Professor Roberts is an internationally distinguished writer, critic and curator. Following his first degree in English and Art History at Middlesex Polytechnic (1973-77), Professor Roberts has taught and lectured throughout the UK and overseas, and has completed major curatorial projects in London, Venice, Hamburg, and Liverpool. Roberts is currently Professor of Art and Aesthetics at the University of Wolverhampton. In 2005 he gained a PhD on the basis of previously published work, with a written commentary on that work titled, “The Logics of Deflation: Autonomy, Negation and the Avant-Garde”. He lives in London.
In the 1980s he wrote extensively for art publications nationally and internationally, and published his first book in 1990, Postmodernism, Politics and Art, a critique of postmodernism. In the 1990s he also published Selected Errors (1993), a collection of essays on art of the 1980s, and edited Art Has No History: The Making and Unmaking of Modern Art! (1994) a collection of essays addressing the formation of the ‘modern’ in 20th century art. Over the last 15 years, in a number of books he has turned his attention to re-examining some of the key practices, concepts and categories in contemporary art and cultural theory: the photo document (The Art of Interruption: Realism, Photography and the Everyday and The Impossible Document), the ‘popular’ and cultural division (The Philistine Controversy ) the everyday (Philosophizing the Everyday) and artistic deskilling (The Intangibilities of Form). In Philosophizing the Everyday: Revolutionary Praxis and the Fate of Cultural Theory (2006), for example, he returns to the concept of the everyday as a transformative space of cultural change. Adopting a genealogical critique of the notion, encompassing Freud, Arvatov, Lukács, Benjamin, Lefebvre, Vanegeim, de Certeau and Barthes, Professor Roberts re-articulates the revolutionary implications of the everyday and renounces claims that it is simply an empirical category.
Indicative of this assessment and re-articulation of key cultural and aristic concepts, Professor Roberts published The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Readymade in 2007. Focusing on the dialectical exchange between skilling and deskilling in art after the assimilation of the Duchampian readymade, Professor Roberts refutes definitions of such practice as nihilistic and antithetical to skill, situating questions of value in relation to changes within the social division of labour in the 20th century. Drawing upon political philosophy, cognitive psychology, Marx’s Capital, and social anthropology, Professor Roberts theorises modernism and the avant-garde essentially as a series of debates centred upon the status of labour in the artwork. A further significant critical text in this mode by Professor Roberts is The Philistine Controversy (2002), co-written and co-edited with the artist and writer Dave Beech, which adapts the philosophy of Adorno to challenge received notions of the philistine as uncultured in order present the figure as a transformative agent of art and aesthetics. He is also the co-editor (with Matthew Beaumont, Andrew Hemingway and Esther Leslie) of the collection As Radical as Reality Itself (2007)
Recent essays on art, politics and aesthetics by Professor Roberts have been published in the Oxford Art Journal, Third Text, Radical Philosophy, Historical Materialism, Philosophy of Photography and Manifesta. These include the editing (and contributing to) of a special issue of Third Text (Vol 23, Issue 4, No 99, 2009) entitled ‘Art, Praxis, and the Community to Come’, dealing with the development of relational and post-relational aesthetics in contemporary social art practice; an extensive essay on the politics of contemporary photography in the Oxford Art Journal (Vol 32, Issue 2, 2009) ‘Photography After the Photograph: Event, Archive and the Non-Symbolic’ and an essay ‘The Curator as Producer: Aesthetic Reason, Non-Aesthetic Reason and Infinite Ideation’ a contribution to a special issue of Manifesta journal on the curator as producer (No 8, 2010)
An academic of international standing he has also spoken at conferences in the USA, Spain, Brazil, Holland and Denmark and in 2004 completed a lecture tour to Russia. Recent conference invites include: the 29th Art Historians Conference, UCL (2003), the Annual Conference of the Society for European Philosophy, Essex University (2003), Documenta 12, Kassel (2007), MACBA, Barcelona (2008), CAA Chicago, 2010, Tate (2010) and 7th Annual Historical Materiaiism Conference, SOAS.
In 2011 Roberts published, through Verso, The Necessity of Errors, which looks at the productiveness of errors and mistakes, in relation to the formation of the Western philosophical subject, philosophy of science, psychoanalysis, political praxis and art. An earlier work on errors and mistakes (’21 Aphorisms’, published in Cabinet magazine No 1, 2000) is to be incorporated as number of wall-texts into a forthcoming show, ‘By Mistakes: Accidents as Creative Tools’, in Valencia, Spain in May, as part of the Observatori 2011 Festival. Roberts is currently working on a new book on photography (Photography and Its Violations) to be published next year.