Art Rules: Pierre Bourdieu and the Visual Arts

By Michael Grenfell; Cheryl Hardy | Go to book overview
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In various parts of this book we have evoked the picture of someone standing in front of a painting or a piece of visual art. We have also addressed the question of what constitutes 'aesthetic sense'. We have seen that art and culture appear in many guises, from the popular to the refined. They have in common an ability to produce a certain affective response, a relation between process and product, producer and audience. In some cases there is an other-worldliness, in others, a confrontation with self in the artistic transaction. We have also seen that Bourdieu sought to place aesthetics within its social conditions; this is especially true of his view of the 'pure gaze', the disinterested, a priori Kantian detachment which has characterized our contemporary understanding of aesthetics. In chapter 3, 'Art' was considered in two (interconnected) ways: from the point of view of the consumer and of the producer. In Bourdieu's La Distinction, evidence of the way 'taste' in cultural choice and consumption could be understood in terms of the structure of society was offered, and the way that cultural forms were distributed and apprehended within them. We have suggested that from a Bourdieusian perspective much of this differentiation operated in terms of dominant, legitimate cultural forms, which act as a kind of exchange rate for valuing all other forms. However, we also saw how a similar practical logic acted as a generating force for the cultural producers themselves. This chapter takes the latter point further forward, particularly with respect to painting.

We begin by considering the example of the pre-Impressionist, Manet, who is the painter Bourdieu himself considered most extensively. We do this in order to show Bourdieu's main arguments about the artistic field of painting and how it can best be approached. The mechanisms of change which 'produced' Manet will be demonstrated with particular reference to the morphology and functioning of the field of painting in the nineteenth century. This analysis leads us to a series of theoretical and methodological conceptions which we will then extend to two further examples, the young British artists of the 1990s and American abstract expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s.

A Temple of Art

Bourdieu often begins his analysis of social phenomena with one particular image in mind. It is as if Bourdieu captures a single picture which he then uses in an iconic


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