Contemporary Aesthetic Education in the UK
Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building
York YO10 5DD
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The purpose of this inter-disciplinary workshop is to explore the role of aesthetic education in the UK today. The presence of the concept of aesthetic education in the thinking of British cultural critics can be traced to the profound influence of Matthew Arnold, who inherits the notion from its German Enlightenment proponents – Schiller, Herder, and Winckelmann. The tradition holds that instruction in art and literature can bring about real changes in society. In the UK today, however, education in literature and the arts is being increasingly threatened by social change rather than facilitating those changes. In Culture and Anarchy, Arnold prescribed culture as the antidote to a looming threat of ‘anarchy’ which lay chiefly, he suggested, in vulgar monetary concerns. In the fear of the neoliberalisation of the university driving the contemporary proliferation of neohumanist apologies for the arts and humanities, we hear the echoes of Arnold’s fear of vulgar monetarism. Another, contemporary inheritance of this tradition of aesthetic education is a rapidly expanding field of ‘therapeutic’ reading. Here, aesthetic education is not so much a politically decisive aspect of academic activity as a project of popular empowerment carried out at the level of public libraries, charitable education projects and health provision. These are just two of many lines of inheritance in the contemporary UK cultural situation of the Enlightenment tradition of aesthetic education.
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