Back to the Future
In this chapter we revisit the approach that Bourdieu is offering us to consider the visual arts. Modern aesthetics has been a preoccupation of writers, artists and philosophers for well over 200 years, since Kant gave it contemporary relevance by defining it as a unique part of human consciousness. Aesthetics, in a sense, is inextricably entwined with culture in all its manifestations in the modern world, and has been since the birth of post-Enlightenment societies. Yet, in many ways, it is still not entirely clear how it can best be seen. We begin by reconsidering the philosophy of aesthetics and the 'problem' it poses. We shall then examine a range of the responses which have been made to this 'problem' in order to highlight the space in which we feel Bourdieu is most useful. In the last three chapters we examined Bourdieu's own work on museums, photography and painting, applying similar approaches and perspectives of his work to other examples at specific times and places. Here, we set out explicitly what Bourdieu intends by a 'science of the history of art' and its component parts. We consider a range of issues connected with his theory and the implications they have for all those in transit through the 'art field'. Finally, we discuss the consequences such an approach has for visual arts in general.
In chapter 3 we began to address the question: what is aesthetics? For some, it is the formulation and application of certain value concepts used in the appreciation of art. For others, aesthetics is related to issues of form, representation and meaning. For others still, it is concerned with a theory of art perception per se. In each of these, there are formalist and idealist aspects to aesthetics, as well as the personal, individual and social. Aesthetic judgements are present in all matters of the visual arts and are applied to both the artistic product and its consumption and critique. In chapter 3 we referred to the way that the word 'aesthetics' was, in fact, of Greek derivation and was used to describe beauty and to communicate knowledge and truth. In a way, these issues still hold contemporary relevance. In effect, we might see the whole of Bourdieu's approach to art and aesthetics as an engagement with what we mean by truth and how we can articulate it ('In truth, what is