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. By sondm “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 OCH10304854 Art is otten regarded witn the ‘charismatic, romantic notion’ 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 ssay 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 1 th-12th century art was simply seen as a “skill” Oirousek, 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: 1 53) 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”0irousek, 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 defined 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 ot high social status gained the power to intluence the art world through education. The ‘cultural arbitrary was Bourdieu’s way of describing the effect through which things (whether practices, products, or values) are made to seem universally significant because they are important to dominant people and institutions, and because they come to be inscribed in the habitus and supported by the values and discourses of the general social field (Webb, 2002: 153).

Thereby, “good taste is still largely decided by institution” (Ibid), as things that are valued by dominant people are consequentially valued by everyone, whether they like it or not. Through this theory of the ‘cultural arbitrary, Bourdieu demonstrates that the ability to appreciate and develop a taste for art is intertwined with education and ‘class’ status. Therefore, in society, ‘good art’ is determined by those who are seen to have knowledge or experience of it, either through dominance, position or education. These may very well be the gallery owners, curators and academics of our society.

In his theory of the field of cultural production, Bourdieu allocated different positions within the field, the autonomous and the heteronomous, describing it as ‘bifurcated’. It is thereby divided by two sets of values, principles and practices of production. At all times, the field of cultural production is a site of struggle between the two principles of hierarchy. At one end, lies the concept of the autonomous pole, where art is “primarily designed not to make money, but to make some sort of statement about the artists vision or the social universe… made under the principle or isinterestedness” (Webb, 2002: 150).

At this end of the field artists strive for symbolic capital. Economic success is considered art’s failure and disregarded as art that is purely made for ‘arts sake’. Bourdieu divides the field that seeks symbolic capital into the ‘avant garde’ and the conventional corners. In the former, temporary failure is seen “as a sign of election and success as a sign of compromise” (Bourdieu, 1993:40). Here, artists try to challenge the current practices of art and its values, testing the limits of what can be characterised as art, often leading to more extreme and elaborate art forms.

In the latter, also known as “bourgeois art” (Ibid), artists work within current conventions, meaning that the art sticks to contemporary practises and values. Bourdieu argues that the symbolic capital sought after by artists in the autonomous pole, can then easily be transformed into economic capital once the artist has become ‘sanctified’ or ‘canonised’, meaning that the public is inclined to purchase and replicate their art. Therefore, there is a tendency of artists to move towards the other side of the spectrum; to the heteronomous pole. Here, art is market-led, produced primarily for financial reasons and commercial appeal.

Producers, at this end of the field, are not concerned with looking within themselves for inspiration and rather obey pre-existing demands and use pre-established works. Although people may still be called artists at this side of the field, they cannot attain the ‘symbolic capital’ attached to art, as defined by the autonomous pole. Work at this end of the pole is divided between popular art, works made for pre-established markets, and commercial art, which is work that is committed to the economic principle. This structure implies that the meaning and value of art in itself and within ociety is not innate.

Ratner it can be altered as the artist moves throug n ditterent position within the field over time. The following will show that this essentially leads to a situation in which gatekeepers facilitate the recognition of art and thereby define it. The field of cultural production and the position and movement of the art within it is naturally influenced by others in the art society as well as the artist themselves. The field of art is made up of a variety of positions including conceptual artists, art dealers, curators and art galleries, amongst others.

Agents compete to take up these ositions or create new ones ahead of the positions that already exist in the field. Struggles go on between agents in the field seeking to gain dominance. Struggles go on between different types of individuals or institutions to define the kinds of capital or power, which are valid in each field. Therefore the status that art has is volatile and complexly formed; an artist can move from the obscurity to acclaim, and vice versa, depending on the result of these forenamed struggles.

Furthermore, it is implied that gatekeepers play a role in the change of symbolic capital into economic apital, as they are responsible for the status of the art outside of its autonomous purpose, therefore they attach the economic value. “Art for art’s sake’ must still be marketed… because unless it can be seen, nobody will know it has been made, and effectively it will not exist” (Webb, 2002: 163). Art must be released from its most basic existence into a context where it can be received and the gatekeepers, as the name implies, are the facilitators for this movement.

Bourdieu elaborates further that the social world in its entirety and the art world are closely interlinked because something can only be recognized as art when it has ound an artistic environment, such as if it is found in an art gallery, if it is made by a recognised artist or if someone authorised to make such Judgment decides that it is in fact art. This implies that “something becomes art only when it is named as such by fgures of legitimatisation-or gatekeepers” (Webb, 2002: 152).

Thereby, Bourdieu’s theory of the field of cultural production shows that it is through this legitimization function that the gatekeepers of the art world have the authority to define what is art and who is an artist. For example, the contemporary artist Damian Hirst, who got an E in A-level art (Stallabrass, 2006: 25), which is arguably the academic way of measuring artistic ‘skill’, stated in Stallabrass (2006: 28) that he “always felt like a painter that couldn’t paint”, contradicting the idea that art is a “skill’ and suggesting instead that it becomes art through the legitimization of those authorities in the art world.

Before Hirst’s acclaim he was quoted as saying: “I cant wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say ‘Fuck Off. But fter a while you can get away with things” (1990 from Webb (2006:31). This, again, supports Bourdieu’s idea that something is only recognized as art when it is found in an artistic environment. For instance, when an established artist, as in the above example, has created the art.

Furthermore, it the director ot the national museum insists t Damian Hirst is one of the greatest living artists, then he is likely to be able to influence how the artistic and general publics view his work. On the other hand, if someone that has no field- based authority was of the same inclination, his/her opinion and evaluation would be ore likely disregarded. In other words, art is part of the field of power (Bourdieu, 1984: 7), because the value attributed to it by the gatekeepers is also adopted by the general public, which is ensured through the cultural arbitrary.

This suggests that “authorized art has a social rather than a personal function” (Webb, 2002: 154) although people are entitled to their own opinion. Charles Saatchi had huge amounts of power over the British contemporary art market during the 1990’s, so much so, that artists intentionally produced art that would gain his attention, so that he would buy them and subsequently launch their areers in the art world. This would allow them to become known as Saatchi artists, meaning that they began to lose their own output and artistic personality and were recognized through Saatchi’s aesthetics (Stallabrass, 2006:207).

This provides support to the argument that influential people are essential in the definition of contemporary art and have the ability to create artists. Returning to the fore-mentioned point that stated the positions within the field of cultural production are changeable, when looking at Damian Hirst, one could argue that he started of as being an ‘avant garde’ artist, a section under the autonomous ole. Hirst was part of the YBA (young British artist), a group of people that first got attention through the Freeze exhibition (Gale, 2012: 137).

Shortly after, he was part of an exhibition, Modern Medicine in 1990, where he exhibited A Thousand Years (Fig. 1), that Charles Saatchi, one of the most influential art patrons and collectors in Britain at that time, “not only bought but offered to fund future projects” (Kent, 2012) of the artist. A tiger shark suspended in a formaldehyde-filled glass case, called The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (Fig. 2), “became an con of Brit Art the minute it swam into view at the Saatchi Gallery in 1992” (Kent, 2012).

Charles Saatchi can, therefore, be said to have been a facilitator for the legitimization of his art. After that, Hirst made it to the official endorsement of the Tate and even the Royal Academy in the exhibition Sensation (Stallabrass, 2006:29). Without these gatekeepers of the art world, Hirst would not have had the opportunity to show his work and achieve recognition as a legitimized artist within the art world and then by the general public. Through this process, Hirst developed a signature or his art that has branded him as one of the most famous contemporary artists.

Stallabrass (2006:28) stated that “there is a large market for replicas of things that Hirst has already made” which he used to support the idea that “Hirst has become a pure brand”. This points to Hirst’s emergence as a ‘celebrity (Ibid), subsequently becoming extremely money orientated and so it can be argued that Hirst has stirred to the heteronomous side of the field, replacing symbolic with economic capital. In 2000, Hirst produced a sculpture entitled Hymn (Fig. 3), an exact replica of the 14″

Young Scientist Anatomy Set designed by Roman Emms. One may think of his quote 31)’ “Atter a while you can get away wit ngs At this point, one may say that Hirst had reached a level of acclaim where his work became recognized as art merely because his name had gained an artistic environment and following. In other words, the public ignored the fact that the sculpture Hymn was not his original design and that his employees constructed it. Another artist to whom Bourdieu ‘s theory can be applied is Marcel Duchamp.

The work Fountain (Fig. 4), part of his Readymade’s which were and attempt to ‘de-mystify rt’ (Hughes, 1991 :66), was a piece that was originally regarded as being controversial. Duchamp took a urinal, an object of everyday utility, and made it into a piece of art by simply mounting it like a sculpture and placing it in an exhibition as a legitimate piece of art. At this point he was already an established artist and therefore people simply accepted his work as valid pieces of art.

Another reason for why it was recognized as art, aesthetically and economically, was because it was put out of its usual context and instead was exhibited and associated with other objects of art (Webb, 2002: 163). According to Hughes (1991:66) this was an “ironic act of choice was equivalent to creation- a choice of mind rather than of hand”. It was no longer a ‘skill’, as defined in the Middle Ages. With all that said, people walking into the Tate Modern or Saatchi gallery may come across a piece, such as one of Duchamp’s Readymade’s, and exclaim such words as ‘my 10-year-old could do this’.

This reflects a view that art does not exist of itself: that art is not ‘a social magic’ but rather “a social artifact, the product of a field, and it comes into existence through a process of field-specific competition” (Webb, 2002: 152). Therefore, the structure of the art world and the art that exists within it eventually comes down to the effect of power. The fgures of authorization within the art world are those that have the power to define what is and is not art.

Ordinary people then feel obliged, because of the authority of the gatekeepers, to accept their verdicts, even though it may vary greatly with their own opinions Having explored how the ‘cultural arbitrary that surrounds art according to Bourdieu’s theory on The Field of Cultural Production and by showing how artist move to various positions within the field, it can be summed up that the field is a truggle of making meaning and giving art some sort of value; implying that the meaning and value of art is not fixed and therefore not innate.

Furthermore, this essay demonstrated that gatekeepers play a role in the change of symbolic capital into economic capital, as they are responsible for the status of the art outside of its autonomous purpose. This suggests that they attach the economic value and that the social world in its entirety and the art world are closely interlinked. Something can only be recognized as art when it has found an artistic environment, such as an art allery, if an established artist made it or if someone authorised to make such judgment decides that it is in fact art.

It was also argued that the structure of the art world and the art that exists within it eventually comes down to the effect of power. The fgures of authorization within the art world are those that have the power to define what is and is not art. Therefore it is acceptable to say that this essay is suggesting that art, as we know it today, cannot be recognized as legitimate art until it has been approved by the ‘gatekeepers’: art museums, curators, critics, amongst thers through their ability to define ‘legitimate’ art, these gatekeepers also effectively say who is, and who is not, an artist (Webb, 2002: 167).

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