Michael Stone-Richards


Michael STONE-RICHARDS is a scholar-teacher of critical theory / biopolitics, comparative literary / and visual studies, Social Practice, and the history and theory of modern and contemporary art practice. He has published widely in French and English on the avant-garde in poetry, critical theory, and art. Since his arrival in Detroit, he has become deeply involved in the various parts of its arts and performance community, beginning with MOCAD, where he was a founding member of the Program Committee and a co-curator of the exhibition ReFUSING Fashion on Rei Kawakubo and Comme des garçons; he has also served on the founding board of advisors for the Kresge Arts in Detroit, and is a long-time member of the board of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art at the DIA. He has many engagements in the city and organizes the open-format Conversation in the Park as part of the Detroit Seminar and Critical Practice Series that he co-curates with artist Addie Langford as well as collaborations with artists and writers with whom he shares a practice of the Banquet of friends (convivial strategies), and with his students the friendship of collaborative work, thought, and celebration.

He is the author of Logics of Separation (2011) and numerous studies on the poetry of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, J.H. Prynne, Paul Celan, and the Negro Spirituals as well as essays in art writing dealing with Binion, Judd, Jafa, Kawakubo, and fashion and Surrealism. His current research bears on questions concerning the ethics and politics of Care; pedagogy and transmission in the art + design school of the 21st – Century; curatorial practice; blackness and biopolitics; the French analyst Solange Faladé; and the language of moral perfectionism in the work of Simone Weil, Guy Debord, and John Berger.

Before his arrival at the College for Creative Studies (CCS), Michael taught first at Northwestern University, and then taught English and Comparative Literature at Stonehill College, Boston. His translations from the French - Surrealism, Reverdy, Martine Broda, Blanchot - are an integral part of his conception of critical theory. With the support of a Knight Foundation grant, Michael is most recently the founding editor of Detroit Research, devoted to a broad comprehension of Visual and Critical Studies in choreography, ceramics, performance, and critical theory. Michael is currently Professor in Critical Practice and Visual Studies at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. He has been a Visiting Fellow in Critical Studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art, a Fellow at the Centre canadien d’architecture in Montréal, and a Fellow at the Alice Berlin Kaplan Center for the Humanities, Northwestern University. He has received a Graham Foundation Grant for his work on Guy Debord and recently received a Warhol Foundation Grant for his book in progress on Care of the City (forthcoming Sternberg Press / MIT).

Video by Jack di Laura

Critical Practice

Care of the City: Ruination, Abandonment, and Hospitality in Contemporary Practice
(forthcoming Sternberg Press / MIT)

Care of the City is a set of exploratory readings in Critical Practice at the intersection of critical theory with spatial and social practices. What is a city that Care might be part of its nature? The roots of the word Care reveal anxiety, sorrow, attention, lament. Care is both affect and capacity, and one consonant with the political global condition. Everywhere the political condition is marked by retreat, collapse, withdrawal – from treaties, systems, values, social compacts – and no country or region is spared, not even the most privileged of countries or regions which can often be the most hysterical. And just as the globalizing condition, the condition of expansion ironically at one with symbolic contraction, leaves retreat and social collapse in its wake, strangely there is an emerging response of a kind of weak “power” (in the way that gravity is said to be a weak force): the refusal of dominion in favor of Care. In the most fundamental sense, the radical anxiety produced by retreat and collapse of social compacts and values has produced an equally radical awareness not only of mutual interconnectedness with, but dependencies upon, environments, nature, and peoples, that is, entanglements which are often not visible when power works smoothly. Care is the name for the response to this exposure, and the subject across a set of approaches in social / spatial practices / and the poetics of the city. Care of the City is a sustained reflection on this condition of radical exposure through the work of practitioners and poets – Paul Chan with Beckett, Rilke and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, John Akomfrah with Homer’s Odyssey, Theaster Gates with Auden on the need to “rebuild our cities not dream of islands,” Jim Gustafson, Proust, and Paul Valéry in Detroit with Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project and Scott Hocking’s ephemeral structures marking sites of erasure, and Alfredo Jaar and Chantal Akerman with Guy Debord in the rethinking of boundaries / immigration / emergencies.

John Cage: How to Get Started, 1989-

Curated by the John Cage Trust, Bard College and the Slought Foundation, Performed on the 30th of October Museum of Contemporary Art: Detroit. 2016. Recorded Live.


“Quite generally, the familiar, just because it is familiar, is not cognitively understood.”
- Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

“Everyday familiarity collapses.”
- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927)
Biba Bell, 2020. Used with permission.

The great English aesthete Adrian Stokes once said that modern art had accomplished much but that there remains a powerful need for an aesthetics of domesticity. What a remarkable thing to have said! For we do not normally go to art or aesthetics to talk about …domesticity! We go to art, it is said, to be lifted up, to be made to feel the spiritual, to be taken out of oneself, indeed, to forget domesticity. (Is it an accident that in the Detroit art scene there has never been any sustained reflection on domesticity?) Stokes, however, was onto something for one of the great accomplishments of modern art in its avant-garde practices - practices most readily associated with Surrealism, the Situationist International, and Judson Dance – and shared with ordinary language philosophy and critical thought from Wittgenstein to Cavell, from Heidegger to Erving Goffman and the Feminist ethic of Care tradition is the recovery of the everyday as the ground of all human existence. When Heidegger made Care (Sorge) central to Being and Time, central that is, not only to philosophy but to the comprehension of existence, he also made the everyday central to philosophy and existence. When Heidegger said that Care is the response to the radical anxiety experienced when confronted with the collapse of familiarity, he meant the collapse of the everyday, of the ordinary, of all the things that we take for granted – the habits, routines, unexamined practices – that make up our social identities. The collapse of familiarity rips these away from us and leaves us exposed and vulnerable but also as a result able to be-alongside others (strangers as well as environments) without the social masks that we inhabit and through which we project our fears as means of defense of our social roles. At the same time, the collapse of familiarity is the collapse of the domain of the domestic sphere: the home with its rituals and manners of welcome and sheltering; the home and practices of domesticity that we take for granted, whose securities and memories are the background of subjectivity and our ability to face the world – as Rilke wrote “Whoever has no house now, will never have one. / Whoever is alone will stay alone” (“Autumn Day,” trans Stephen Mitchell). In the time of COVID-19 – the desolate time, the destitute time, the meager time, the distressful time – there is much talk of economics (“re-opening the economy” is the phrase) but little to no attention to where the real damage is being enacted: in the sphere of domesticity. What happens when the domestic is no-longer-at-home?

- Michael Stone-Richards

Aporetic Propositions on Citizen, Artist, Participation, and the Claim of Design

  1. Unless “we” fall into a state of exception we are all citizens and any and all ethical or political responsibilities befall us qua citizens.
  1. There is no political or ethical responsibility that the artist or designer qua artist or designer has that the citizen does not first possess qua citizen, and we cannot design citizenship, we can only sustain a fragile culture of citizenship.
  1. When Beuys wrote that Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler – We are all artists – this was in part a statement about radical democratic potentiality, akin to Simone Weil: We are all capable of creative action. What pre-empts or interrupts the flowering of such action remains the question of questions that no traditional idea of art or design can comprehend methodologically or epistemologically.
  1. Participation is existence. Its opposite is alienation. If so, why so much talk of participation? What impedes participation? To speak of participation here is first to draw upon the etymological sense of participation, namely, to have a share or a part in something; but participation is also a movement – intentional, affectively expressive – by which we grasp possibilities and meanings always a part from the locus of movement; above all, participation is world-building practice. Here participation reveals an important feature of our existence, namely, that human existence is always existence or movement in a world beyond bare life, beyond, that is, the Cave. We should more properly speak of an event of participation between partners in the community of being, that is also the City, and as such a phenomenon of shared and complex creation. The restriction of movement is the restriction of existence itself, and this is the basis of being able to say that participation is existence. If though what is also intended is political participation, as must be the case, and all participation is conflict, it should be realized à la Hegel, as Charles Taylor put it succinctly, that “the aspiration to total and complete participation is rigorously impossible,” and would only serve to magnify the conflict inherent in all human activity. Markus Miessen has made much of this Hegelian insight in his meta-thinking on design. What kind of participation and in what kind of community of affect or shared interests are questions that might point to an emerging conception of the artist / designer as thinker / interrogator in need of new institutional expressions.
  1. It is thus ethically required that any restriction of movement, any pre-emption of shared movement that would impede or restrict the modes of existence of any human existence seeking the community of being, the City, should be challenged.
  1. But is it as artists or designers, that is, in the name of the artist or the designer that the ethical and then political challenge should be made?
  1. First, what the great Harvard, French scholar Paul Bénichou first called the sacralization of the artist / writer, namely, the idea that the artist qua artist had a special calling or vocation, that is, a secularized but still priestly role, is not something that can any longer be taken seriously. Strictly speaking, it was not first and foremost a Romantic idea. It was an idea born of the French Revolution but it expired with Late Romanticism and was critically buried with the various New Art Histories and Cultural Historicisms of the post-1968 generation of critical theorists.

  1. And what if design, the pre-critical idea of design as solution to problems of efficacious structure, is part-and-parcel of the problem? Is there a competence unique to designers that entitles a generalization to the level of practice as the Marx of the “Theses on Feuerbach” understood practice, that is, as the dynamic totality of embodied social relations? As Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley put it in their recent critical history of design, Are we Human? Notes on an Archeology of Design (Lars Müller, 2016):

The nineteenth-century dream of “total design” has been realized. The famous slogan of the 1907 Deutscher Werkbund “from the sofa to city planning,” updated in 1952 with Ernesto Rogers’s “from the spoon to the city,” now seems far too modest when the patterns of atoms are being carefully arranged and colossal artifacts, like communication nets, encircle the planet. Designers have become role models in the worlds of science, business, politics, innovation, art, and education but paradoxically they have been left behind by their own concept. They remain within the same limited range of design products and do not participate fully in the expanded world of design. Ironically, this frees them up to invent new concepts of design.

Ironically, that is, the expanded world of design would free up designers to leave behind the lazy emphasis upon products, making things, stuff, and designing places for stuff to occupy. Colomina and Wigley quote Lina Bo Bardi as saying that “The grand attempt to make industrial design a motor for renewing society as a whole has failed – an appalling indictment of the perversity of the system.”

  1. Design in the expanded field, let us call it – why not! – does not have its pedagogy and is emerging without designers or institutional base in design schools. It is not merely 3-D replicators that will soon make definitively redundant traditional ideas of the skill of making, so, too, will the emergence of self-organizing, self-replicating auto-poietic systems. The question of what participation, an event of participation between partners in the community of being, will then mean will have a new urgency.
  1. Again, to quote Colomina and Wigley:
Designers are always understood as solving a problem. Artists, intellectuals, and writers are expected to ask questions, to make us hesitate, to see our world and ourselves differently for a moment, and therefore to think. Why not design as a way of asking questions? Why not design that produces thought-provoking hesitations in the routines of everyday life rather than simply servicing those routines? Why not design that encourages us to think? Design as an urgent call to reflect on what we and our companion species have become?

At the very least such an expanded conception of design as interrogation would not only jettison the concern with stuff, it would expand its thinking into a care beyond the human – our companion species with which we also participate – and become part of a critical activity of biopolitical thought and the non-alienating activity alone worthy of being called participation.


This set of theses was delivered as part of the panel “Citizen-Artist – The Role of Participation” convened by Amy Deines at the annual AICAD conference held in 2019 in Chicago.

Pedagogical Projects

Research / Art + Pedagogy / or, Time in Critical Practice

In the Winter semester of 2018, I conducted, for the first time, a seminar in Critical Practice on Art + Pedagogy from Socrates to Joseph Beuys at CCS. There were 12 students, exceptional students, who were willing to take a risk, a risk since only a handful of them could have had any idea what to expect. As I have long come to learn, one-half of the students were returning students and the other half were present because the first half had encouraged their friends to come join the class. Certain classes fill themselves and this was one of them. What I have also come to learn is that the new group of students – each exceptional in their major and indeed used to being so considered, oh, and normally they are “done with their Humanities” – will be nervous because they find themselves, not listening to a lecture, but in study groups in class practicing the close reading of texts in discussion with their peers. Their friends, who encouraged them to come check out the class, will be responsible for getting them to hang in there as the potential of the experience of discovery sets in. All this was present on the first day of Art + Pedagogy as we discussed in overview texts by Plato (Meno and The Symposium / Banquet), Montaigne (on the art of conversation), Debord (on the ideology of dialogue), Freud and Lacan (on the transference), Kierkegaard (fragments on the impossibility of learning), Freire and bell hooks (on the politics of teaching and learning), and Michael Asher (on time and duration in the crit), that we would be reading over the semester. We also reviewed the artists and practices we would engage in terms of Critical Practice: the dinner gathering (Michael Rakowitz, Theaster Gates, Mary Jane Jacob’s curated Conversations at the Castle, Detroit Soup1), Suzanne Lacy drawing on learning with Allan Kaprow, Beuys who considered that being a teacher was his greatest work of art in comparison with which art objects were detritus, etc.
Flyer for Art + Pedagogy by Jessica Newberry
Normally, things begin to pick up by week 3 or at the latest week 4, but in this case, something happened when in week 2, picking up on some tremors I had felt in week 1, I introduced earlier than planned (after a discussion with the class) Michael Asher’s post-studio crit at CalArts. (Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World was our port of entry.2) A switch had been flipped on. There was light. There was discussion. There was passion. There was anger. Frustration in abundance. Much quoting of texts. Everyone could see their situation framed and ready for discussion in front of them, as if a specimen were there awaiting vivisection. Just about everyone hated the Crit – to be capitalized henceforth – and just about everyone grasped something of the implication that if the main institution of teaching in a school of art and design, namely, the Crit, is not fit for purpose then something more profound was at fault in the very nature of what instruction / learning might be (not mean but be) in the epistemological frame of an art and design school.

The passions ignited by discussion of Asher’s post-studio crit – and not a single student had ever heard of Asher, still less his post-studio class – stunned me. I have not infrequently been in a situation when class discussion takes off and as a teacher one becomes an engaged observer trying to stay out of the way, but this went on for three weeks before I said that I would re-work the syllabus and pursue new but related pistes. - For example, Robert Irwin would enter the new iteration of the seminar.

I have a precise memory – and notations – of what was said during these discussions, but let me start here: Students themselves must take some responsibility for the failure of Crits. I was struck by the maturity of this recognition and the quality of the observations which it provoked. Even more, however, the Crit itself was the problem. In Asher’s practice, on the other hand, students saw a whole new practice of temporality and agency: that a Crit might run for 12 or 15 hours did not frighten them but instead excited them; that the “professor” did not speak, or barely so, intrigued them, even more so as they would come to grasp that the implied practice of listening and utmost presence left students to come to their own realizations about the strength and weaknesses of their work;4 from this many students started a discussion about the role of duration in the Crit, being durationally embedded, both instructor and students, hence no outsiders joining the Crit simply to talk about their own taste or aesthetic; above all, what they got a hold of tight was the idea that the silence of the instructor in the practice of the Crit meant that the work was not there to be turned slowly into a copy of their instructor’s work or become an instance of the instructor’s taste. Here Robert Irwin joined Asher – my own deep interest in Irwin was wholly due to one of the most important CCS alums, the artist Michael E. Smith, whose work is in dialogue with Irwin’s thinking on spatiality - especially the Irwin who observed:

Here the aims of the class started to come into focus:

Point 1: A main aim of the class was to consider the nature and purpose of teaching / learning as the transmission of values that constitute a field of practice, knowing that, as Plato explored in the Socratic dialogues, values and ideas die and so there is nothing inevitable or necessary about a particular set of ideas that is being currently taught.

Point 2: We read Howard Singerman’s exceptional book, Art Subjects,3 on the history of the MFA in the American academy and how the MFA was explicitly never intended to become, and is not to this day, a degree connected with the ability to teach.

All the time my ideal of teaching has been to argue with people on behalf of the idea that they are responsible for their own activities, that they are really, in a sense, the question, that ultimately they are what it is they have to contribute. The most critical part of that is for them to begin developing the ability to assign their own tasks and make their own criticism in direct relation to their own needs and not in light of some abstract criteria. Because once you learn how to make your own assignments instead of relying on someone else, then you have learned the only thing you really need to get out of school, that is, you’ve learned how to learn. You’ve become your own teacher.5

What a rich passage! Not the least important aspect of this reflection is the awareness that in teaching one teaches not to the thing (product or stuff) but to the personthey are what it is they have to contribute – a person who is learning to self-authorize and who in doing so places oneself in question, the most perilous of acts. As teachers we often casually forget the existential dimension involved in becoming who we are, and, even more casually, we commit the grave error of thinking that it is only the good, the successful, or the great ones whose struggles matter, whereas every single person endures their struggle toward their ideal of self.
Le temps dans la vie morale, 1968. Cover of Eliane Amado Lévy-Valensi from the personal library of Michael Stone-Richards originally acquired to study the tradition of moral psychology and time in the thought of Guy Debord
The term research has come to mean many things within the framework of Critical Studies, that is, the variety of Critical Theory developed within the art school responding to the epistemological and methodological challenges posed by the cultural triumph of the twentieth-century avant-garde. (The negation of classical Critical Theory, for example, is made possible by and is a reflection upon the practice of negation in the avant-garde, just as the avant-garde refusal of genres is made materially equivalent to the refusal of the departmentalization of knowledge on the part of Critical Theory.8) Artist research, artistic research, research-driven design, and more. The arrival of the PhD in Art testifies to the expansion of research even as we are not in steady agreement about its nature and practice (something made clear by NASAD documents9), but it is clear, however, that the development of the PhD in Art is a direct function of the fact that the MFA was never meant to be a teaching degree and the art and design school is caught in an incoherence between those who want to teach a studio practice (more or less well)10 and those for whom college-level education requires something more rigorous than savoir-faire as well as something more epistemologically and ethically urgent. Here it is worth quoting Asher when he observes with a certain simplicity – and, I believe, humility – that

One of the few reasons to have a program in the studio arts is to acquire knowledge about the history of culture and learn its production as a practice for social transformation    through the problematizing of representation.11

Spontaneous movement like this…listen…!

In the light of this concentration on the Crit other issues, epistemological and methodological, started to come into visibility:

Observation 1: A key question that emerged from discussions on the Crit, a question which formulated a concept, was the following: What do we want a Crit to be: an artisanal imprinting or a critical practice? Artisanal imprinting pointed to the absorption of the instructor’s studio practice6 the best version of which might be, say, a conservatory approach, whilst the idea of a critical practice, pace Asher, Irwin, but also Roland Barthes’ conception of co-creation and mothering in the space of the seminar, that is, the shared space of learning, pointed to critical practice, research, and knowledge.

Observation 2: There was a fascination with Barthes’ conception of co-creation and mothering as developed in his “To the Seminar”7 – the genre of the German lieder An die Musik (with reference also to Rilke) was discussed as also the transferential dimension in learning – from which the following question: What if the Crit as conventionally established is a refusal of co-creation? This led to an examination of the mothering aspect of Asher’s post-studio crit, that is, the space of the Crit as an envelope jointly created by all who participate.


Cover of Public Knowledge: Selected Writings by Michael Asher, 2019.
The cover shows an installation detail of a work in the Centre Pompidou’s Michael Asher, 1991.

Le temps dans la vie psychologique, 1965. Cover of Eliane Amado Lévy-Valensi from the personal library of Michael Stone-Richards originally acquired to study the tradition of moral psychology and time in the thought of Guy Debord
Dedication of Le temps dans la vie psychologique to Madame FAVEZ-BOUTONIER (in recognition) and Lévy-Valensi’s students in psychology and philosophy (in friendship), 1965
Here the artist has formulated what is, in effect, the guiding principle of late modern art education as a general principle of education, that is, “a model of general education. Not in the sense of liberal arts education reform. But that art could be the key to a generalized education […] not just to the work of art, but to the world.”12 This is the Critical Studies of the art school become a Critical Practice, a knowledge in contact with, bearing upon the world. This view of practice as contact with the world is fundamentally Aristotelian, but the late modern tradition, at least as it bears upon art as a general principle of education, as in all matters to do with modern art, is mediated by Kant who, in his anthropology, observed that

All cultural progress, by means of which the human being advances his education, has the goal of applying this acquired knowledge and skill [that is, practice, MSR] for the world’s use.13 But the most important object in the world to which he can apply them is the human being: because the human being is his own final end. – Therefore to know the human being according to his species as an earthly being endowed with reason especially deserves to be called knowledge of the world [emphasis in original], even though he constitutes only one part of the world.14

Kant goes on to clarify his sense of pragmatic anthropology by saying such knowledge of the world is only called pragmatic “when it contains knowledge of the human being as a citizen of the world.”15 In this respect Kant’s pragmatic knowledge is here a transition between the classical Aristotelian view of practice and the modern view of praxis as formulated by Marx and re-transmitted by Althusser. It is also fundamentally the basis for any critical account of practice as central to the modes of contemporary art as critical engagement with world-making and demystification of representations, that is, the ideologies masked as realities which serve to distort the relations to the world.  Eventually this mode of thinking about practice and pedagogy in the art and design school would become formulated using the established language of the PhD, namely, that document of research that makes a contribution to knowledge, or, in the language of Critical Practice, the production of knowledge since there must always be awareness of the material conditions of knowledge-production. (It is, of course, by no means clear that Asher would have been invested in the idea of the PhD in Art, and certainly not as a qualifying degree for teaching.

Yes, research is the production of knowledge. It is also the examination of the conditions of possibility of the production of knowledge – or representation(s), as Michael Asher rightly observed in a manner typical of his generation of artist-thinkers – but above all, since the inception of the Socratic inquiry (the putting of things and self into question) research, which is fundamentally a quest, has been the encounter with spontaneity, since the knowledge that matters is always the one that, unbidden, surprises me, threatens to change me from my existing idea of myself. (Education is this journey away from the self, and as the “Allegory of the Cave” shows, such learning hurts.16) Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu – beyond the inspired translation of C.K. Scott-Moncrieff of that Ilk as In Remembrance of Things Past – is a research, that is, a quest, spontaneously generated by a non-artistic event, namely, the memory triggered by the smell of a madeleine dipped in tea, or, as Samuel Beckett put it so dryly: “The whole of Proust’s world comes out of his tea cup.”17
That search, re-search, quest required of its author sustained acts of attention and sorting of attention and kinds of memories. That quest, some 7, 200 pages later, encompassed music, art, architecture, manners, dress, social history – there is no critical account of class more precise than that on display in La Recherche - politics, music, philosophy, and resulted in, and was sustained by, a vast architecture of knowledge as a practice of reading through which emerges a practice of living, a practice of deep modes of attention where attention is the moment of contact with life, a social practice as critical practice.18 The monk in Kentucky, Robert Merton, like Robert Irwin, saw this clearly when he could say with earned simplicity: education bears on the person, and learning - that is, the training of attention19 - is learning to live:

Life consists in learning to live one’s own, spontaneous, freewheeling: to do this one must recognize what is one’s own – be familiar and at home with oneself. This means basically learning who one is, and learning what one has to offer the contemporary world, and then learning how to make that offering valid.

The purpose of education is to show a person how to define himself authentically and spontaneously in relation to his world – not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world.20

…Spontaneous movement like this …listen…
Chopin ms, Prelude No. 27 (autograph), Eb minor, the so-called Devil’s Trill
As all aspects of college-level education come under economic and demographic pressures, it will become increasingly clear that the current pedagogical models are in need of deep revision, even if one believes in the vocational role of college education. The most sophisticated technology will continue to displace people; indeed, technology is being devised which can design technology to enable new kinds of replication without the intervention of people. It is already clear that education in art and design needs a new vocabulary. This moment is an opportunity. It is existential.
From my arrival at CCS I have taught research to artists and writers, but I have never reduced research to academic research as typically understood in the Humanities since I have never taken that as the only or even dominant model of research, hence as I came to explore the history behind the term Critical Studies, as offering alternative models of research and pedagogy, namely, Critical Studies as not simply a portmanteau term – like liberal arts – but  rather a set of epistemological strategies, something developed within the culture of art and design schools – whence the separate departments of Visual and Critical Studies from Liberal Arts in many of the great schools - something that has emerged with its distinctive language, concepts, and vocabulary, its journals and conferences, but above all its practices which have a genealogy, and as a result I have come, over a number of years, to move my own pedagogical practice into teaching seminars in Critical Practice the main concerns of which have been questions bearing on transmission.21 This emphasis on transmission means nothing is taken for granted, nothing is given, there is no abstract idea of what is good in teaching or learning, no notion that it is a terrible thing if students do not share my sense of what is valuable – but rather that there is a sense of wider fragility in culture and this fragility bears down on the classroom as a principle medium of transmission in culture – hence the concern with seminars and reflections bearing on the transmission of values, the fragile nature of sociality, Care, waste and violence in the modern world, but above all what does it mean to be involved in this queer business of teaching and learning art (and its histories and forms of display that can no longer be wholly contained within art history or even cultural history as traditionally understood), for it is a very strange thing indeed and no amount of professionalization can entirely rid one of the sense of the strangeness of teaching and learning art in an academic or art school context – the two contexts are not identical.22 It might even be said that in these seminars collectively we have tried to return something of the poetry of art through the process of learning about its possible transmission and failures. The following interventions bear testimony to this attempt to think art as lived experience in terms of Critical Practice, a studio of thought and embodied articulation, where practice has the sense found in Aristotle, Marx, and Althusser but also Simone Weil: not the production of stuff but the reflexive actions by which selves are transformed in relation to the world, practice as “the active contact with the real which is distinctive to the human.”23 Certain students were impacted by the idea of conversation as a medium: thus Shannon Morales-Coccina writes in dialogue form of the Crit; Monique Homan, Mollyanne McLaughlin, and Anisa Rakaj record themselves in conversation practicing Critical Theory; another section is devoted to students’ own proposals for what a transformed pedagogy might be with Caleb Gess, Christopher Holdstock, and Brendan Roarty, sharing their “Proposal for Redefining Art School,” and Alexander Knepley reflecting on a “(Non)Ideal Pedagogy,” and Gabriella Fossano sharing her insights (and demands) “On the Design of an Art School.” CCS alum Grant Czuj reflects upon his time and practice in Painting at Yale. (Here I should point out that all these students were or are students in the Minor in Critical Theory.) One item that came up often in our discussion was the role of contemplative or mindful practices as a mark of a new approach to pedagogy and the demand that practices of mindfulness no longer be regarded as an extra, a nice thing or luxury but as an essential to the health of students, as, indeed, a life-practice. The group BFA/MFA/PhD has been exploring this for some time,24 but Molly Beauregard has also been exploring this question of mindfulness at CCS over 10 years in her class on Consciousness, the results of which are now available in a book from SUNY Press.25 Here Beauregard shares with us a reflection on the development of her practice at CCS which has been deeply influential on the student body – no class fills more quickly at CCS than Beauregard’s class on Consciousness and we have no doubt that in a thoughtful, student-centered curriculum practices of mindfulness would be offered as part of the Freshman experience as a form of practice in health.
As I am making a final review of this text, the tennis player Naomi Osaka is in the news for withdrawing from the French Open on grounds of mental health. Her action has triggered a long overdue debate on mental health amongst elite athletes, but one may see this debate as not primarily a debate about elite athletes but as part-and-parcel of a larger societal conversation on self-care and the degree to which the obligations of the workplace do not abrogate the needs of care. (Selma James and Sylvia Federici have long made this argument in the context of the politics of Care.) The “elite athlete” is simply the mechanism for triggering attention for a perceived need. The work of Molly Beauregard and BFA/MFA/PhD is part of a similar conversation in the art + design school arguing for self-care in the curriculum and practice of pedagogy and not simply in an office secreted away with college nurses or counselors to which one makes retreat when it is often too late. What if, following BFA/MFA/PhD and Beauregard, practices of mindfulness were made part of the curriculum from Freshman Year for the eminently practical reason that such practices will lead to more balanced and effective students? Indeed, there is much research to support the view that a broader practice of care toward students would lead to improved pedagogical and personal developments.26


[1] On Detroit Soup, see Amy Kaherl’s “Dinner Music,” her memoir in progress, in this issue of Detroit Research and her reading online at Detroit Research website.

[2] Cf. Sarah Thornton, “The Crit,” Seven Days in the Art World (New York: Norton, 2009), 41-74.

[3] Howard Singerman, Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

[4] I continue to see in this practice of listening and agency for the students a version of what the Lacanians of the École freudienne de Paris, between 1967 – 1969, called la Passe (the pass), which was an experiment in the very foundations of institutionality by allowing candidates for the status of analysts to declare themselves when ready to assume the role of analysts. It was a dangerous but still important idea especially worthy of further investigations precisely in a culture of the artworld where no one believes that the acquisition of a degree eo ipso confers the status of artist – thus a denial of the performative act of conferring a degree - thereby bringing into question what kind of education (or training?) it is that one has received as well as to foreground, going forward, what education for art and design might become as economic and demographic pressures mount on all aspects of post-secondary education. And yet the art degree – what a practitioner like Rick Lowe, in the context of Social Practice degrees, refers to somewhat contemptuously as credentials – retains a gatekeeper function to the Artworld. That there is a pedagogical dimension to Asher’s practice is evident - institutional critique is nothing if not pedagogical - the question, rather, is how to read the pedagogical dimension, and its (latent?) Lacanian registers. Here the presence of Lacan in the Centre Pompidou’s Michael Asher (1991) could be a starting place. In the  Art + Pedagogy seminar we have explored this dimension of Asher’s practice through an ethics of temporality as this bears on but without being limited to the Crit.

[5] Robert Irwin, quoted in Lawrence Weschler, “Teaching,” Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 120.

[6] As one student commented to the class: “There was a moment when I realized that all that I was being taught was my teacher’s studio practice!”

[7] Cf. Roland Barthes, “To the Seminar,” The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 332-342. The BAK art school in Utrecht organized an artist symposium on the critical practice derivable from Barthes’ “To the Seminar.” See the discussion moderated by Vivian Sky Rehberg in 2017 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNKzPgP8gkU&list=PLXNa3iktusntcIqvlgF2MBr8i8OaeewPZ&index=9&t=400s

[8] Cf. Herbert Marcuse and Bryan Magee, “Marcuse and the Frankfurt School: Dialogue with Herbert Marcuse,” in Bryan Magee, Men of Ideas: Some Creators of Contemporary Philosophy (London: BBC Books, 1978), 61-73; on Critical Theory as negation of philosophy (in parallel with Heidegger’s negation of metaphysics, and the avant-garde negation of art and poetry and music), cf. Herbert Marcuse, “The Negation of Philosophy,” Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (1941) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1955), 258-262. It would be relatively easy to show that Critical Studies as developed in the contemporary and international art + design school is the discursive disciplinary / pedagogical equivalent of Critical Theory, that is, Critical Studies is the negation of liberal arts in favor of a new critical practice developed from the intersection of Critical Theory and art + design understood as discursive formations. Within university culture - where “humanism” can indeed have richly innovative defenders - “liberal arts” is an all but meaningless term as disciplinary transformations have all but made liberal arts as a foundation of knowledge redundant. Certain important institutions such as Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, or St. John’s College which have a commitment to (an expanded conception of) a Great Books approach cannot be understood as teaching liberal arts in the ordinary sense, rather they have become a training ground in a certain mode of perception through reading (whether the text being read is mathematical, astronomical, or literary).

[9] On the question of the PhD / terminal degrees in the Arts, see the very illuminating NASAD Policy Analysis Paper, “Thinking about Terminal Professional Degrees in Art and Design,” October 1, 2004. Available at https://nasad.arts-accredit.org/publications/assessment-policy/nasad-policy-analysis-papers/. Accessed 05 – 23 – 21.

This document makes clear the extent of tension within the Art + Design school over the issue of the PhD in the Arts as a new terminal requirement; equally clear is NASAD’s refusal to take an official side in the debate.

[10] And the Conservatory is the highest form of this practice – the Conservatory in music, in acting, etc. Might it be possible to think of Black Mountain College, in its time, as an experimental Conservatory? Where, that is, the conservatory is a stricter community of interests and passions, more singular in its orientation, with no obligation to an abstract “general education”?

[11] Michael Asher, “Notes on professional degrees in studio art” (ca. 1988), in Public Knowledge: Selected Writings by Michael Asher, ed. Kirsi Peltomäki (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019), 203.

[12] Stephan Pascher, speaking with Michael Asher, “Conversation with Stephan Pascher on Teaching” (2005), in Public Knowledge, 235.

[13] For the world’s use, that is, practice – if it is not simply the production of stuff – must be reflexive. The production of things, to be clear, is also one sense of Aristotelian poiesis.

[14] Immanuel Kant, “Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View,” in Anthropology, History, and Education, ed. Günther Zöller and Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: CUP, 2014), 31.

[15] Kant, “Anthropology,” 231-232. Emphasis in original.

[16] It does not hurt because some person in authority wants to abuse their authority, impose their prefabricated knowledge on a young mind in the name of a personal conviction, which amounts to little more than a form of abusive implantation. The Socratic example shows that learning must also hurt for the person who would presume to call themselves teacher, not least, as Kierkegaard explored in his readings of the Meno, because the teacher may not be able to teach – think Moses in Schönberg’s Moses und Aron (1932 / 1957) – or because what there may be to teach may not be transmissible – think, say, Hölderlin’s Empedocles or Paul Celan’s “Pallaksch. Pallaksch,” for which cf. Paul Celan, “Tübingen, Jänner,” Die Niemandsrose / NoOnesRose, in Memory Rose into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry, trans. Pierre Joris (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020), 264-266; and cf. Søren Kierkegaard, “Thought-Project,” Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), and Kierkegaard, “The God as Teacher and Savior,” Philosophical Fragments, 23-36; and finally, Jacques Lacan’s Séminaire II on “Questions à celui qui enseigne,” Le moi dans la théorie de Freud et dans la technique de la psychanalyse (Paris: Seuil, 1978), 241-257.

[17] Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York: Grove Press, 1981), 21.

[18] Cf. “Aporias of Attention,” forthcoming in Michael Stone-Richards, Care of the City (Berlin: Sternberg Press).

[19] Paul Celan: “ ‘Attention’, if you allow me a quote from Malebranche via Walter Benjamin’s essay on Kafka, ‘attention is the natural prayer of the soul’.” Paul Celan, “The Meridian,” Collected Prose, trans. Rosemarie Waldrop (Manchester: PN Review / Carcanet, 1986), 50; and Simone Weil: “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.” Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (1947), trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von de Ruhr (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 117. Faith is a translation of the Greek pistis, also trust. Learning presupposes trust, but the classroom is also an arena of love, and this is what all reflections on transmission / transference come to realize.

[20] Robert Merton, “Learning to Live,” Love and Living, ed. Brother Patrick Hart (New York: Harcourt, 1979), 3.

[21] My own thinking on the question of transmission has long been shaped by Wladimir Granoff, Filiations: L’avenir du complexe d’Oedipe (Paris: Minuit, 1975), but also Solange Faladé’s final seminar for the École Freudienne before her death on La Transmission (2001 – 2002).

[22] Cf. the “Conversation” between Michael Craig-Martin and John Baldessari in Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), ed. Steven Henry Madoff (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019), 41-51.

[23] Louis Althusser, “Qu’est-ce que la pratique?” Initiation à la philosophie pour les non-philosophes (Paris : PUF, 2014), 163. Emphasis in original.

[24] Cf. Susan Jahoda and Caroline Woolard, Making and Being: Embodiment, Collaboration, and Circulation in the Visual Arts (New York: Pioneer Works Press, 2020).

[25] Cf. Molly Beauregard, Tuning the Student Mind: A Journey in Consciousness-Centered Education (Albany: SUNY, 2020).

[26] Cf. David Kirp, “Community Colleges should be more than just Free,” The New York Times, May 25, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/25/opinion/biden-free-community-college.html?campaign_id=39&emc=edit_ty_20210525&instance_id=31506&nl=opinion-today&regi_id=66849993&segment_id=58953&te=1&user_id=4ee170ec26ea24442e7b658c8dd82fae. Accessed 06-07-21.

Audio & Video

Lecture: Negation, Disavowal, and the Ethics of Attention: Between Solange Faladé and Stanley Cavell
February 2021

Lecture: Negation and Disavowal in Spatial Politics
October 21, 2020

Lecture: Detroit 1967 + The Politics of Pleasure
Museum of Contemporary Art: Detroit
October 25th, 2017.

Lecture: Critical Spatial Practices St. Louis
University of Washington / Pulitzer Foundation
May 5th, 2017.

MSR interviewed by John Sauve about Detroit Research and his book Care of the City: Detroit.


'Detroit Speaks: What is a Detroit Artist?' Moderated by Jens Hoffmann, and featuring Jeffrey Abt, Rebecca Mazzei, Laura Mott and Michael Stone-Richards. Musuem of Contemprary Art: Detroit.
Wayne State Humanities Center talk on "Care of the City: Detroit with "Antigone" and Heidegger."

New Departures and Transitions: Medium, Materiality and Immateriality at G. R. N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art.
Video By: Gilda Snowden

The Sensibility of the Collector, June 22, 2006.
Participants: Charles Randall Dean, Glenn Horowitz, Francis Levy (moderator), Michael Stone-Richards, Peter Subkowski
Video By: Philoctetes