Art, participation and aesthetics

  • Grzegorz Sztabiński Władysław Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, Poland


The authors of the principal concepts that combine art with participatory issues use the term "aesthetics" to refer to their theories. The aim of the article is to examine the aspects in which these authors refer to the traditional issues of aesthetics and how they modify them. The discussion focuses on three concepts. In Nicolas Bourriaud's relational aesthetics, the notion of "form", modified in such a way as to include human relations appearing in connection with artistic situations, plays an important role. This way viewers and their behavior become part of the works of art. In the article this issue is confronted with the theory of the Umberto Eco's concept of "open work". Selected works by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Felix Gonazalez-Torres and Liam Gillick are also discussed as examples of relational art. Grant Kester's dialogical aesthetics is presented as an example of the link between art and participation, in which experience is brought to the foreground and ethical values dominate. Claire Bishop, on the other hand, believes that participatory art makes far-reaching changes in the understanding of aesthetics necessary. Referring to Jacques Rancière's philosophical concept, she argues that the inconclusive nature of aesthetic experience entails the necessity of questioning the way in which the world is organized. Therefore, the “sensible sharing” that takes place in participatory art is at the same time a political judgment. Moreover, the English author places emphasis not the harmonization of interpersonal relations (presumed in relational aesthetics), but the antagonism that allows us to constantly redefine and make social problems the subject of debates. The article concludes with a question whether relational, dialogical and participatory aesthetics opens up a new field for aesthetic reflection built over artistic phenomena.