The Work of Art in the World

Civic Agency and Public Humanities

The Work of Art in the World

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 14 photographs, 2 graphs Published: January 2014

Author: Doris Sommer

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Pedagogy and Higher Education

Celebrating art and interpretation that take on social challenges, Doris Sommer steers the humanities back to engagement with the world. The reformist projects that focus her attention develop momentum and meaning as they circulate through society to inspire faith in the possible. Among the cases that she covers are top-down initiatives of political leaders, such as those launched by Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, and also bottom-up movements like the Theatre of the Oppressed created by the Brazilian director, writer, and educator Augusto Boal. Alleging that we are all cultural agents, Sommer also takes herself to task and creates Pre-Texts, an international arts-literacy project that translates high literary theory through popular creative practices. The Work of Art in the World is informed by many writers and theorists. Foremost among them is the eighteenth-century German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, who remains an eloquent defender of art-making and humanistic interpretation in the construction of political freedom. Schiller's thinking runs throughout Sommer's modern-day call for citizens to collaborate in the endless co-creation of a more just and more beautiful world.


“This inspiring book is filled with models, sources, and ideas that can be adapted and adopted to inform teaching and research about activist art and creativity.” — Anna Upchurch, LSE Review of Books

"Its celebration of the difference that art can make in a world that kills what is human in man by preventing people to discover real freedom and to find their way between personal well-being and social and political commitment is a very welcome and timely one." — Jan Baetens, Leonardo Reviews

"Sommer breaks down the barrier between those who create artworks and those who analyze them, between cultural 'producers' and cultural critics, but also the barrier between institutional figures and those excluded from spaces of high art. She calls for socially engaged humanistic studies to encourage imaginative work in both artistic interpretation and creation. . . . Sommer’s book is filled with examples of how to leave the ivory tower and take to the streets."  — Patrícia Vieira, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Pragmatic and purpose-driven, this book speaks directly to the defunding and devaluing of the humanities at all levels and will awaken even those grown weary of calls to action. This book will excite anyone seeking evidence of the successes of collaborative, public humanities initiatives. Buy a copy for your dean. Recommend it for a faculty study group or a community read. Sommer can puncture apathy with hope and motivation to act.” — Robin Becker, Academe

“The book will speak to readers on many levels. Scholars will ponder its philosophical arguments crafted with passion and wit, while artists inclined to social engagement will interpret its urgent call to expand the dialogue about art and political freedom. Sommer achieves a remarkable feat: to surprise artists and citizens anew into being co-creators of new paths to promote beauty and action. No small thing in these trying times." — Pedro Reina Perez, ReVista

"The Work of Art in the World is a ringing manifesto for public art as an agent of democratic change. Doris Sommer traces the connections between art, activism, and social transformation in communities from Buenos Aires to the South Bronx, framing the surprising and stirring art practices that she describes in relation to the vital traditions of aesthetics and democratic political theory. Her aim is to stimulate civic discussion and communicative action; her book is revelatory, alive, and inspiring." — Kathleen Woodward, author of Statistical Panic: Cultural Politics and Poetics of the Emotions

"This remarkable book is both a unique introduction to, and an informed and passionate argument for, socially engaged art. Doris Sommer not only illuminates the objectives, methods, forms, effects, and context of civic art but also radically expands the ways we see and think about art in general." — Krzysztof Wodiczko, artist and Professor of Art, Design, and the Public Domain at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Doris Sommer is the Ira and Jewell Williams Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, where she is Founder and Director of Cultural Agents: Arts and Humanities in Civic Engagement. She is the author of Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education and editor of Cultural Agency in the Americas, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xv

Prologue. Welcome Back 1

1. From the Top: Government-Sponsored Creativity 15

2. Press Here: Cultural Acupuncture and Civic Stimulation 49

3. Art and Accountability 81

4. Pre-Texts: The Arts Interpret 107

5. Play Drive in the Hard Drive: Schiller's Poetics of Politics 135

Notes 157

Bibliography 193

Index 215
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5586-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5572-4
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