Professor John Roberts

Professor Art & Aesthetics

Roberts John
Email address: Phone number: 01902 322017 Location: MK303 Faculty: Faculty of Arts School/Institute: Wolverhampton School of Art Areas of expertise: Professor of Art & Aesthetics


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.

Research interests

REF Outputs


Selected Recent and Forthcoming Lectures

  • April, 2015: Conference, ‘Political Violence and Militant Aesthetics After Socialism’, Yale University.
  • August 21-24, 2014: Conference ‘Mass Culture and Cultural Theory Now’,  Institut für Sozialforschung and the Department of Theater, Media and Film at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
  • July 12, 2014: ‘Everyday Now’, ICA, London.
  • June 30-2 July, 2014: Conference ‘The Avant-Garde, Transmateriality and the Second Economy’, ‘Production of Humanity: Russian Avant-Garde between Bipolitics and Neohumanism’, National Centre of Contemporary Art, Moscow.
  • June 13, 2014: ‘Conceptual art, Bildung, and the Intellectual Division of Labour’,Symposium Kunstlerhaus Buchsenhausen, Innsbruck.
  • May 14, 2014: ‘Photography and Its Violations’, London College of Communications.
  • May 9, 2014: ‘Ideation, Abstraction, Photography’, Symposium, ‘Photography and Abstraction’, University of Westminster.
  • April 25-27, 2014: ‘What is Art’s Second Economy?’,‘Artistic Production in the Moment of Cognitive Capitalism’, Symposium, Art Brussels.
  • March 20, 2014: 'Realism, alter-realism and the problem of legibility', Literature and Visual Cultures Research Seminar, Senate House, UCL.
  • February 14, 2014: lecture Art, Negation, and the Politics of Time, Thomas Flor, Galerie, Berlin.
  • December 15, 2013: seminar on 'L'Erreur/Error, Sorbonne, Paris.
  • November 30, 2013: lecture The Political Economy of the Image, Edinburgh University.
  • November 29, 2013: lecture The Political Economy of the Image, Glasgow School of Art.
  • October 24, 2013: Surplus Desire, Conversation with Maria Fusco and Diedrich Diederichsen, ICA, London.
  • October 23, 2013: Symposium on Making/Unmaking, Camberwell School of Art, London.
  • November 25, 2015: Kunstler Haus, Stuttgart, Cambridge University.
  • December 12-13, 2015: 'Retheorising the Avant-garde Today'.
  • January 23, 2015: Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

Recent Publications

  • Roberts, J. (2013) Dialectic and Post-Hegelian Dialectic (Again): Zizek, Bhaskar, Badiou, Journal of Critical Realism, Vol 12, Number 1.
  • Roberts, J. (2013) Art, Politics and the Topological Turn in Karen van den Berg and Ursula Pasero (eds), Art Beyond the Art Market, Berlin and New York: Sternberg Press.
  • Roberts, J. (2013) Art and Praxis: Metastasis, Legibility, Situatedness in Suzana Milevska (ed) The Noologist's Handbook and Other Recent Art Experiments2008-2012, Berlin: Archive Books.
  • Roberts, J. (2013) 'Temporality, Critique and the Vessel Tradition: Bernard Leach and Marcel Duchamp, The Journal of Modern Craft, Vol 6, Issue 3.
  • Roberts, J. (2012) Labour, Emancipation and the Critique of Craft-Skill, The Journal of Modern Craft', Vol 5, Issue 2.
  • Roberts, J. (2011), Revolutionary Pathos, Negation and the Suspensive Avant-Garde, New Literary History, No 41.
  • Roberts, J. (2011) Photography, Landscape and the Social Production of Space, Philosophy of Photography, Vol 1, No 2.
  • Roberts, J. (2010) The Curator as Producer: Aesthetic Reason, Non-Aesthetic Reason and Infinite Ideation, Manifesta No 8.
  • Roberts, J. (2010) Art After Deskilling, Historical Materialism, Vol 18 No 2.
  • Roberts, J. (2010) Philosophy, Culture, Image: Ranciere’s Constructivism, Philosophy of Photography, Vol 1, No 1.
  • Roberts, J. (2010) Pointing To: Trauma Ostension and the Photographic Document, Parallax, No 55.
  • Roberts, J. (2009) On the Limits of Badiou’s Theory of Negation in Art, Journal of Visual Arts Practice, Vol 7, No 3.
  • Roberts, J. (2009) Art and Its Negations, Third Text, No 104, Vol 24, Issue 3, May.
  • Roberts, J. (2009) Productivism and Its Contradictions, Third Text, No 100, Vol 23 Issue, 5 September.
  • Roberts, J. (2008) Memories, History, Mnemotechnics. in The Lining of Forgetting. Greensboro, North Carolina: Weatherspoon Art Museum.
  • Roberts, J. (2008) The Amateur's Retort. in Amateurs. San Francisco: CCA Wattis Institute.
  • Roberts, J. (2007) The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Readymade.  London and New York: Verso.
  • Roberts, J., and Wall, J. (2007) Post-60s Photography and Its Modernist Context: A Conversation Between Jeff Wall and John Roberts. in Wall, J. (ed.) Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews. New York: MoMA.
  • Roberts, J., Beaumont, M., Hemingway, A., & Leslie, E. (2007) As Radical as Reality Itself: New Essays on Marxism, Art and Aesthetics.  Peter Lang.
  • Roberts, J. (2006) Philosophizing the Everyday: Revolutionary Praxis and the Fate of Cultural Theory. London: Pluto Press.
  • Roberts, J., & Wright, S. (2004) Art and Collaboration Introduction, and Collaboration as a Problem of Art’s Cultural Form.  Art and Collaboration: Special Issue of Third Text, 18(6), pp. 531-532 & 557-564.
  • Roberts, J., & Beech, D. (2002) The Philistine Controversy. London and New York: Verso.

Further information

Professor John Roberts is Director of Studies for the following PhD students:

  • Michael Birchall,
  • Carina Brand,
  • Christopher Gomersall,
  • Fiona Jardine,
  • Ben Seymour.

PhD Supervisions

  • Philosophy of Art/art theory
  • Philosophical aesthetics (Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, Hegel)
  • Modern and contemporary philosophies of art (Adorno, Cixous, Luhmann, Rancière, Badiou, Virno, Nancy, Stiegler)
  • Theories of modernism (Duchamp, Greenberg, de Duve)
  • Contemporary art and theory (relational/post-relational aesthetics, participatory
  • Art, theories of the technological image, documentary practice, the avant-garde)
  • Cultural theory
  • Post-60s cultural theory (Lefebvre, Debord, Fanon, Kristeva, Guattari, Jameson, Butler, Harvey, Crary)
  • 1960s English counterculture and popular music (song-form)
  • Contemporary dramaturgy (Boal, Müller, Lehmann, Badiou)
  • Political and Social Philosophy
  • Faith and reason (Aquinas, Ockham, Descartes, Kant, Herder, Hegel)
  • Error and truth (Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel)
  • Value theory and the commodity form (Marx, Lordon, Tomsic, End Notes, Stiegler)

Completed PhDs

  • 2009 Andrew Yarnold, ‘Aura, Craft and Labour: The Critical Dialogue between Photography and Painting’ 
  • 2010 Euripides Altintzoglou, ‘Dualism and the Critical Languages of Portraiture’
  • 2012 Robert Grose, ‘Instances of the Emergence of the Documentary Real within Relational and Post-Relational Aesthetics’
  • 2014 Fiona Jardine, ‘The Divided Seal: Reading a History of Signatures in Visual Art through Derrida’s Signature Event Context’
  • 2015 Michael Birchall, ‘ The Curator as Producer in Socially Engaged Art, 1993-2015’
  • 2015 Carina Brand, ‘Global Extraction and Cultural Production: An Investigation of Forms of Extraction Through the Production of Artist-Video’
  • 2016 Christopher Gomersall, ‘Between Nature and Freedom: Culture, Progress and Support for the Arts’ 

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