Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Utopia Art and Popular Culture

Richard Howells.

Utopia is not a physical place nor even a set of rules. Rather, it is a state of mind, infused with hope, that holds that life can, should and will become better than it currently is. This is a perhaps neglected prospect that is nevertheless fundamental to the humanities.

The arts are infused with what Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) described as: "preserved meanings" that encode visions of a better life in the future. Painting, opera and literature thus provide "wishful landscapes" that do not provide documentary, historical evidence of what life really is or was.

Blochs' theory, however, was not limited to what some may describe as "high culture." He also saw "wishful images" in film, bestsellers, pantomime and even the fairy tale, which he described as a "castle in the air par excellence." In this way, Bloch's philosophy licenses a Utopian analysis not only of fine art, but also film, literature, fiction, dance, theater, architecture and the built environment. It is an approach that encourages a cross-disciplinary approach, drawing upon the fine arts, the humanities and the social sciences.

The concept of hope, as encoded in the arts and articulated by Utopian thinkers, is similarly fundamental to social renewal. By offering the alternative vision of a better world, the arts have the potential to revitalize not just individual communities but societies as a whole. As Jesse Jackson might have put it, the arts enjoy the privileged position of being able to: "keep hope alive."


Richard Howells  (United Kingdom)
Lecturer in Communication Arts
Institute of Communications Studies
University of Leeds

  • Utopia
  • Bloch
  • Art
  • Popular Culture

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)