Art, Law and Politics - LW649

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


"Art, law and politics" focuses not on the law relating to the sale, protection or movement of art, but on an exciting new body of contemporary art that takes law as its subject matter. Why have artists recently taken such an interest in law? How is art about law unique, and what can “law people” learn from it? This module aims to answer these questions by exploring the many ways artists have targeted law and legal themes. Socially-motivated art about law is animated by a strong critical, political spirit. But contemporary art doesn't simply “represent” law (which is often said about legally-themed literature and film): the great flexibility of art’s forms allows it to “get inside” legal practices, processes, presumptions and structures, opening them up to new perspectives and making us experience them in different ways. We will look at major examples of contemporary and modern art about law (and some of the best art-law writing, to help us to analyse them). While such art can often be read as critical of law and its institutions, we can also read it for the social and political knowledge about law it contains (what we might call an alternative kind of artistic jurisprudence). In this way, the module equips students with a solid understanding of the relations between contemporary art and law.


Contact hours

Contact hours: 20
Private study hours: 130

Total study hours: 150

Method of assessment

Primary assessment method
The module will be assessed by 100% coursework, namely a 4,000-word essay (100%).

Reassessment method
Students who fail this module will be reassessed in the form of a reassessment instrument (i.e. an essay) which tests the same module learning outcomes.

Indicative reading

• A Constructed World. (2013). The Social Contract. (artwork)
• Ben-Dor, O., ed., (2011). Law and Art: Justice, Ethics and Aesthetics. London: Routledge.
• Kee, J. (2017). Félix Gonzáles-Torres on Contracts. Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. 26, pp 517-531.
• Lewandowska, M. and Ptak, L., eds. (2015). Undoing Property? Berlin: Sternberg Press.
• Martens, R. (2008). Enjoy Poverty. (artwork)
• Matta-Clark, G. (1973) Reality Properties: Fake Estates. (artwork)
• McLean, I., ed., (2011) How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art. Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art and Power Publications.
• Parsley, C. (2005). Public Art, Public Law. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies. 19(2), pp 239-253.
• Sierra, S. various works. (artworks)
• Walead, B., ed., (2015) Ethics (Documents of Contemporary Art). London: Whitechapel Gallery.
• Willats, S. (1973). The Artist as an Instigator of Changes in Social Cognition and Behaviour. London: Gallery House Press.
• Young, C. various works. (artworks)
• Young, A. (2005). Judging the Image. London: Routledge.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate critical understanding of how and why artists have engaged with legal thematics in modern and contemporary artistic practice.
2. Display a detailed awareness of the specific value of modern and contemporary artistic practice as a heuristic device for thinking critically about law and legal culture.
3. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of how key elements of modern and contemporary artistic practice can be seen as forging alternative techniques and praxes in fields of human activity that are structured by legal doctrine, culture and institutions.
4. Critically discuss the main contemporary intellectual debates at the intersection of art, law and political theory in application to relevant artworks.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a range of analytical skills including close reading of a variety of legal and non-legal materials (both written and visual);
2. Situate texts within the context in which they were produced and are received;
3. Effectively apply knowledge to analyse complex issues;
4. Write cogently about legal themes and structures as they appear in selected texts (both written and visual);
5. Formulate and sustain a complex argument, supported by appropriate evidence.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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