Jansen, Erik: Art as capability: Art, agency and epistemic justice

This paper develops an argument from the Capabilities Approach for participation in artistic practices as a valuable human capability. In this argument, artistic objects or artefacts hold intrinsic value (art for art’s sake), instrumental value (art as gaining anything externally valuable) and socio-epistemic value in that they contribute to individuals’ shaping of, understanding and positioning in the social world and its interrelating actants. These dimensions are experienced as valued beings and doings, and withholding people the opportunities to develop meaningful ways of relating to and participating in cultural practices can be considered a form of epistemic injustice.

In the Capabilities Approach a person’s agency expansion is considered an important constituent of her wellbeing. The arts’ socio-epistemic value contributes to human agency through the experience of artefact-based beings and doings, because artefacts arouse responses in individuals as if they are living beings. People can come to relate meaningfully to (love, hate, admire, etc.) artworks as if they are persons and develop agency by interacting with them, e.g. in rituals or cultural practices. Artistic objects expose individuals to essential insights for coping with complex circumstances and create a sense of coherence about interrelated objects in the world. These insights expand one’s range of psychological and social wellbeing opportunities, and thereby one’s subjective capability space, within the shared norms and values of the relevant group or collectivity.