The Dark Side of Art’s Social Turn: Towards a Discourse on the Impact of Art’s Use of Social Forms Upon the Social

Mary Anne Francis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The recent ‘social turn’ in art, in which art favours using forms from social life above its own, has been extensively discussed. Relational Aesthetics by Nicolas Bourriaud, Conversation Pieces and The One and the Many by Grant Kester, essays by Claire Bishop who supplies the term ‘The Social Turn’, and her recent publication Artificial Hells, are now as important to the field as the art they scrutinize. Ironically however, when this discussion regards the implications of the ‘turn’, it habitually addresses the effects of this development from - and for - art’s point of view, overlooking the way in which artists’ inroads into social life may be differently regarded in the social realm. As much as this represents a failure to illuminate a particular area for knowledge, it also signifies a failure to take art’s revalorized commitment to the social to its ethical conclusion: the ‘dark side’ of art’s social turn, from two perspectives. This paper seeks to mitigate these oversights. In particular, it looks at art in which an artist undertakes another person’s professional work. Considering the effects of this on those whose practices are appropriated, I propose a consultative approach, involving ethnographic and empathetic modes of address. Consequently, this paper does not present an answer to the question it poses, ‘how do professionals in the social realm see art’s appropriations of their practices?’ but rather, a framework for approaching that.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-43
Number of pages19
JournalJournal for Cultural Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2013


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