In the eye of the beholder : the role of the artist in the institutional dialectics of control, resistance and liberation
Through the analysis of field based qualitative and ethnographic data collated over nine years,
insights drawn from art theory, Cultural Studies, Sociology and Anthropology, I seek to
understand the conditions and nature of my own and other artists' practices so as to lay out
and analyse a more general and transferable 'fourth genre' model for `arts work in
institutions'. I term the model of working I have arrived at the `Validation Model' because it
attempts to undo what I assume is the invalidation of subjects (in schools and mental
hospitals) that takes place when they enter prescribed social relations within institutionally
defined categories, that is `pupil/child' and `mad'. This thesis aims to contextualise,
understand, and draw out the Validation Model rationale and define its practice.
I argue that arts practices transferred to institutions can function in a deconstructive and
liberating way, breaking down narrow prescriptions and challenging received and categorical
ideas. Creativity itself can be seen as an emptiness, a `negative' space that 'cancels out' ideas
of normalcy allowing statements, or expressions or validations of what, we are in our own
terms, for ourselves at particular times, full unto themselves rather than as staging posts in a
journey mapped out for us by other (expert) people.
There are three basic questions informing this thesis. First: what are the elements of a `fourth
genre' of 'Validation' model arts projects? Second: what potential exists in this genre for the
aiding of subjects to avoid the constraints of `negative' (mad people and children) positions?
Third: how do `negative subjects" perceptions fall outside of the `normal' and can these
perceptions be categorised, for some purposes at least, as creative rather than pathological
deviations? This thesis explores and interrogates these questions through an open
ethnographic methodology focussed on arts practices which seek to validate `client'
perspectives, meanings and practices.
In this thesis I first provide an overview of the related models of the first two 'genres' of arts
practices:t he educationaal nd the therapeutico nes.I go on to outline how the third genreI am
exploring shares some features with the old form of `community' arts but has more in
common with New Genre Public Art, though differing from it in being situated within
institutions. In line with Szasz's analysis of the `myth' of mental illness and with James,
Jenks and Prout' s case for the social construction of `childhood', I argue that 'invalid' subject
positions are socially enforced `negative categories' that `mad' and young people are
constrained to inhabit. Third genre arts practices aim to help subjects to break free from these
I identify threes tageso f the Validation model in Arts practicesI.n the first stageth e
Validation Model provides `free space' for inmates to use as they see fit. The data indicates
that inmatesu set his spacef irstly to questiona nd contestt heir invalid statusa ndt hen to resist
it throughc reativea nda rtistic expressiono f their validity. In staget wo, to varying degrees,
inmatesr esistb y subvertinga ndt urning back ontot he institution the very techniquesth at are
used to control them so becoming more effective agents of social change by way of the inter
subjectiver elationsi n to which thesea ctsl ead them.T his connectsin to a third stage
whereby,a gaint o varying degreesm, ore open,s ometimesd irect kinds of criticism of,
challengesa ndr esistanceto institutionalc ontrol arem ade.
This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by defining a liberational model of
arts practicei n institutions,s pecificallyi n elaboratinga nd exploringa rts practicest hat attempt
to affect somes ort of socialo r political changeI.n doing this I addresslo ng standing
problems identified by Kelly (1984)- community art died because it lacked a theoretical
framework - and Lacy (1995)- there is no framework to evaluate the success or failure of such
practice. Both theoretically and ethnographically, I have identified how art has the potential to
help inmates question their prescribed positions and re-situate themselves as valid subjects in
their own terms and not least in relation to practices of resistance to institutional control.
Furthermore, in showing how validation takes place through defined stages I have provided
the means for providing some sort of calibration of progress towards stated ends.