top of page

The Role of Art and Aesthetics in Developing International Justice 2.0*

The term ‘international justice 2.0’ refers to the new model of international justice, which will emerge in the next decades as a reflection of the current global changes and the inability of the contemporary institutions of international justice to tackle some of them.

One of the core problems of modern international justice is its lack of self-reflection. Academic debates on pluralism and fragmentation tend to focus on material outcomes of the process of the administration of justice (judgments and legal texts) and how to reconcile them in a coherent manner (Steer, 2014), often leaving untouched the actual direct experience of law's active participants and outside observers. There is thus scope to develop new methodologies that engage with the discipline of international justice from a different, more experiential, standpoint (Venzke, 2015). This is where art and creative expression can prove to be useful tools for studying international justice.

The invitation is to adopt a broad understanding of art that encompasses its representational and transformational – or affective – qualities (O’Sullivan, 2001). The representational quality of art stands for its function of imitating social life by reflecting emotions and ideas associated with its various institutions (Dewey, 1934). In answering the question as to which forms of expression constitute art, the starting assumption is that art and culture are inseparable from collective human experiences and are represented through various physical mediums of creative expression. This wide vision stands in contrast with a more restrictive understanding of art and its specific forms as artifacts to be relegated only to designated spaces, such as museums and opera houses.

Art historian and philosopher John Dewey observes that the separation of culture from the origins of its production happened rather recently and somewhat unnaturally, with the advent of industrialization. Originally, art was inseparable from the conditions of its creation, thereby bringing its affective function to the forefront - experience associated with the object of art was of utmost importance. For instance, the Greek Parthenon that is regarded today as an art masterpiece, was originally designed, and built as a place of civic commemoration. In the context of developing new methods of international justice, it is therefore more constructive to view art in its traditional understanding as accompanying and reflecting a broad range of experiences within the field of human activity.

The second and arguably even more important element of art is its experiential dimension, independent from the medium through which it is expressed. This quality makes art or aesthetic experience transformational because of its capacity to generate intimacy with the present moment by allowing individuals to transcend habitual patterns of thinking and acting. Simon O’Sullivan refers to this function of art as the ‘aesthetics of affect’, which is the quality of art to induce direct and uninhibited experience of life. It is this feature of culture and its inherent component of art that makes it, in the words of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, an ‘oxygen for the human spirit’ (A/HRC/40/53, 2019, para. 90).

The aspiration is then to explore an alternative vision of justice that incorporates all senses and allows for the kind of direct experience discussed by O’Sullivan. This is to develop a more holistic understanding of the discipline and to engage with art as an instrument of inquiry into the field of international justice.

What is meant by art as an instrument of inquiry? The traditional way of looking at international justice is to see it as evolving along a linear timeline with distinct developments in the form of legal documents generated by courts and international organizations, each new document attached to a fixed point in time on the overall timeline. If one looks at international justice through the lens of art and creative expression, however, it is possible to uncover new viewpoints complementing such a static understanding of the discipline. An aesthetic lens of viewing stirs curiosity and summons aliveness and immediacy of perception.

  • M. Aksenova, (2020). Introduction to the Symposium on Art, Aesthetics, and International Courts. AJIL Unbound, 114.

  • J. Dewey, Art As Experience 7 (Capricorn Books, 1958) (1934).

  • C. Steer, ‘Legal Transplants or Legal Patchworking? The Creation of International Criminal Law as a Pluralistic Body of Law’ in E van Sliedregt and S Vasiliev (eds), Pluralism in International Criminal Law (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014);

  • S. O’Sullivan, ‘The Aesthetic of Affect: Thinking Art beyond Representation’, (2001) 6 Angelaki Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 125.

  • Venzke, International Law and Its Methodology: Introducing a New Leiden Journal of International Law Series, 28 Leiden Journal of International Law 185 (2015).

  • UN Human Rights Council, Cultural Rights: Tenth Anniversary Report - Report of the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, A/HRC/40/53, para. 90 (Jan. 17, 2019).

∗ This is an excerpt from the manuscript by Marina Aksenova on this topic.


bottom of page