As long as I can recall, I have been curious about the arts and their place in human experience. Aesthetics, which is my main academic interest, allows me to combine this interest in the arts with an equally compelling interest in philosophy. Among the philosophers of special interest to me are Plato, Hegel, and Nelson Goodman whose friendship I enjoyed for many years after a chance meeting at a conference in Ghent Belgium. Also a guiding force in my intellectual development was my friendship with Rudolf Arnheim, whose publications on the psychology of art form an important contribution to aesthetics in the twentieth century. My studies at Boston University, where I was awarded the Ph. D. degree in philosophy under direction of Marx Wartofsky, provided a fortunate crossing of the history of philosophy, analytic philosophy, and aesthetics. Prior to this as an undergraduate, I had developed an appreciation for the work of the pragmatists, especially John Dewey and William James.
From the beginning, my work has focused on the application of aesthetics to understanding of all aspects of life including both personal development and institutional structures. Aesthetics pervades not only the arts, but also other aspects of culture including environment, politics, economics, sports, and religion. This theme was reflected in my Presidential Lecture at the 19th International Congress of Aesthetics in 2013 and in various projects throughout my career. My interest in bringing arts to audience in the social service community led to the creation of Art Reach Milwaukee, an agency to bring arts into social service agencies and provide artists with employment. Later on (1984-2007) it was possible to orchestrate (as founding director) the creation of the Haggerty Museum on the Marquette University Campus to provide a laboratory for learning that would allow students to integrate the arts into their academic studies and to offer the community a venue for free access to visual arts exhibitions from across the world. Curating and organizing modern and contemporary arts events has greatly extended my knowledge of the visual and performing arts, especially dance and performance art.
My interest in knowledge is broad rather than narrow and extends from the avant garde arts and philosophy to history, literature, social sciences, public policy and economics. Of special interest are the forces driving social and cultural change such as globalization and the avant garde artistic movements. Among the arts my work extends mainly to the visual arts: painting, sculpture, photography, video art. As for the performing arts my work includes writings on the aesthetics of dance and performance art. After receiving a critic’s fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which allowed me to study dance criticism at the National Dance Center in Connecticut in 1971, I began to write dance criticism. This exposure to leading dance performances in ballet, modern, and contemporary dance led to a series of writings on dance aesthetics and lectures at the University of Wisconsin Dance Department, a pioneering program in dance education. And I do enjoy dancing, but normally not on the stage. On occasion, however, I have been known to perform in avant garde theater productions. During the opening weeks of the Olympics in Beijing (2008) and London) (2013), I presented lectures on Art and Sport at the Olympic Truce Foundation Award Ceremony and was able to attend the exciting opening ceremonies of the games.
An important aspect of my work as aesthetician and curator has been research for exhibitions and richly rewarding friendships with a number of artists including Belgian avant garde artist Jan Fabre, the Americans photographer Barbara Morgan, the sculptor Richard Lippold, artist Keith Haring, and numerous others. After meeting him in Belgium in 1980, I invited Fabre to the USA to perform his solo works and early theater pieces. Subsequently he became one of the leading European artist in theater and the visual arts. A few years later, I invited Haring to create a mural for the construction fence of the Haggerty Museum which opened in 1984. Later on he too became one of the most important western contemporary artists. Among the first, and still a favorite curating experience was the exhibition, “Romanticism and Cynicism in Contemporary Painting,” curated for the Haggerty Museum in 1985. This exhibition highlighted the important New York East Village artists movement of the early to mid 1980s.
More recently I have benefitted from encounters in the studios of so many contemporary Chinese artists during an exciting time in the developing stages of Chinese contemporary art. Conversations and opportunities to write about their art continue to enrich my understanding of art and aesthetics. As a result, I became involved in the booming contemporary art community in China where I now serve as honorary director and international curator for a contemporary Chinese art museum in Beijing. My engagement with Chinese aesthetics and artists has been profiled by the Beijing Review. The article is on-line.
Professional leadership opportunities as President of the International Association for Aesthetics (2010-2013, previously First Vice President and Secretary General), Executive Director of the American Society for Aesthetics (1996-2006) have provided world wide opportunities for developing professional activities and friendships across the world. As President of the Dance Perspectives Foundation in New York I participated in the development of the first International Encyclopedia of Dance, 6 volumes covering dance across the world, published by Oxford University Press (1998).
In recent years I have focused much of my research on China where I have been invited to write and lecture on aesthetics at various universities including Peiking University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Chinese Academy of Fine Arts, Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts and other universities throughout China. These visits led to projects to promote cultural exchange between China and the USA. Among these, was a conference at Marquette University in 2012 featuring 8 western and 8 Chinese aestheticians on the theme, “Unsettled Boundaries: Art, Philosophy, and Ethics.”
Cumulatively, these experiences have influenced my research and writings which include essays on Hegel’s Aesthetics, Nelson Goodman’s Aesthetics, semiotic theory of painting style, dance aesthetics, and the avant garde. Recently I have written on such topics as “Philosopher and Artist.” “Video Art,” “Garden, Nature-City;” “Globalization and Contemporary Chinese Art,” “Hegel and Danto on the End of Art,” “The Cultural Identity of Art Works,” “History of Twentieth Century Aesthetics Since 1966,” “Duchamp and the American Avant Garde.” Other publications include numerous exhibition catalogues including the French Informalist Jean Fautrier (2002), Cuban artist Wifredo Lam (2008), American artists (Keith Haring (2007 and Barbara Morgan (1988, 2004), and a number of Contemporary Chinese artists including Xu Bing, Pan Gongkai, and Xin Feng. Meanwhile, I have lately resumed writing art criticism focused, now mainly on the occasional visual arts exhibitions of interest.
My approach to university education is grounded in exploring the relevance of aesthetics and the arts to human understanding broadly understood. And to the aspects of life beyond the university. All of my courses, graduate and undergraduate, include site visits to museums, performances in theater, music, and dance in the community, as well as critical examination of theoretical texts in aesthetics including both classical and contemporary texts. Artists’ visits to the classroom are a part of each semester’s program. These experiences are then examined in class discussions and writings in relation to philosophical aesthetics concepts. In a course on the arts in a democratic society, at the Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington, D. C, populated mainly by political science students, potentially future political leaders, the focus is on building an understanding of the role of the arts as an essential building block in a well formed society. The emphasis of my other engagements with students is on developing an understanding of classical and contemporary aesthetic theory in the context of issues arising in a global world which must address such issues as cultural differences, diversity of life styles, the impact of changing technologies, as well as economic and political changes. In short, my aim is to engage future citizens with knowledge that will contribute to their ability to shape their lives and the world in meaningful ways that include an understanding of the importance of the aesthetic in all aspects of life.
Dr. Curtis L. Carter has been appointed to the Board of Directors of the International Research Center for Aesthetics and Art Theory (IRCA), based in Rome, Italy at the University of Rome. The IRCA serves as a platform for scientific research, scholarly development, and their international exchange in the field of aesthetics and art theory. The IRCA approaches issues in aesthetics in the context of interdisciplinary projects exploring knowledge from an interdisciplinary perspective where research in aesthetics is undertaken in collaboration with other disciplines including media and communications, the sciences, economics and politics, art and religion.
Dr. Curtis L. Carter, Professor of Philosophy, has been named to the Milwaukee Art Museum Fine Arts Society Board of Directors, at the Annual Meeting on September 30, for a three year term. The Fine Arts Society (FAS) provides a forum for members, collectors, and scholars to share their interest in European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts before 1900. The Society sponsors lectures and programs that heighten awareness of Europeʼs rich cultural heritage. FAS promotes acquisitions and conservation of European art by means of gifts, donations, and bequests to the Museumʼs Collection. Dr. Carter will also serve on the acquisitions committee for art acquisitions before 1900.
Dr. Curtis Carter has been elected President of the International Association for Aesthetics for a three year term. Dr. Carter will be installed in the association's Congress in Beijing in August 2010.
To see an interview of Dr. Carter for Chinese television click here.