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The Working-Class Avant-Garde

Date: 22 June 2018
Time: 09:00 - 18:00

LSBU Southwark Campus - Keyworth Building, 8th Floor

Organiser: Dr Leon Betsworth
Contact details:
Price: Standard: £20.50. Student/Unwaged: Free

In this one day symposium, the contributions to the twentieth-century British avant-garde by artists and writers of working class heritage will be examined and explored

The avant-garde is often conceived to be the domain of the elite – those with the financial backing, education, and networks to succeed in this competitive arena. Indeed, studies such as John Carey’s divisive text, Intellectuals and the Masses, have understood the high intellectualism of the twentieth-century avant-garde to have developed in response to the improved education of the mass populace: a means to retain the divide between the masses and the elite. This symposium solicits papers about artists and writers who are outliers to this rule: the working-class figures who partook of the elite world of the avant-garde.

In recognising the fluidity of the term ‘working class’, and indeed its changing conditions through the twentieth century, we welcome studies of artists and writers who represent this designation relative to their own generation. Equally, as the definition of ‘avant-garde’ may well be contested, we propose an inclusive and flexible understanding of the term. Notable figures may include Henry Moore, DH Lawrence, Mark Gertler and David Bomberg in the early twentieth century, or later figures such as the ‘Two Roberts’, Merseybeat poets, and some YBAs. Studies of lesser-known figures of the avant-garde are welcomed, as are papers on the conditions of working class artists during the twentieth century.

Did their background influence their practice, or was it rejected in favour of a depoliticised aesthetic? Who were the patrons, institutions, art schools and collectives who supported these figures? How did the cultures and ideas of the working classes influence the development of British art throughout the twentieth century?

We invite proposals for papers of 20 minutes in length. Please send proposals of no more than 250 words, along with a brief biographical note to: The deadline for proposals is Sunday 11 March 2018.

Speakers will be given the opportunity to publish their papers in a peer-reviewed edited volume.

The symposium will take place on Friday 22 June 2018. In keeping with the symposium’s theme, it will be held at London South Bank University, previously the Borough Polytechnic, and home of Bomberg’s Borough Group.

This symposium is organised collaboratively by:

Dr Alexandra Trott (Oxford Brookes University, Fine Art)

Dr Leon Betsworth (London South Bank University, English)

Dr Nick Lee (Royal Holloway, University of London, Media Arts)

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