In this article we revisit 'social work as art', noting that it is just over 20 years since England's book on the subject provided a direction for the profession's early defence against empiricism. Those who picked up the ball handed to them by England tended to focus discussions of social work's 'art' on its soft side, embedding it in notions of 'creativity', 'meaning', 'self-expression', 'intuition' and 'quality', all of which were said to characterise the 'aesthetic dimensions' of social work practice as a counterpoint to the rising tide of hard empiricism, proceduralism and managerialism. Within these 'aesthetic dimensions', proponents of social work as art sought to resolve tensions through advocating a value-based 'artistic' approach to care. Against this we argue that art is struggle and resolution, soft and hard, joy and grief. Further, we posit that social work's art lies not in the social worker as artist but rather in social work as the 'work' of art, which is implicitly a 'non-productivist' endeavour. In a fundamental sense we argue that it is the art of social work and not the social worker that assembles what is practice, that provides bounds and lets everything stand in relation to everything else. This enables us to construct a speculative 'radical agonistics' for social work that draws attention to the relation between art, truth and event. In so doing, we substitute a subjectivist reading of social work as art with an ontological analysis drawing on Heidegger's phenomenology, supplemented by the work of Alain Badiou, to cast social work as art first, as artistic attunement, and second, as an art in the service of a politics of liberation.
International Journal of Social Welfare Vol. 17, Issue 2, p. 182-193