Pauline Conroy. Art and Civil Society Symposium.

Defining Participation and Practice - Policy Perspectives
Presentation for Create and Voluntary Arts Ireland, Arts and Civil Society Symposium 20/21 October 2011

Dr Pauline Conroy
Social Policy Analyst

 

Notes from Nowhere

The defining of civil society has been well summarised by Mick Wilson in his paper On understandings of civil society.
In a political sense, civil society is that which is not of the State, its extensions in armies and police, political parties or party political system and most of the market.

• Civil society is the people, or a people without the structures of domination or authority independent of their citizenship status.

In this sense civil society is relatively autonomous from the State. It is the behaviour of the ordinary person including their sense of civility towards each other. 

Emanating from this interpretation is an argument for the abolition of formal art and art institutions, in the destruction of which people might be invited to participate. This may be visible in the Dadaist movement in art and literature of the early 19th century or the Situationist movement in France, Belgium and the UK in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the words of  situationist writer Raoul Vaneigem:

The only forms of creativity that authority can deal with, or wished to deal with, are those which the spectacle can recuperate. But what people do officially is nothing compared with what they do in secret. People usually associate creativity with works of art, but what are works of art alongside the creative energy displayed by everyone a thousand times a day: seething unsatisfied desires, daydreams in search of a foothold in reality, feelings at once confused.

Vaneigem’s association, or indeed fusion, of art with the acts and gestures of everyday life pulls towards popular participation in the destruction of the spectacular or the features of commodity or monetarisation in which art is clothed.

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