Aestheticizing Politics/Politicizing Aesthetics: St. Louis Symposium on Radicalism in U.S. Arts

deadline for submissions: 
March 18, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Ryan Prewitt, Marc Blanc, and Simone Sparks
contact email: 

The past seven years have seen a resurgence of the radical right. In this resurgence, art and literature have played a prominent role. Senior advisors to the Trump administration cited novels as specific influences on federal policy; Jordan Peterson has disguised right-wing manifestos as self-help volumes, hoodwinking young men to the tune of millions; the internet has seen an overwhelming explosion of white supremacist digital art. Walter Benjamin’s dictum that fascism seeks to “aestheticize politics” endures. 

Conversely, radical left-wing movements have attempted to “politicize aesthetics” through multiple artistic genres and political forms, to varying success. The location of this symposium, St. Louis, was the site of the 2014 Ferguson protests, which galvanized one of the most powerful movements of the twenty-first century, Black Lives Matter. Yet, the right continues to expand its cultural prominence, police continue to kill unarmed Black civilians, and labor unions struggle for a fraction of the influence they once possessed. While the future of U.S. politics and culture is far from settled, it is clear that the arts will have a say in what the rest of this century holds. In the era of climate change, the stakes have never been higher.

“Aestheticizing Politics/Politicizing Aesthetics” invites papers and presentations from scholars, activists, and artists on the relationship between aesthetics and radical politics in the past, present, and future. Possible topics and questions include: What are the political potentials of digital art? How do leftists navigate persistent problems of cooptation? Are twentieth-century conceptions of the relationship between intellectuals, artists, and the “masses” relevant in the twenty-first century? What do historical examples have to teach us? Perspectives on Midwestern politics and culture are especially, though not exclusively, welcome.

The symposium will take place on August 23-24, 2023 at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. Please send 300-word abstracts to Marc Blanc, Ryan Prewitt, and Simone Sparks at by March 18, 2024.