce detailed textual analysis relevant to works and theoretical debates on contemporary art.

  6. Discuss the political aspects of range of contemporary art practice, and demonstrate all these competences through seminar presentations and, one coursework essay of 4,000 words and an limited-time research exercise.

  7. Summarise and synthesise academic sources.

Module information

This module considers the relationships between politics and the making, selling and exhibition of art since roughly the Reagan / Thatcher years to the present. From the inexorable rise of modes of art making simultaneously revelling in and claiming to critique the excesses of consumer capitalism, via the use of artistic methods to resist the authoritarian governments of the Soviet bloc, to the issues of representing and responding to the perpetual war on terrorism following September 11th, 2001, weekly lectures will examine both the practice and the theory of contemporary political art, and seek to examine the often conflicting relationships between artists and the institutional systems of the art market and the museum world which facilitate them. Additionally, as art and culture increasingly rely on philanthropy and sponsorship, we will consider the influences of corporate culture and government money on the contemporary art-world, from art fairs such as At Basel, via corporate art schemes run by BMW, Becks and Hugo Boss, to the recent controversies regarding sponsorship of the Tate by BP.

Ultimately, the module will ask what strategies of political art making are effective in their stated aims, and to what degree political art and politics writ large are truly intertwined.

CONTENT NOTE: This module will discuss material which some students may find problematic, including art and politics which addresses racism, sexual and gendered violence, and death, amongst other issues. Your lecturer takes concerns about these issues seriously and sensitively. Appropriate and specific content notices for each week will be given in the full module outline and on TALIS. Students are invited to inform the lecturer in the strictest confidence if there are particular issues for of individual concern. Accommodations will be made where possible.

Learning and teaching methods

The module will be delivered via:

  • Combined lecture + seminar discussion.

Each lecture will present a topic and discussion will be encouraged throughout.

There will be one field trip associated with this module. These visits are compulsory, and are as essential to the module as lectures and seminars. We are committed to looking at and studying works of art at first hand and this will be reflected in assessed assignments.


  • Salter, Michael. (2017-02-14) 'From geek masculinity to Gamergate: the technological rationality of online abuse', in Crime, Media, Culture., pp.174165901769089-
  • Lyotard, Jean-Francois. (2003) 'What is Postmodernism?', in Art in theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas, Malden, MA: Blackwell., pp.1131-1136
  • Sorace, Christian. (2014) 'China's Last Communist: Ai Weiwei', in Critical inquiry. vol. 40 (2) , pp.396-419
  • Ranciere, Jaques. (2004) 'The Distribution of the Sensible: Politics and Aesthetics', in The politics of aesthetics: the distribution of the sensible, London: Continuum., pp.12-19
  • Adorno, Theodor. (c1997) 'Art, Society, Aesthetics', in Aesthetic theory, London: Athlone.
  • Mouffe, Chantelle. (2008) 'Art and Democracy. Art as an Agnostic Intervention in Public Space', in Art as a public issue: how art and its institutions reinvent the public dimension, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers. vol. Open : cahier on art and the public domain
  • Bernstein, Anya. (2013) 'An Inadvertent Sacrifice: Body Politics and Sovereign Power in the Pussy Riot Affair', in Critical Inquiry. vol. 40 (1) , pp.220-241
  • Retort. (2005) 'The State, The Spectacle, and September 11', in Afflicted powers: capital and spectacle in a new age of war, London: Verso., pp.16-37
  • Maurizio Lazzarato. (1996) 'Immaterial Labour', in Radical thought in Italy: a potential politics, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. vol. 7, pp.133-148
  • Mel Evans. (2015) 'Opposition to Oil Sponsorship and Interventions in Gallery Spaces', in Artwash: Big Oil and the arts, London: PlutoPress., pp.140-165
  • Bittner Wiseman, Mary. (2007) 'Subversive Strategies in Chinese Avant-Garde Art', in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. vol. 65 (1) , pp.109-119
  • Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix. (1983) 'Desiring Machines, 1-4', in Anti-Oedipus: capitalism and schizophrenia, London: Athlone., pp.1-35
  • Vivien Green Fryd. (2007) 'Suzanne Lacy's Three Weeks in May: Feminist Activist Performance Art as "Expanded Public Pedagogy"', in NWSA Journal. vol. 19 (1) , pp.23-86
  • Hillings, Valerie. (1999) 'Komar and Melamid's Dialogue with (Art) History', in Art Journal. vol. 58 (4 (Winter)) , pp.48-
  • Ong, Aihwa. (2012) '“What Marco Polo Forgot”: Contemporary Chinese Art Reconfigures the Global', in Current Anthropology. vol. 53 (4) , pp.471-494
  • Henry A. Giroux. (2007) 'Beyond Neoliberal Common Sense: Cultural Politics and Public Pedagogy in Dark Times', in JAC: JAC. vol. 27, pp.11-61
  • Rancière, Jacques. (2013) 'The Distribution of the Sensible: Politics and Aesthetics', in The politics of aesthetics: the distribution of the sensible, London: Bloomsbury Academic., pp.12-19
  • Higgs, John. (2013) 'Prologue: The Fuckers Burned the Lot', in The KLF: chaos, magic and the band who burned a million pounds, London: Phoenix.
  • Malvern, Sue; Koureas, Gabriel. (2014) 'Terrorist Transgressions: Exploring the Gendered Representations of the Terrorist', in Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung: GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. vol. 39 (3) , pp.67-81
  • • Wu, Chin-Tao. (2002) 'Embracing the Enterprise Culture: Art Institutions Since 1980s', in Privatising culture: corporate art intervention since the 1980s, London: Verso.
  • Holmes, Brian. (2003) Liar\'s Poker: Representation of Politics / Politics of Representation.
  • Habermas, Jurgen. (2003) 'Modernity – An Incomplete Project', in Art in theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas, Malden, MA: Blackwell., pp.1123-1130
  • Martin, Stewart. (2007) 'The absolute artwork meets the absolute commodity', in Radical philosophy. vol. 146
  • Shukaitis, Stevphen. (2011-08) 'Fascists as Much as Painters: Imagination, Overidentification, and Strategies of Intervention', in The Sociological Review. vol. 59 (3) , pp.597-615
  • Lovink, Geert. (2017) 'Overcoming Internet Disillusionment: On the Principles of Meme Design', in e-Flux. (83)
  • Kunst, Bojana. (2012) 'Art and Labour: On consumption, laziness and less work', in Performance Research. vol. 17 (6) , pp.116-125
  • Larne Abse Gogarty. (April 2017) 'The Art Right', in Art Monthly. (405) , pp.6-10
  • Halberstam, Judith. (2011) The queer art of failure, Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Bleiker, Roland. (2006) 'Art After 9/11', in Alternatives: Global, Local, Political: Sage Publications, Inc. vol. 31 (1) , pp.77-99
  • Tate, Liberate. (2012) 'Disobedience as Performance', in Performance Research. vol. 17 (4) , pp.135-140
  • Danto, Arthur C. (1988) The Politics of Imagination: The Lindley Lecture, Department of Philosophy, The University of Kansas.
  • Ralph Croizier. (1999) 'The Avant-Garde and the Democracy Movement: Reflections on Late Communism in the USSR and China', in Europe-Asia Studies: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. vol. 51, pp.483-513

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (4000 words)    100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Matt Lodder, email:
Dr Matt Lodder



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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