Aesthetic Power and Aesthetic Fields: Theoretical and Conceptual Tools for Integrating the Work of Art into Sociological Analysis
1Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom; 2University of Delaware, United States
In 1987, Wendy Griswold discussed the importance of “aesthetic power” in sociological studies of art. She suggested that some works are more powerful than others, in their ability to link to “present and pressing” social concerns (p. 1104) and to sustain multiple coherent interpretations along with the capacity to “linger in the mind” and to “enter the canon” (p. 1105). More recently, Jeffrey Alexander (2008; 2012) has developed the concept of “iconicity” in a meaning-centred sociology. J. Alexander’s concept may at first brush seem similar to Griswold’s, but there are important differences. In this paper, we consider the notion of aesthetic power more fully, distinguishing it from iconicity, and integrating it into an aesthetically inflected sociology of art. We focus on a case study of a single work, a carved limestone sculpture entitled Boxer by the American artist William Edmondson (1874-1951). This sculpture is notable in that, in 2016, it set a new world-record price for Outsider art sold at auction and established a blue-chip auction market for the field. We analyse the elements of aesthetic power evident in the work and its reception. Our analysis also considers Edmondson’s canonization along with wider debates in the Outsider art world, which we characterize as an “aesthetic field.” We show that a consideration of the work of art itself is necessary for understanding the record-breaking sale of Boxer. This underscores the importance, more broadly, of attention to the work of art in arts sociology.
Bourdieu's Political Capital Revisited - Artists' Political Activities in View of the Field Theory
Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany
In his fundamental text on field theory, Bourdieu (1993) presents artistic success as a product of relations between social positions that are taken actively by artists using their endowed powers of specific symbolic capital (SSC) and other types of capital. This position-taking is caused by the field-internal peer recognition of their artistic works, “but also [by] political acts or pronouncements, manifestos or polemics” (Bourdieu 1993: 30). Although often limited to economic issues, the “force of heteronomy” as a detriment for artistic autonomy can also have political elements; if members of the art field act politically, i.e., intervene in the political field, they might lose their status as autonomous artists (ibid, 51). In this paper I will focus on the significance of gaining or losing artistic symbolic capital (aSC) and political symbolic capital (pSC), neglecting the economic capital (EC) as a force of heteronomy. How much do participatory political activities of artists (and a subsequent gain of political symbolic capital, pSC) increase their artistic symbolic capital, aSC, today? Or is an informal political activity outside the political class detrimental to peer recognition? To test these questions I will present a three-dimensional model of artistic symbolic capital, political symbolic capital, and political capital. The empirical data are provided by an extensive research project about politically active artists in four cities, Hamburg, Hanover, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. The paper also wants to advance the theoretical discussion about field theory in general, and heteronomy of artist (as a barrier in the arts) in particular.
The Origins of the Structure of the Modern Art Field in Spain: Understanding Boundaries, Barriers and Belongings
Universitat de Barcelona, Spain
When the Spanish philosopher Marina Garcés asked about which cultural practices we should study in order to work for a better global society, she highlighted one of the keys to understand what could be de implication of the art worlds in recent social transformations in Europe. The global economic and cultural order started developing at least from the beginning of the 19th century with the economic and social revolutions of modernism. In this study we will highlight the importance of studying the origins of the transnational or global taste within the field of fine arts. We consider that understanding the inception of the organization of the modern art world based on the interrelation and tension between countries and diverse cultural models, is fundamental to complete the history of the transnational in the 20th and 21st century. Specific geopolitical centers and diverse expressive languages haven’t been considered in studies on global taste. Similarly, we believe that historical perspectives aren’t fully present in current studies focusing on contemporary culture, resulting in a marginalization of the comprehension of the past. Therefore, we want to suggest a comparative analysis of the inception and the development of the organization of the modern art system in two geographical centers characterized by varying degrees of influence within the cultural order, which are increasingly interconnected and, above all, hierarchical: Spain and France. Studying the potential origins of the transnational in the art field will may help us to understand the possible foundations on which to build an interpretation of the present based on the past. From this, we can draw important observations regarding the genesis of the possible barriers, boundaries or belongings.
The Impact of Cultural Competencies on the Reception of Visual Art
Institute of Sociology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany
It is well established that the consumption of art varies among people with different levels of education and other socio-demographic criteria. Theories of Bourdieu (1977), Berlyne (1974) and Becker (1964) posit that people differ in competencies to understand art and to decode its symbolic meanings. Especially modern and contemporary art may confuse people without a proper art socialization. The mechanisms between cultural competence and art reception are complex though (Daenekindt & Roose 2017). What are the effects of a well-grounded knowledge of the classical art canon? How important is it to know how art is practically pro-duced in terms of colour or composition? Do more cultural competencies of this kind lead to an analytic rather than emotional mode of reception? In most quantitative research, only one, if any, of these constructs is measured in a differentiated way: Either a direct measurement of cultural competencies or nuanced indicators of art reception are lacking. In a recent survey of the general population in Germany, we developed measurement instruments for both. We op-erationalized art reception in two situations: during typical exhibition visits and with regard to a work of art presented in the interview. Building on Bourdieu and Panofsky and guided by standards of competence measurement in international student assessments, we developed a competence test for the visual arts which allows us to investigate the levels of perception, historical context, analysis and interpretation of art works.