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The Epistemological Force of Art


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


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, the cliché of art as knowledge, art as object or mere aesthetics.

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 regarding the environment, migrants, issues of identity, the global market, and increasing political pressure. In addition, artists are engaging with emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and warfare technology such as drones that impact our daily life significantly. On the other hand, artist initiatives all around the world seek new ways to counter these processes through art.

IIn 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, and take as our point of departure what it means to approach art beyond being an object and beyond representation, but to understand it as a force. From this perspective we ask: 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/theorists such as and Krzysztof Ziarek and Chantal Mouffe as well as by analyzing works of art engaging global challenges. The first part of the course, until the study week, will be devoted to discussing Ziarek. After the first two meetings with introductions by the instructors, in small groups the students will present the chapters of the book. After the study week, the group will be divided in two: one group will discuss Mitchell’s Cloning Terror with one instructor, the other Demos’ Against the Anthropocene with the other against the background of Ziarek’s theory and test in what respect Ziarak’s ideas resonate in the two approaches to art of the Mitchell, resp. Demos. After two or three meetings the groups will join again and present the outcome of the findings to the other group.

Course objectives

  • Acquiring knowledge of and insight in art conceptualized as an epistemological force and the theories relevant 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 to each other, and academic papers.

  • Practise 21st-century skills such as collaborating, critical and creative thinking, solving problems, self-regulating, social and cultural skills.

  • ResMA students only: will be required to present orally and in writing a more in-depth discussion of the theoretical foundations of studies under discussion.


The timetable is available on the Master 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;

  • The seminar will be concluded with the groups presenting to each other the outcome of their discussion of Mitchell, reps. Demos versus Ziarek.

  • Excursion to exhibition.

Attendance is compulsory. Students are allowed to miss a maximum of two seminars, provided they present a valid reason beforehand. Students who have missed more than two seminars will have to apply to the Examination Board of the MA Arts and Culture in order to obtain permission to further follow and complete the course.

Course Load

  • Seminars: 3 hours per week x 12 weeks: 36 hours;

  • Studying compulsory readings for seminars: 80 hours;

  • Preparing oral presentations, including the Demos-Mitchell debate: 84 hours

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

Assessment method

  • Oral group presentations and discussing Demos-Mitchell: (40%)

  • Final paper: 3.500 (60%)

  • ResMA students only: you are asked to add an annex to the final paper of 2.000 words in which you discuss how in your opinion the theories and approaches of the course may contribute to the discipline with new perspectives. The final paper thus can be seen as a ‘diptych’ in which part one discusses a certain topic of choice and the second part the theoretical reflection as mentioned.


The final grade is the average of the three grades (40%, 60%). A student passes the class if the weighted average is a 6.0 or higher (marks under 5.0 are not allowed) and the paper is a 6.0 or higher.


The re-sit consists of three parts: a re-sit for the paper (60%), and/or an alternative assignment for the oral presentation (40%)


  • Please note that if you do not hand in your essay before the first deadline, your essay will be considered as the resit.

  • For the time tables exams 2019-2020 see; Timetable

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.


Blackboard will be used for information.

Reading list

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

  • Chantal Mouffe, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’, available at

  • W.J.T. Mitchell, Cloning Terror. The war of Images, 9/11 to the present. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press 2011

  • T.J. Demos, Against the Anthropocene. Berlin, Sternberg Press 2017


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the instructors R.(Rob) Zwijnenberg or Prof.dr. C.J.M. (Kitty) Zijlmans

Administrations Office Huizinga