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Send your text (1,000 - 2,000 words, footnotes included) in US letter format (doc, docx, or rtf) to Please include a short biography (40 words), an abstract of the text (80-100 words), as well as postal and e-mail addresses. We also welcome submissions (reviews, essays, analyses of contemporary art issues) not related to a particular theme (annual deadlines: September 1, January 10, and April 1). An acknowledgement of receipt will be sent within 7 days of the deadline. If you have not been notified, please contact us to ensure your text has been received.

No. 95: Feature Empathy
Before September 1, 2018

Empathy can change the world. This affirmative statement appeared in an important work by post-conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, which was installed on a billboard in a Strasbourg train station in 1994. Indeed, the capacity to appreciate the feelings and emotions of others, and to respond to them coherently, is seen by many as a potential vector for social change, inasmuch as it enables us to reach out to each other through a decentering of self. Although empathy is certainly an age-old phenomenon, the philosopher Robert Vischer first employed the term (Einfühlung) in the late-nineteenth century to describe the experience that links, via a transfer of emotions, the subject to the work of art. Indeed, from Lipps to Husserl to Schlegel, thought concerning the empathic experience has been intimately linked to the philosophy of art and phenomenology. Nevertheless, the process of identification and projection that underlies the experience of empathy in art also has numerous detractors, who feel that it is necessary to distance spectators from the work so that they may reintegrate their bodily sensations and therefore awaken their critical faculties. In fact, the idea of aesthetic distance, as developed and theorized by Bertolt Brecht, was a specific attempt to break with the Aristotelian principle of catharsis so as to avoid imprisoning the viewing subject. Artists of the historical avant-garde similarly employed methods that deliberately encouraged the detachment they felt aesthetic appreciation required.

Where does the relationship between empathy and the aesthetic experience stand today? Given the problems we face in the twenty-first century (the refugee crisis, the growth of inequality, the resurgence of hate crimes, and so on), the cultivation of the capacity to “put oneself in another’s place” would appear to be a potential antidote to excessive individualism and the allure of withdrawing into one’s own identity. But can empathy really change the world? Can we experience otherness? And if so, can works of art mediate this experience? According to art historian Jill Bennett, the affective properties of certain works of art may help spectators grasp traumatic experiences far from their own reality. Art may also help build bridges of sympathy among people who are geographically, socially, and culturally distant from each other and have divergent experiences. From this angle, the perceptions embodied in, and the corporeal anchoring of, empathy may not impede critical thinking but could, on the contrary, sharpen it. However, the question remains: is empathy always benevolent? Or could it awaken purely self-centred emotions, which simply serve to reassure the viewer with a sense of “good conscience” that is totally unrelated to any actual ethical thought? Are we emotionally disposed to have the same empathic urges toward everyone? Or are we more likely to put ourselves in the place of someone who resembles us (physically, socially, culturally, or in other ways)? If this is true, is it not, therefore, essential to diversify representations in order to ensure access to a plurality of voices (knowing that the overrepresentation of some leads inevitably to the underrepresentation of others and modulates our relationship with the world)? Finally, is it possible to extend the concept of empathy to nonhuman life forms?

Esse arts + opinions invites authors and artists to submit texts in which they examine empathy in the context of contemporary creation. How do art theorists and artists look at this question? Can empathy drive creation? What methods and procedures give shape to the interpellation of empathy via artistic experience? Where is reflection on the principle of aesthetic distance situated today? Can artists maintain a fair balance between the effects of reaching out and of withdrawal? These are some of the questions that esse would like to consider in this issue.

1. Esse arts + opinionsis a bilingual magazine focused mainly on contemporary art and multidisciplinary practices. Specializing in essays on issues in art today, the magazine publishes critical analyses that address art in relation to its context. Each issue contains a thematic section, portfolios of artworks, articles critiquing the international culture scene, and reviews of exhibitions, events, and publications. The platform also offers articles on contemporary art and an archive of previous issues of esse.

2. Submissions are accepted three times a year: January 10, April 1 and September 1. The texts can be submitted for one of the following 4 sections:
Feature: essays between 1,000 and 2,000 words (including notes). The guideline regarding the theme is available online 4 to 6 months prior to the deadline:
Articles: essays, articles or interviews between 1,000 and 1,500 words (including notes).
Short Reviews: reviews of exhibitions, events or publications (maximum 500 words, without footnotes).
Long Reviews: reviews of exhibitions or events (maximum 950 to,1 000 words, without footnotes).

3. With the exception of the expressed consent of the Editorial Board, the writer agrees to submit a previously unpublished, original text.

4. All articles are reviewed by the Board, which reserves the right to accept or refuse a submitted article. Selection criteria are based on the quality of the analyze and writing, the relevance of the text in the issue (in regards to the theme) and on the relevance of the chosen artworks and artists. A text can also be rejected due to the very high volume of submissions for a specific issue. Selection of articles may take up to 6 weeks after submission by the writer. The Board’s decision is final. A refused text will not be re-evaluated.

5. With the exception of the expressed consent of the Board, the Board does not consider articles that may represent a potential conflict of interest between the writer and the content of the article (i.e., a text written by the curator of an exhibition).

6. The writers whose pieces are selected commit to format their text according to the typographic standards of esse, following the guidelines sent to them with the publishing contract.

7. With the respect to the vision and style of the writer, the Board reserves the right to ask for corrections and modifications to be made to ensure overall clarity, and coherence of an article.

8. Conditionally accepted articles will be up for discussion between the writer and the Board. If changes are requested by the Board, the writer will have 15 (fifteen) days to carry these out.

9. All costs of typographical correction of the author's text shall be borne by esse except the author's corrections, if applicable, which shall be borne by the author.

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