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Art and Self in the Age of Consumerism


Admission requirements



In recent decades, the self-image of man has changed profoundly in the Western world. Since Romanticism, there has been the idea that each human being is not primarily a part of a larger group, but a unique individual that is called on to lead a life that is peculiar to themselves. On the margins of society, it is the artist who shapes this new image of man. Since the 1970s, this ideal of being an authentic individual has been gaining acceptance in adapted form in broad sections of society. In fact, it then becomes an almost moral demand: we are supposed to give expression to what is originally ours. Consumer society and modern media offer numerous opportunities for this. A 'culture of self' is developing in which self-realisation and self-representation play a central role. Creativity becomes a key concept and the artist the paradigm for being human.

In our late-capitalist society, a moral individualism has become predominant; everyone lives in their own world of values and wants to create and present their own selves. With it the new and extraordinary becomes the driving force in social and economic development. For this, creativity is a prerequisite. Not wanting to be creative is completely outside the value system of our current society. We create our individuality by presenting ourselves in a distinctive way on social media and surround ourselves with aesthetically pleasing objects. Consumerism and self-creation have become completely intertwined.

The visual artists have responded to this development in various ways over the last half century. The self-understanding of art as a cultural practice was questioned. This was done, for instance, by disconnecting the artist himself as maker from his work, alternately using or combining different artistic media or seeking collaborations outside the artistic domain, by working in collectives, by emphasising or autonomising the research aspect of the creative process.

In this course we will trace this development back to its origins in Romanticism. Starting with Schiller and Novalis, we will analyse the development of the modern subject concept via Nietzsche, Freud and Marcuse and contemporary authors such as Taylor, Groys, Sennett, Han and Reckwitz. We will try to answer the following questions. How did the modern idea of self and individualism arise and why is it intrinsically linked to the arts? How did this view develop in the 19th century and in what ways was it criticised at the time? What is the connection between Romanticism and modern consumerism? What important changes did late-capitalism bring in the social and cultural domains? What role does the concept of creativity play in this context? In what ways have the visual arts tried to distance themselves from the annexation of the concept of creativity by market thinking?

Course objectives

At the end of the course the student:

  • gained insight into the essential aspects of the notion of self as it developed since Romanticism;

  • has knowledge of some of the fundamental critiques of the modern subject concept;

  • gained an understanding of the correlations between consumerism, individuality, self- creation and the concept of creativity in late modern capitalist society;

  • is able to connect important contemporary developments in the visual arts with the social changes of recent decades;

  • is able to understand some crucial texts by philosophers, sociologists and artists on the subject.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method



  • 40% weekly seminar

  • 50% final essay

  • 10% active participation in class


Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

For those students who want to prepare themselves on the main topics of the course, here is a small list of literature. We will use parts of the literature mentioned above, supplemented by other articles and text fragments.

  • Rüdiger Safranski, Romanticism: A German Affaire, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2014.

  • Colin Campbell, The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1987.

  • Charles Taylor, The Sources of the Self. The making of Modern Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

  • Andreas Reckwitz, The Invention of Creativity. Modern Society and the Culture of the New, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

  • Rosalind Krauss, ‘A Voyage on the North Sea’. Art in the Age of Post-Medium Condition, London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

  • Boris Groys, On the New, London: Verso, 2014.

  • Byung-Chul Han, The Expulsion of the Other, Cambridge Polity Press, 2018.

  • Jacques Rancière, Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


*Dhr. Ir. R.T.W.L. Schneemann


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