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The Epistemological Force of Art


Admission requirements

See Teaching and Examination Regulations.


How can we understand art as an epistemological force: that is as a force that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge rather than simply representing it? Art as an epistemological force is to consider art beyond just representation of the world or the cliché of art as knowledge. Art can generate new and unique visual perspectives on the world or open up spaces of transformation.

Philosopher Chantal Mouffe raises the question: “Can artistic practices still play a critical role in a society where the difference between art and advertising has become blurred and where artists and cultural workers have become a necessary part of capitalist production?” Her question concerns the urgency and relevance of art, the critical role and function of art in our society as well as art’s inevitable entanglement with politics, ecology and philosophy where action and theory become inseparable from each other. There is a growing number of artists engaging critically with the global challenges we are facing. In the aftermath of 9/11 artists responded to the World Trade Center attack or the incidents in the Abu Ghraib prison (e/g. Steve Reich, Alfredo Botero). Disasters such as the hurricane Katharina, the nuclear calamity at Fukushima in Japan (at the same time both natural and technological disasters) as well as political situations also met with various artistic responses, for instance the work and performances of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. In addition, artists are engaging with emerging technologies such as nanotechnology , biotechnology and warfare technology such as drones that impact our daily life significantly.

In this course we will be investigating whether art addressing global issues does, can or even must have an impact on important societal and cultural issues, or whether it merely entertains the cultural elites? Can art affect our reality; can art shape our understanding of the world? And if so, how can art do this? Can art contribute to the public debate without being engulfed by dominant political structures and neoliberal mechanisms? What is art’s contribution to the public debate?

In this course we will address these questions from the perspective of the epistemological force of art, by discussing philosophers such as Mouffe, Ziarek and Mitchell and by analyzing works of art engaging global challenges.

Course objectives

  • acquiring knowledge of and insight in art conceptualized as an epistemological force and the theories provided for the interpretation and analysis of the art works and cultural practices;

  • learning how to make these theories productive in analyzing, evaluating and reflecting on art;

  • understanding the differences and commonalties between an artistic and a theoretical approach of the world;

  • insight into the cultural and societal role and function of art vis-à-vis global challenges;

  • analyzing works of art and presenting the results of these analyses in oral presentations and academic papers.


Please consult the timetable on the MA Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction

Seminar, 3 hours a week, in which students give presentations, participate in discussions, reflect on the issues discussed, collaborate in assignments, write papers. We will jointly make a glossary of key concepts (BlackBoard or Wiki) to collectively reach a certain level of knowledge and produce a frame of reference. The seminar will be concluded with a one-day symposium in which, in small groups, the students will present a theme/topic of their mutual interest.

Course Load

Total course load for the course 10 ec x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • seminars: 3 hours per week x 12 weeks = 36 hours;

  • working on glossary 7 × 2 = 14 hours (first 7 weeks of the course the glossary will be composed);

  • studying compulsory readings for seminars: 80 hours;

  • preparing oral presentation: 40 hours (of which the symposium takes 10 hrs);

  • midterm assignment on the basis of the glossary 30 hours;

  • writing of final course paper, 5.000 words: 80 hours (reading texts, collecting research material, searching and reading additional literature, composing and writing of paper).

Assessment method

  • midterm assignment based on the glossary: 40%;

  • symposium and final paper (3000 words): 60%.

Both the midterm assignment and the final paper need to be a pass. In case of an unsatisfactory grade, the paper(s) needs to be reworked.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • information;

  • discussion;

  • building up a glossary.

Reading list

Assigned Literature:

  • W.J.T. Mitchell, Cloning Terror. The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present, University of Chicago Press 2011;

  • Krzysztof Ziarek, The Force of Art, Stanford University Press 2004;

  • Chantal Mouffe, Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces.

Other articles to be assigned later.

Further Readings:

  • Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically, Verso Books 2013.


Students have to apply for this course with the registration system of the university uSis. General information about registration with uSis you can find here in Dutch and in English.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.




Dhr. Prof. dr. ing. R. (Rob) Zwijnenberg
Mw. Prof. dr. C.J.M. (Kitty) Zijlmans