Indisciplinarity as social form: challenging the distribution of the sensible in the visual arts

Miles, Richard (2016) Indisciplinarity as social form: challenging the distribution of the sensible in the visual arts. In: Message. University of Plymouth Press, pp. 35-55. ISBN 9781841024110


The concept of ‘the distribution of the sensible’, sometimes translated as ‘partition’ or ‘division’, arguably underpins all of Jacques Rancière’s work, though is only directly articulated in one of his later works ‘The Politics of Aesthetics’ (2004). This concept has quickly gained currency in the discourses surrounding cutting edge contemporary art biennales, and Rancière himself has become the ‘philosophe du jour’ for the progressive or radical artist. However, one rarely hears his name uttered in conversations concerning Graphic Design practice, either inside or outside of the academy. For Rancière, ‘the distribution of the sensible’ refers to implicit conventions, laws, social structures, modes of consciousness, the function to separate individuals or social stratas from each other, preventing participation in the creation of a common world. This system enables, legitimises, and authorizes some, whilst at the same time stultifying, disabling, and censoring other. For Rancière, this distribution operates at a meta-level, across both the political and aesthetic realms. Thought in this way, Rancière’s philosophy politicises aesthetics and even aestheticises politics, though not in the sense that Benjamin meant. Through a reading of Rancière’s philosophy, this paper will interrogate a specific aspect of the ‘the distribution of the sensible’ in operation within the arts, particularly their institutionalized forms in the universities and the creative industries. I wish to argue that it is the specific effects of this distribution, rather than the physical properties of the work, or qualities of the human creative labour, which separates Graphic Design from Art; which designate Graphic Design as not art; that creates certain institutional accolades. As a speculative proposition, this paper proceeds from the Rancièrian presumption that a creative ‘community of equals’,beyond disciplinary antagonisms, heirarchization, and seprations, is at least a possibility, and tries to imagine what the creative industries would look like if we proceed from this assumption. I reintroduce Rancière’s use of the term ‘indisciplinarity’ here to suggest that collaboration between Graphic Design and Fine Art is both possible and the necessary characteristic of a truly egalitarian democratic society.

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