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Kathy Desmond, IDSVAFollow





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This dissertation explores contemporary works of art and theory that utilize a discourse of openness that recognizes contingency through participation and dialogic engagement. I argue that the incorporation of the third highlights a dialogic encounter that functions as an attribute of an ethico-aesthetic predicated on a philosophy of care. In recent years, many artists have been investigating forms of participatory relationships in works that explore notions of performative, rather than contemplative, response. An ethico-aesthetic is more readily manifest in this sort of artwork than in other, more traditional forms, because the inclusion of the third often is a component of work that concertedly focuses on empathy, connection, and care.

At the same time, there has been a philosophical shift from regarding ethics in the context of universal truth or objective judgment, to proposing an ethics of care grounded in a performative and embodied engagement – one that recognizes that “truth” is situational and contingent. Many philosophers and theorists have been addressing the notion of the impossibility of static truth in philosophy, literary and psychoanalytic theory. Indebted to theory by Martin Heidegger, Mikhail Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva, and Kelly Oliver, this dissertation places their work in a conversation with the visual arts to examine recent shifts in aesthetic discourse.

While any aesthetic form can be seen as ideologically-inflected, this dissertation examines the particular shift from an aesthetic form whose ideology is predicated on judgment and metaphysical truth to an aesthetic form that is predicated on the re-emergence of an ideology of care and openness - a form of ethico-aesthetics that recognizes situatedness.

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Interactive Arts | Philosophy


Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland, Maine

Dialogic Engagement and the Role of the Third in Contemporary Art Practice: Ethico-aesthetics and Performative Subjectivity



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