“Art” has no innate meaning or value. What is “art” and who is an “artist” are defined by those in the art world - gallery owners, curators and academics. Discuss with reference to specific artists, artworks and/or institutions.
Word Count: 2954
Cultural Studies: Visual Culture
BA Creative Direction for Fashion
Sofia Ochoa Neven Du Mont
Art is often regarded with the ‘charismatic, romantic notion’ (Webb, 2002: 167) of the artist ‘as independent, solitary and disinterested’. This view promotes the idea that art exists completely of itself and has meaning and value outside of the world around it. However, more than the artist’s vision and intention often influences our perspective of art, as the dominant authorities of the field; the gatekeepers (gallery owners, curators and academics) are essential in the legitimisation of art. Thereby art gains recognition in the art world and then the general public, acquiring value through the position it has within its artistic environment. Therefore, as Webb explains, the Romantic notion of isolated art cannot be sustained. The purpose of this essay is to explore the ‘cultural arbitrary’ that surrounds art according to Bourdieu’s theory on The Field of Cultural Production, showing, in the process, that art has no innate meaning or value. It will first consider the perception of art through history and the change in the authority of art, before examine the structure of Bourdieu’s theory and looking at the above statement with regards to two specific artists: Damien Hirst and Marcel Duchamp and their work.
In the past, the kings and the aristocracy determined what was art and who was an artist. Later on, the church gained influence in the same respect. During the 11th-12th century art was simply seen as a "skill” (Jirousek, 1995), whereas during the Renaissance “art was above craft; it was… a higher order of human production” (Mulholland in Rampley, 2005: 21). Universities were established as a separate learning environment for artists and with that they began to gain a status separate from the ‘ordinary’ workers in the general economy. This started to shift at the beginning of the 18th century with the Romantic period, where the citizenry began to have an influence in the definition of art, owing to the revolution that saw the break away from the conventions of craft and traditional art forms. Nevertheless the legitimisation of art lay upon those of the citizenry that came from a higher social background, (Webb, 2002: 153) and they naturally assumed the power to define art. Thus, these are the ones on whom this essay will focus.
During the Romantic period, the definition of art was modified and described as "A pursuit or occupation in which skill is directed toward the ratification of taste or production of what is beautiful"(Jirousek, 1995). Here, people respected the artist's creative powers; based on their creative talent. They were held up as a special and sublime class, somehow distinct from ordinary mortals. The sociologists of art, Judith Blau and Arnold Foster, both underpin that romantic idea by believing that art is ‘a social magic’ (Webb, 2002: 150), or a special gift. In contrast, Bourdieu describes art as being “the sacred sphere of culture” (1984: 7). He disagreed with the commonplace idea that one was born with the natural ability to recognise and discern good art from bad art. In his opinion, taste in art was merely a social construct, which is learned, evolving from one’s cultural ‘habitus(in the conclusion?=84: 7). Hngltural production there will always be the struggle of making meaning deffined tering over time.’. It results from one’s upbringing and social background. Therefore, taste is not innate or inherent. In other words, Bourdieu believed that people of high social status gained the power to influence the art world through education.
The ‘cultural arbitrary’ was...
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