Cultures Within Cultures: The Application of Bourdieu Today

In Victoria Burnett’s “Art and Culture: A Reflection on Bourdieu” three opinions on the definition and ever evolving nature of art were presented. The use of comments from three people with unique backgrounds excellently enunciated Bourdieu’s claim of the relationship of cultural capital and taste. In this response I would like to explore both sets of answers to the two questions posed by Victoria, and consider Bourdieu’s euro-centric arguments in the context of today’s radically globalised world.

Victoria points out Bourdieu’s argument that the judgement of the working class comes “from a place of ethics”. She then notes that “In all three of the descriptions I was given, the only time when art was spoken of as serving a purpose or having a purpose, it was never anything more than to make people feel some sort of emotion.” If we are to adhere to Bourdieu’s explanation of the role of cultural capital and habitus in the creation of a person’s perception of what constitutes art, the lack of function’s role in these definitions collected, betrays the potential privilege and higher social standing of the respondents. This is understandable considering the general privilege university students and academics hold over much of the rest of the population. This observation becomes even more important to consider when put in the context of a SASAH classroom filled with moderately to highly privileged students and academics.

Voice of Fire by Barnett Newman is an especially pertinent example to draw connections from in this question of taste and its ability to exposing the role of class, social standing, and even inequity within Canadian society. The controversy that erupted after $1.8 million was spent on the purchase of the abstract painting for the National Gallery of Canada highlights the real life application and consequences of the topics Bourdieu talked about in his introduction. This painting and its controversy focused highly on monetary value, and the ethics of using taxpayer dollars for art, while also initiating a nationwide discourse on what truly constitutes art. A Manitoba MP, Felix Holtmann, suggested that “two cans of paint and two rollers and about 10 minutes would do the trick.” Many taxpayers protested the spending of such an amount of public funds for a work they personally did not see value in, while curators and connoisseurs argued that too many people were stuck in 19th century definitions of art. Of course, there might never be a consensus on what art is, but the Voice of Fire truly speaks to the conflict that this disagreement can bring about.

Victoria’s observations on the way that the definition of art grows throughout the passage of time, brought up the relationship of art to culture. I wanted to expand on this relationship through looking explicitly at how the global movement of people has complicated taste. Because of Bourdieu’s own culture and standing in 1980s France, it was not relevant to account for things like the introduction of new cultures into western society, how that multiculturalism is sustained, or even the introduction of western culture into cultures around the world. Today however, cultures within cultures are the new norm, and are changing the ways we think about cultural capital and habitus.

One of the key instruments of globalisation are internet and social media. Not only have these connected cultures that would never before have interacted, but they have made the art from these cultures more accessible and more easily understood. This does not mean a reduction in class differences, but certainly indicates an increase in the amount of content shared between the classes. For example, someone who might previously have only been able to learn about famous artworks and museums in an art history class can now has more access to information about artworks than one textbook could hold, and can even tour a museum virtually if they wish to. In addition, with more and more artists sharing their art on social media, people of all classes have increased exposure to modern art.

As Victoria pointed out, “Art both defines a culture, while still being defined by it in turn.” I would argue that in Canada in 2017, it is more important than ever to not only be aware of culture’s influence on art, but how increased diversity, changing social priorities, and a turbulent political atmosphere influence this culture. What are the consequences for art and the perception of art due to this rapid shift in demographics and social structure? What are the implications of more and more accessibility to art provided by social media and internet? I believe we can continue to trust in diversity and technology to bring us more meaningful, creative, and impactful work, but the nuances of this discussion require further thinking and research.

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