Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bourdieu and the art world

The art world is accustomed, or rather prefers, to see the work of art as an autonomous product of original creation. Pierre Bourdieu strongly disagrees and argues that art, like many other social practices, is a field which includes agents and their interaction. The art world is compiled of many agents such as artists, agents, curators, gallery owners, patrons, critics and so forth that are all in a constant struggle over what will be considered as good art.  Art, according to Bourdieu, is anything but a pure and individual form of expression. 

The ideology of the autonomous work of art developed over the 19th century and according to Bourdieu art is always a contextualized and politicized practice. The art world, or in Bourdieu's terms, the art field, is a site of constant negotiation and conflict. A central term here is that of Habitus. Habitus according to Bourdieu is the sum of skills, knowledge and abilities that are required in order to occupy any position in the field. Only if you possess the correct Habitus can you assume a position and a favorable position in the art field. In order to be an artist you must possess certain skills, an artistic habitus, and while in order to be a curator you similar yet other set of skills that make up another affiliated yet different habitus in the art field. Habitus is closely affiliated to one of Bourdieu's other central concepts, that of cultural capital as well as symbolic capital.

According to Bourdieu internal negotiations and power struggle between agents in the art field are what determine artistic taste. In other words, according to Bourdieu it is not so much the quality of a work of art or an artistic that drive the art world, for quality is a relative term which is determined by the work or artist's position in the complex array of interests and power struggles that make up the art field. the art field according to Bourdieu is a constant dynamic state of production and reproduction. A work of art can never be understood on its own and for its own sake, and it must always be viewed as a social product. This could explain how works of art or artists gain and sustain prominence.

See summaries of Bourdieu's work: