Vera Mühlebach: The Critical Attitude in Contemporary European Art Education


Thesis Advisor: Ghalya Saadawi

June 2022


This thesis investigates a current paradigm of contemporary European art education best summarised under the term critical attitude. At first sight, the critical attitude presents itself as an appealing cliché, functioning as a discursive promise of being able to reconcile social and political engagement with a way of living as an art worker inside the existing cultural field. Upon examination, however, the critical attitude turns out to be a contradiction that emerges from the interrogation of its allegedly critical potential. Within the critical attitude paradigm, the role of art education appears to be the upholding of the future art workers’ identification with the subversive potential of art, an identification that is necessary to produce critical virtue. In turn, the key research question of this thesis is if art education—situated within the critical attitude paradigm—can equip its students with skills, tools, knowledge or dispositions that have any social or political traction. To examine this contradiction, firstly, the autonomy/heteronomy couple in art is problematised through the lens of a (social) art historical perspective. Secondly, the educational turn and advanced practices are explored as attempts to resist the progressive liberalisation of art education. Finally, the use of the critical attitude paradigm for the neoliberal art market is observed. Methodically, the reflections in this thesis are paired with close readings of presentational discourses of formal and informal art education programmes throughout contemporary Europe.

About: Vera Mühlebach