Art and Commitment


West Bank Arts Quarter
U of M: Twin Cites

Locations include: Rarig Center, Regis Center for Art, and the Barbara Barker Center for Dance

Free and open to the public

Richard Leppert

Date: Friday December 03
Time: 9:15 a.m.
Place: Regis Center for Art - Influx Auditorium

Born: Fargo, North Dakota, USA

Lives: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

See bio on: Richard Leppert

Introduction: Lynn Lukkas, Associate Professor of Art, University of Minnesota

"Caveat: Commitment"

Philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) wrote insistently about the critical role of art in both critiquing society as it was and imagining something better. At the same time, he was outspokenly skeptical of political art, as such. In the words of Adorno scholar Simon Jarvis, for Adorno "the danger for politically committed art is that it will end up as bad art without becoming good politics either." Put differently, Adorno sensed in politically committed art a strong tendency towards agitprop: a devolution into propaganda. He suggested that artworks which strive to intervene directly in politics have the effect of, as he put it, "preaching to the saved"; he argued that artworks exercise any practical effect not by—in his words—"haranguing but by the scarcely apprehensible transformation of consciousness." Professor Leppert’s remarks will center on the challenge put to artists by Adorno’s formulation, in particular setting Adorno’s unrelenting critique of what he called "committed art" ("Commitment," 1962), in relation to his seemingly contrary insistence of the responsibility of art to address human suffering (Aesthetic Theory, 1970).

Biography on Richard Leppert

Department of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, & PhD Program in Comparative Studies in Discourse & Society, University of Minnesota.

Richard Leppert is Fesler-Lambert Professor of Humanities, and Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Minnesota. His PhD is in Musicology, with Art History as his cognate field. He holds undergraduate degrees in Music, English Literature, and German Literature.

Leppert's work is concentrated on the relations of music and imagery to social and cultural construction, principally revolving around issues of gender, class and race. Most of his work concerns European high culture from early modernity to the present, though he also has also published on American music and art. He has specific interests in critical theories of the arts and culture from the Frankfurt School to post-modernism, Adorno in particular.

Leppert is author of seven books, including Art and the Committed Eye: The Cultural Functions of Imagery (Westview/HarperCollins,1996); The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation and the History of the Body (U California Pr, 1993, pb: 1995); Music and Image: Domesticity, Ideology and Socio-Cultural Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge U Pr,1988, pb: 1993); and Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception (co-ed. Susan McClary; 1987, pb: Cambridge U Pr,1989). His most recent book, for the University of California Press, is an edition of selected Essays on Music by Theodor W. Adorno, together with an extensive commentary. He is currently at work on a book called Musical Extremes: The Dialectics of Virtuosity.

Leppert has held senior fellowships from, among others, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He is one of fourteen Phi Beta Kappa National Visiting Scholars for 2004-05.

Selected Recent Career Highlights:

Invited Lecturer:


Ph.D. (1973), Indiana University (Musicology [Art History Minor])
M. M. (1969), Indiana University (Musicology [Art History Minor])
B. A. (1966), Moorhead State College*(German Literature Major)
| B. S. (1966), Moorhead State College* (Music; English Literature Majors)
(*Summa cum laude, as first in graduating class)

Curriculum Vita (download .pdf)
Bibliography (download .pdf)

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