On Liberty and Art

One-day conference organised by Dr Malcolm Quinn This conference, organised by Quinn in collaboration with Tate Britain, was the latest in a series of engagements by Quinn with the legacy of JS Mill and the idea of an aesthetics of liberty, beginning with an address to Mill’s ‘On Liberty’in a co-authored book, then developed through a paper at the JS Mill Bicentennial conference at University College London (6th April 2006) and another at the conference ‘Liberty, Human Values and Utilitarianism,’ Yokohama National University, Japan (9th -11th September 2006). This latter paper, initially delivered at a conference that included many of the most important researchers in the field, made a decisive shift from discussion of the epistemology of Millian liberty to an address to questions of art, sensibility and aesthetics. It formed part of Quinn’s development of ideas for the ‘On Liberty and Art’ conference at Tate Britain, which has initiated a WCA research project investigating frameworks and reference points for a discourse on liberty conducted through art practice, with presentations from the artists John Russell, Dave Beech, Bob and Roberta Smith, Pil and Galia Kollectiv, Amanda Beech and Roman Vasseur. Quinn’s opening address isolated the question of aesthetic liberty as a ‘sensibility of freedom’ and discussed how artists are included within a current media conversation on the crisis of liberty and free speech. Quinn also discussed the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay as exemplifying a discourse on liberty developed through art practice that directly challenged the utilitarian model of liberty as non-coercion and equal distribution developed by Mill and Bentham. Quinn also included reference to the ‘rights to art’ cited in the UN Declaration of human rights of 1948, which produce a conflation of collective/moral and personal rights that have influenced current understanding of the relationship of liberty and art
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