Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Film Festivals, Bourdieu, and the Economization of Culture

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Film Festivals, Bourdieu, and the Economization of Culture

Article excerpt

There's something unnatural and uncomfortable about money entering the world of art. As money cannot really make art, there is something else, more essential, at the heart of artistic creation. Surely money is involved in the production of culture-in particular with labour intensive and industrial arts like cinema-and yes, artworks are prized for sale or consumption at the market, like regular commodities, but their production costs and market value are less correlated than in any other field.1 Regular business models that predict demand, and calculate costs and sufficient margins, do not apply to film. To cope with this uncertainty and the consequent high risk of producing films, the entertainment industry has developed several strategies.2 But despite test audiences and the use of generic conventions or bankable stars, ultimately, it remains difficult to predict if a movie will succeed or not. Expensive movies might disappoint at the box office or fail to recoup costs through accumulated worldwide revenues. Low-budget films on the other hand can be surprise hits and "do well" on the market. The incompatibilities between cinema's business and cultural identity are even more pronounced when it comes to art cinema, independent cinema, world cinema, and so-called quality films. Here, the question of what a film is worth is not (primarily) determined at the box office, but firstly related to its artistic qualities and its socio-political relevance.3

In this essay I take up the question of how to understand art/commerce relations. My main aim is to offer conceptual frames for the study of recent processes of commercialization at international film festivals. Although this essay discusses several trends and salient examples that point to an increased influence of business logics at film festivals, it is not a case study. Instead, this essay is an opportunity to explore the usefulness of Pierre Bourdieu's work on the field of cultural production for film festival studies, and, ultimately, argue in favour of integrating Bourdieuian approaches with more recent work in the area of creative industries research and media industries studies.

TWO ECONOMIES

At the beginning of the introduction to his acclaimed book The Gift, Lewis Hyde-poet, essayist, translator and cultural critic-asks "What is it about a work of art, even when it is bought and sold in the market, that makes us distinguish it from...pure commodities...?"4 He goes on to argue that "works of art exist simultaneously in two "economies," a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art."5 Comparing art to a gift is a striking metaphor that captures many of the values we intuitively associate with artworks. Gifts are like talent. We cannot buy them or acquire them by an act of will; they are bestowed upon us. And when artists create works of art, part of that process involves inspiration, as if creativity is received by the artist, or so our conventional understandings of art tell us. Without such "authentic" creativity, artworks are considered formulaic, generic, and commercial. Hyde extends these qualities to the reception of art as well. We may be able to buy art, he argues, but the experience of what we consider to be art- "which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living"6-that experience is received as a gift, as something that has nothing to do with the price we paid for it.7 Hans Abbing, a Dutch visual artist, who is also trained and works as an economist and sociologist, argues along similar lines in his analysis of the exceptional economy of the arts. He recounts how typical art world practices deny art's status as commodity, linking the arts to the gift sphere instead. One of his examples pertains to the behavior of buyers when visiting the artist's studio: they typically shy away from mentioning money as if talking about exchange value and negotiation would pollute the aura of the artwork. …

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