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The Lure of the Social

Encounters with Contemporary Artists

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This new and original book is a creative practice ethnography, which navigates a spectrum where at one end the author works closely with socially engaged artists as part of her ethnographic research, and at the other she tries to find a critical distance to write about their art projects and the institutional structures that support their work, such as art schools and conferences.

Artists increasingly find themselves working in participatory settings where skills in social engagement are as essential as their creative skills.  The author was involved in the field of social practices from its early stages and stayed engaged with the primary movers in the field for nearly two decades as a witness, participant and critical observer. Her writing evokes the people and places she discusses, and her writing style is personal and accessible.

Over the course of the book, readers are introduced to artists and their work, and to the key debates and issues facing this fast-growing and emergent field. The author navigates the contradictions and paradoxes of this field of practice through description and analysis and, importantly, gives voice to the artists who are working to make art relevant in times of social and political uncertainty.

The problems addressed by social practices, as well as their contradictions, very much reflect our troubled political global moment. This book is a significant contribution to the field – few people have followed the development of social practices for as long as Coombs, and her dual perspective as an art critic and anthropologist make her ideally placed to describe and evaluate the institutions and practices.   While there are many books already in this growing field, the experimental and intensely personal nature of this book sets it apart. It could be a useful teaching tool to generate debate around the tensions and paradoxes inherent in the field of social practices and politically engaged art. Students will appreciate the author’s attempt to convey what it was really like to be there at certain key events and insights gained from direct conversations with the artists, curators and writers shaping the field.

Relevant to academics working in, and students studying, art and social practice, community arts programmes, contemporary anthropology, cultural historians and those with an interest in the sociology of art, protest or activism.

Will appeal to artists, writers and students interested in the history of how social practices developed as a field through its practitioners, discourse and lived experience. 

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