Paolo Knill, the founder of the European Graduate School, is a pioneer in developing ways for the arts to work in the lives of contemporary individuals and communities. He has taken the psychological framework in which art is understood within the arts therapies and turned it towards a recognition of the centrality of the work, not the subjectivity of its maker. His concept of “decentering” emphasizes both the radical separation of the alternative world of the imagination from the concerns of the everyday and, through subsequent “aesthetic analysis,” the importance of works of art for our experience of life. Art is not self-expression, but it has an undeniable effect on the person or community which receives it. Achieving this “effective reality” is the responsibility of all those who work with the arts to help bring about change; it is our “aesthetic responsibility.”
In this special issue, we invite members of the EGS community and others to reflect on the work of Paolo Knill as well as on the place the arts may have within our experience. Can the work of art still play the central role which it did in traditional cultures or has what Walter Benjamin called the elimination of the “aura” of the work in the “age of mechanical reproduction” rendered it impossible for art to give meaning and value to life? Does the “age of digital reproduction” in which we now live intensify this process or open up new possibilities for artistic creation? In what ways can we reinvent the arts so that they have a connection with our lives? Heidegger once wrote, Das Werk wirkt (The work works). How can the work work for us today?