Freedom of the Arts #2 • Jens Kastner: Between Cancel Culture and Cultural Appropriation: The Spectrum of Artistic Freedom

Freedom of the Arts • Public Lecture Series • Winter 2023/24

Lecture #2 — November 27, 2023, 18:00–19:30

Jens Kastner
Between Cancel Culture and Cultural Appropriation: The Spectrum of Artistic Freedom

Artistic freedom operates within complex networks of recognition and legitimacy, with contemporary discourse highlighting two contentious subjects: Cancel Culture and Cultural Appropriation.
Cancel Culture, a phenomenon scrutinizing artists’ ethical conduct, sparks debates about the separation of an artist’s work from their personal behavior. Historically, artistic autonomy was grounded in the archetype of the artist-genius, accountable solely to future judgment. However, this paradigm is now challenged by concepts like the “Death of the Author” (Barthes 1967), which suggests that an artist detaches from their work, enabling it to evolve independently. While it values artistic autonomy, it often leans into a male-dominated theoretical tradition accentuating independence.
Cultural Appropriation raises different concerns, revolving around the respectful use of elements from cultures not one’s own. The line between appreciation and appropriation is thin, leading to tensions when aspects of a culture are employed without due acknowledgment, understanding, or permission. Navigating this issue necessitates distinguishing between genuine cross-cultural engagement that enriches the art world and exploitation or disrespect.
Balancing artistic freedom with responsibility is the crux of these matters. Achieving this equilibrium requires open and respectful dialogues among artists, critics, and affected communities.

PD Dr. phil. habil. Jens Kastner is a sociologist and art historian. Since 2008, he is research associate / senior lecturer at the Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He has been an associate professor at the University of Muenster, the Vienna Art School, the University of Vienna, and Vienna University of Technology. Jens Kastner completed his habilitation at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2018. Furthermore, he is coordinating editor of Bildpunkt Magazine of IG Bildende Kunst and author of numerous articles in newspapers and magazines on social movements, Cultural Studies and contemporary art. Research interests include cultural theory and art criticism, history and theory of social movements, anarchism, and Latin American Studies.


Freedom of the Arts

The lecture series inquires into the multifaceted terrain of “Freedom of the Arts” from different vantage points, each offering insights into complex contemporary challenges and their historical genealogies. The four evening sessions encompass (i) the international legal framework governing artistic freedom through freedom of expression and cultural rights, presented by Human Rights Expert Manfred Nowak; (ii) a critical exploration of ethical dimensions of the arts, navigating contentious debates on cancel culture and cultural appropriation, led by Art Historian and Sociologist Jens Kastner; (iii) an examination of artistic freedom as part of national security implications, with a focus on art subject to court cases in Russia, as unraveled by Art Historian Sandra Frimmel; and (iv) an investigation of digital transformations influencing arts and critical data, as undertaken by Artistic Researcher and Curator Manuela Naveau.

As these researchers delve into their respective domains, the lecture series aspires to spark cross-disciplinary inquiry and transversal dialogue: Which conditions are required for freedom of the arts, and which categories of rights (for an overview, see Polymenopoulou 2023) can guarantee those conditions? Which human rights treaties, codes, and instruments are relevant to the normative aspects of freedom of the arts, and what are their potential limits (see, e.g., the report on the state of artistic freedom by Freemuse 2023)? Which players and infrastructure promote and protect artistic freedom and how (on the role of the UN see, e.g., Cuny 2023)? In what socio-political climate does censorship of the arts thrive and which legitimate interests can be used to argue for a limitation of artistic freedom, balancing different interests? What ethical dilemmas emerge within the art world, and how does the broader cultural landscape grapple with issues of cancel culture and cultural appropriation? And which purpose do the “estrangement defense”, the “canonic defense”, or the “formalist defense” serve in defending the freedom of transgressive arts (Julius 2020)? To what extent are aesthetic judgments rendered (in)voluntarily when arts are debated in court (see Frimmel/Traumane 2018)? What’s the relation of the outdated distinction in free and applied arts to the “aesthetic model of freedom” (Menke/Rebentisch 2010) that developed with the discipline of Ästhetik as a sub-discipline to art history? In an era defined by digital transformation, what prospects and challenges arise for artists who intervene in algorithmic “pattern discrimination” (Apprich/Cramer/Chun/Steyerl 2018) and engage in a critical approach to data? The lecture series revolves around these questions, seeking to foster a deeper understanding of freedom of the arts through, amongst others, case study research, critical theoretical debate, and discourse analysis.

#1 Manfred Nowak: International Legal Framework: Freedom of Expression and Cultural Rights (November 13, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#2 Jens Kastner: Between Cancel Culture and Cultural Appropriation: The Spectrum of Artistic Freedom (November 27, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#3 Sandra Frimmel: Art as a Shield Against the Expansion of External Cultures: Why and How the Freedom of Art in Russia Plays a Significant Role in National Security Policy (December 18, 2023, 18:00–19:30)

#4 Manuela Naveau: Critical Data and the Arts: How Freedom of the Arts Fosters Understanding of Digital Transformation (January 8, 2024, 18:00–19:30)


Convenor: Lisa Stuckey, Applied Human Rights, University of Applied Arts Vienna


FLUX 1, VZA7 (3rd Floor)
University of Applied Arts Vienna
Vordere Zollamtstraße 7
1030 Vienna

Or via Zoom:
https://dieangewandte-at.zoom.us/j/62243779206 (Meeting ID: 622 4377 9206)


back to top