Association of Art Historians Summer Symposium: 'Subversive Beauty' 30 June -1 July 2011 University of Loughborough

full name / name of organization: 
Association of Art Historians

'Beauty can be a double-edged sword – as capable of destabilizing
rigid conventions and restrictive behavioural models as it is of
reinforcing them.' --Eleanor Heartney (2000)

Traditionalist perceptions and representations of beauty in the visual arts are
commonly aligned within classical philosophy, the aesthetic doctrine of Immanuel
Kant and the 'canon' of art. But how can the elusive notion of subversive beauty and
artists' multivalent attempts to negate, question, deconstruct, or otherwise rupture
the most dominant and popular ideas surrounding beauty (i.e. 'ideal beauty') be
theorised and historically contextualised? How does 'beauty' ironise, fetishise,
parody and signify what is 'other', different, monstrous, fragmented, grotesque or

'Subversive beauty' embodies a plethora of visual culture practises and a diversity
of themes. It carries a long and polymorphous history, exemplified by, amongst
others, André Breton's celebrated principle of 'convulsive' beauty (1928) and Hal
Foster's influential notion of the 'anti-aesthetic' (1983). Nonetheless, in recent
times, some of the most radical counter-propositions pertaining to normative beauty
have become institutionalised, and have thereby arguably lost much of their power to
subvert. Heartney's insightful words on beauty as a potentially 'double-edged sword'
touch on this historically, politically and ideologically sensitive issue, posing
challenging questions for the art historian, critic and theoretician regarding the
often ambiguous and precarious relationship between beauty and subversion in the
visual arts.

We invite paper proposals from postgraduate students that seek to address the
concept of subversive beauty across all periods in visual culture, engaging in a
dialogue that prioritises political embodiments, institutionalisation, social
discourses, historical contexts, aesthetic purposes and ideological determinations
or may present new critical positions pertaining to the contentious role of
subversive beauty in art. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

Ethics and politics
Gender, sexuality and the body
Non-visual senses and/or synaesthesia

Papers should be 20 minutes in length and abstracts of no more than 300
words should be submitted along with a C.V. to:
by 29th April 2011.

Submissions are open to AAH student members only. To join, and for information on benefits, see

Symposium organisers:
Jenny Gypaki, University of Edinburgh,
Victoria Irvine, University of Glasgow,
Basia Sliwinska, University of Loughborough,