Tag Archives: Malcolm Quinn

Victorian Futures: Closing Remarks

On 14 and 15 May 2015, Chelsea College of Arts hosted the two-day conference, Victorian Futures Culture, Democracy and the State on the Road to Olympicopolis, a collaboration between Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges of Arts (CCW), Middlesex University and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the closing panel of the conference last week, Munira Mirza (Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture GLA) said, ‘You couldn’t do it without culture,’ implying that culture was an essential element in building the relationship between the people and the state.  Munira Mirza’s comment took us back to where we began on day one of Victorian Futures, with the Reform Act of 1832 and a quote from Sir Robert Peel, who said at that time that the arts were important to ‘cementing… bonds of union between the richer and poorer orders of the state’.  One of the main aims of the conference was to use this past moment of democratic reform in culture and the arts to think about our future.  It is worth noting that Neil MacGregor, as he leaves the British Museum for the Humboldt Forum has been quoted as saying, ‘What is very remarkable about German history as a whole is that the Germans use their history to think about the future, where the British tend to use their history to comfort themselves… the Germans use it as a challenge to behave better in the future.’

On day two of Victorian Futures, which dealt with the relationship of the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the rendezvous with the history of the Great Exhibition in the Festival of Britain in 1951, Professor Barry Curtis (Royal College of Art) gave a paper that suggested, if Neil MacGregor is correct, that this attitude towards the comforts of history is one that we may have inherited from the Victorians, whose reaction to the ‘culture gap’ between aristocracy and industrial capital and the multiple shocks of the industrial revolution, was to return to the certainty of tradition as the foundation of public taste. Barry Curtis’s suggestion that the Victorians had difficulty in planning and envisioning their own future, and our subsequent fascination with the aesthetic symptoms of that failure in the 1950s, 60s and on into the present, was one of the central motifs of this second day of our conference.

On day one of Victorian Futures, we began by looking at the view forward from the 1830s towards the Victorian Era and began with an opening keynote from Dr Charles Saumarez Smith (Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts) on ‘Art and Public Culture in the 1830s’.  He showed how at that time, the Royal Academy of Arts made a decision to stand aside from developments happening elsewhere, that were beginning to write a new national script for a relationship between the state and the people of Britain built on public understanding of the arts and public access to the arts.  This keynote was followed by four readings of the work of the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures in 1836.  In Malcolm Quinn’s (UAL) reading of the Committee, he suggested that this new script, as it was being written by radicals in the Select Committee, ushered in a moment of doubt about the meaning of aesthetic competency in a democracy.

Shibboleth Shechter and Mariana Pestana (UAL), took the conference forward from the work of the Select Committee in 1830s to the present and showed how some of the concerns of the 1830s about the relationship of art, design and manufacture are being re-imagined as a digitally informed community of makers in present day Bethnal Green.  Michaela Giebelhausen (UAL), in her response to the Committee, focused on how the 1830s was a time when the threat of revolution was still potent, and how the Select Committee had been offered the idea of the ‘artist/worker’ as an idealized way to encounter these threats. Christopher Marsden (Senior Archivist at the Victoria and Albert Museum) showed how the work of the Select Committee in offering ‘gratuitous and general’ access to museums was reflected in later cultural and political debates on public access.  After lunch on day one, we shifted perspective; instead of looking forward from the 1830s to the Great Exhibition of 1851, we looked back at the Great Exhibition ‘through a glass darkly’ from the post-war era, focusing particularly on the Festival of Britain and its ambivalent relationship with the Great Exhibition of 1851. Lynda Nead (Birkbeck, University of London) gave a paper in which she suggested that after World War Two, the Victorian Era was being looked at obliquely, as a shadow or intense darkness through which the modern could be seen in contrast. Dr Harriet Atkinson (Brighton University) gave a paper in which she outlined the problems that the architects of the Festival of Britain had in making their intended historical liaison with the Great Exhibition, and that the Festival had tried to banish the spectres of a Britain of capital and empire with an emphasis on land and people.

This was followed by a PhD student panel, in which Clare Barry (Middlesex University) spoke about the pier as industrialised bad taste and the democratic of the street. Julia Dudkiewicz (UAL) discussed Kelmscott Manor as a Victorian utopia constructed in the Victorian era and consumed in the present. Dan Davies (Middlesex University) showed how P&O generated its own version of a Victorian future, and Lauren Fried (V&A) discussed animate and corporeal design histories as a possible future for the V&A as a Victorian institution.

The final speaker of the day was Kieran Long (Senior Curator of Contemporary Architecture, V&A).  In his keynote, Long brought the room face to face with the legacy of Victorian attempts to use culture to bridge the gap between ‘the rulers and the ruled’ by asking how people make accommodation for public life in the present. He also made an plea for a consideration of people and common life in the new Olympicopolis development.  At the reception on day one, the guest of Guest of Honour Althea Efunshile (Deputy Chief Executive, Arts Council England) asked everyone to take inspiration from the Victorian era. She said, ‘There’s a long way to go; but in the light of our belief that the arts should have a home in public places among other major institutions, we welcome this. How great it would be to recreate that exciting hybridisation that Albert and Henry Cole dreamed of – to create a place where young people could truly experience how the disciplines can be connected.’

At the beginning of day two, Professor Catherine Moriarty (Brighton University), Dr Alex Seago (Richmond University) and Professor Barry Curtis focused on different aspects of the historical problem of a Victorian Future in which the attempt to rendezvous with the Victorian past, or even to definitively reject it, comes up against an ambivalent fascination and repulsion towards the symptoms of aesthetic manifold and complexity of the inability of the Victorians to project their future.   Zoe Hendon (Head of Museum Collections, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture) then gave a paper on the V&A’s Circulation Department and the Silver studio, which examined how in the 1950s the V&A had a rather ambiguous attitude towards the era of its own foundation.  This was contrasted with the commitment by the V&A’s circulation department at that time to public education in the arts, a direct legacy of the 1850s.  Dr Jessica Kelly (University for the Creative Arts, Farnham) spoke about Architectural Review and the Victorian future in terms of mediating a relationship between democracy, art and the public or the ‘model middle class’. In the 1930s the legatees of the attempt a century earlier in the 1830s to institute a ‘march of the intellect’ to move culture away from its identification with the aristocracy and to broker a deal between the state and the public, used the architect as cultural leader or cultural ‘doctor’.

In the final panel of Victorian Futures, which engaged with the route from the Reform Act to Olympicopolis, Graeme Evans (Professor of Urban Cultures and Design, Middlesex University) asked everyone to consider who were the winners and losers in projects of cultural regeneration, and saw the legacy of the 1830s in a continued wish on behalf of governments to use cultural master planning to manage the relationship of work and leisure.  Evans echoed another aspect of the cultural reformers of the 1830s when he referred to the need for projects and cultural regeneration to be transparent to the public gaze.  Lucy Kimbell (AHRC Design Research Fellow, Policy Lab/University of Brighton) made the observation that ‘design schools are studios for society’ and should be oriented to social needs as much as those of industry.  Kimbell also reminded us of how the route from the Reform Act to Olympicopolis constantly reminds us of the importance of attention to scale in culture, and the need to balance local, national and global perspectives.  Lucy Kimbell also echoed the project of the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures in 1836 when she spoke of the importance of ‘getting data’ on the cultural landscape.  Munira Mirza referred to the complex legacy of Victorian culture and the need to recognize and emulate the ambition of projects such as the Great Exhibition, a global event that was also accessible to all.  She also spoke of the need for a public conversation about the value of design to society.  Martin Roth (Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum) referred to the 1830s in Britain and Europe as a time of revolt and revolution, which required a cultural response. This kind of response could only be fully developed by institutions working together to develop a view through and across culture. Sir John Sorrell (Chairman of Court of Governors, UAL) also referred to the need for boldness and ambition in our attitudes to cultural regeneration, while warning that grand plans that do not also build a sustainable environment for the growth of creativity and entrepreneurship will not succeed.

It could be said that the project of the 1830s that we began with on day one of Victorian Futures, which attempted to build a centrist, liberal and democratic discourse on the arts on a national scale, may no longer be a viable option in the current situation, when local and global forces disrupt the operations of national democracy in a number of ways.  However, one element of this work that is still relevant, is the vision of a national cultural script determined by considerations of public education in the arts and public access to the arts. In the 1830s, there were a number of politicians and civil servants who wanted to serve the public by beginning to develop this script.  On the two hundredth anniversary of the Reform Act in 2032, what will be said about what we have made of their legacy?

Victorian Futures: Culture, Democracy and the State on the Road to Olympicopolis

On 14 and 15 May 2015 CCW Graduate School, School of Art and Design Middlesex University and the Victoria and Albert Museum will be collaborating on the conference Victorian Futures: Culture, Democracy and the State on the Road to Olympicopolis, held in the Edwardian Rooms at Chelsea College of Arts.

Speaking as one of the conference organisers, Malcolm Quinn, Associate Dean of Research and Director of CCW Graduate School, said, ‘On 29 January 2015, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, delivered the Sackler Lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of a series of lectures given in honour of Henry Cole, the founder of the V&A.  In his speech, the Mayor referred to the proposed development of “Olympicopolis”, an arts, education, science and technology quarter in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as part of the legacy of the 2012 Olympics. University of the Arts London, the V&A and other partners are included in the proposed Olympicopolis development. The word Olympicopolis combines the Olympic Park with a historical reference to “Albertopolis”, the cluster of cultural and academic institutions in South Kensington that was established on a site purchased with the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Prince Albert was the patron of the Great Exhibition and Henry Cole led on its organization and management. Following the success of the Great Exhibition, Cole was asked to “Direct the Art of the Country” as the head of the government Department of Practical Art.

Victorian Futures: Culture, Democracy and the State on the Road to Olympicopolis will examine the intellectual history of the Olympicopolis project, from 1832 to the present and beyond. This conference has been developed by myself, Anne Massey, Professor in Design at Middlesex University and Professor Bill Sherman, Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  My own work on this conference has been developed from research that engages with ideas that were foundational for state funded art education in England – utility, taste, wellbeing, cultural prejudice and social equity.  The conference brings together the heads of major UK arts institutions, national cultural leaders, curators, arts practitioners and arts policy makers with academics and doctoral students in art and design. It will begin by examining the national programmes for the elevation of taste and “the education of the eyes of the people” that immediately preceded the Victorian era, following the Reform Act of 1832.  This first “Victorian Future” was being mapped out by political and aesthetic reformers before Queen Victoria came to the throne on 1837.  It was further developed in Albertopolis after 1851 and it was re-imagined again a century later in the Festival of Britain 1951, when a retrospective modernity was combined with an interest in Victorian popular culture.  What were the origins of this dream of public culture and public access? Do contemporary re-imaginings of Victorian Futures connect with the pre-Victorian dream of cultural democracy? The relationship of the as yet unbuilt Olympicopolis to the still unfinished dream of Albertopolis is a strange one; they are linked iterations of a Victorian Future, which used the political landscaping of art, design, culture and industry in Britain in the service of a new settlement between the arts and the state. The Royal Festival Hall is part of the legacy of The Festival of Britain and the V&A, Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Albert Memorial are familiar landmarks of the topography of Albertopolis, but the history of the ideas and the new ways of thinking about art, design and the state that brought these institutions into being are less well-known.  One of the main aims of our conference is to examine the deeper history of a changed relationship between the arts and the state that is being revisited on the Olympicopolis site. Henry Cole referred to this deeper history when he was made head of the Department of Practical Art: “The Department of Practical Art was formed in February 1852, for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the Schools of Design which had been established in 1837, upon the recommendation of the Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed in 1835.”

The Select Committee that Cole was referring to was the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures of 1835/6, which, following the Reform Act of 1832, sought to survey and grasp the landscape of the arts, art institutions and art education in Britain and across Europe, with the aim of reconfiguring the relationship of art and the state.  The work of this Select Committee is a “source code” for the journey from the Reform Bill to Olympicopolis. Some writers have said that the work of the Select Committee, which often seemed to be groping in the dark with matters of art and culture beyond its ken, constantly provokes the question as to who was competent to make judgements concerning the arts on a national scale. I think that it is actually more important to ask how it is that the question, who is competent to judge the arts on a national scale, came to be asked at all.  For the radicals on the Committee, the introduction of “the people” or “the public” into thinking about art, design and culture put the question of competency in doubt; their claim was that the people could not rely on the institutions of art and culture as they were constituted at that time. With this question in mind, the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures established the first state funded art school in England, the School of Design, in the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837. It is important to emphasise that what creates this new dialogue between art and the state is not so much the certainty of political reason, but a moment of doubt about the meaning of aesthetic competency within a democracy. William Ewart thought that these doubts could only begin to be addressed by a national programme of art education, the “opening of all the means by which a knowledge of the Arts was to be acquired”.

Victorian Futures begins by looking back at the middle class, anti-aristocratic radicalism of Ewart and his colleagues in the 1830s and its relationship to the work of Henry Cole and the Great Exhibition.  The next section of the conference addresses the Great Exhibition in 1851 in the light of the “Victorian Future” of the Festival of Britain in 1951.  The final section of the conference has the broadest historical sweep, examining the journey from 1832 to Olympicopolis in the light of the current relationship between the arts and the state.’

Book your place at the conference here.

Image: McNeven, J., The transept from the Grand Entrance, Souvenir of the Great Exhibition , William Simpson (lithographer), Ackermann & Co. (publisher), 1851, V&A

Adorno and Art: Aesthetic Theory Contra Critical Theory

Dr James Hellings’s first monograph, Adorno and Art: Aesthetic Theory Contra Critical Theory, appeared recently with Palgrave Macmillan (2014). Hellings’s book shows how radical and revolutionary Adorno’s aesthetic theory of art’s double character remains, and how complex, imaginative and oppositional forms of art offer, perhaps, the best hope for overcoming damaged life. The caricatures of Adorno, his politics and his aesthetics, are well-known errors of judgement – widely repeated both by the academy and the Left. Adorno’s aesthetics have been accused of failing to keep pace with progressive artistic practices and for being socio-politically aloof. Despite the persistence of these caricatures, Hellings’s book shows how significant images and themes in Adorno’s theory remain relevant to the current situation of art, aesthetics, and politics. The Adorno on show in the book was no bourgeois mandarin, no arrogant aesthete, no esoteric mystic, no melancholy pessimist, and no academic expert holed up in the proverbial ivory tower.

Adorno and Art received a favourable (and unsolicited) review in the November issue of Art Monthly (2014). David Ryan wrote, “[O]ne senses throughout that Hellings is testing his own ideas and critical persuasions through, and with, Adorno, which is illuminating in the light of his rather good discussion of subjectivity and objectivity within both aesthetic theory and art making in general.’ ‘[Hellings] makes Adorno’s thought vivid for the present, especially in his attempts to think through contemporary artistic and political practices.”

Alongside his extensive teaching commitments between two art schools (Camberwell College of Arts and Birmingham School of Art), Hellings is currently researching and writing an article, which presents a clear and distinctive overview of Adorno’s materialist-dialectical aesthetic theory of art’s aura, together with Walter Benjamin’s critique thereof, in relation to contemporary art (Susan Hiller, Tacita Dean, Hito Steyerl). The article revises this important historical debate for the present situation of art and theory (Jacques Rancière, Peter Osborne, Jörg Heiser).

Hellings is particularly interested in working with progressive contemporary art practices and his research interests include: political (Marxian) social histories and theories of modern and contemporary art, aesthetics and continental philosophy (especially the critical theory of the Frankfurt school), the avant-garde, newness and contemporaneity. Hellings is interested in manifesting his ideas in a variety of forms and promotes the interdependency of art and theory through teaching and publishing.

Hellings will be launching his book and participating in a discussion event entitled Art, Aesthetics and Politics, Now! at South London Gallery on Friday 13th March. Professor Esther Leslie (Birkbeck), Dr Yaiza Hernández (CSM), and Professor Malcolm Quinn (CCW), will join Hellings in conversation about Frankfurt School legacies in contemporary art, aesthetics and politics.

JAWS: Starting a Student Project

Francesca Peschier, CCW PhD student, wears many UAL hats, including administrator of Performance Research Network, Creative Opportunities assistant, associate lecturer and member of Process Arts. She is also the founder and Editor in Chief of JAWS: The Journal of Arts Writing by Students. The bi-annual journal was originally published through funding from the Student Union, before being picked up by the ‘publishers of original thinking’, Intellect. The next issue of JAWS is due out in autumn 2014.

‘In the back of a taxi heading to the Intellect Books Editors convention a few weeks ago, I encountered another UAL based Editor. Discussing our babies, I started to explain JAWS, the Journal of Arts Writing by Students in my best proud mother tone. “Oh that,” she sighed, “I think I’ve seen you speak about that about five times.”

I reiterate this anecdote, not to prove that everyone is bored of me popping up around UAL in various guises, but how much pushing you have to do to get a project like JAWS off the ground. JAWS began as an extra curricular project lead by myself and other members of CCW’s MRes Arts Practice in 2012. We felt we had spotted a gap in the market for a “studio space” for academic arts writing- an experimental platform where students and first year graduates could judge for themselves what they felt were the most current and relevant themes and have the chance to disseminate new thinking.

Following moral support from CCW (in particular from our champions Paul Ryan, Malcolm Quinn, Cate Elwes and Donald Smith) and financial support from the Students Union, we put out three editions completely edited, written, reviewed and designed by students.  During a visit from the late head of Intellect, Masood Yazdani, I asked him to take a look at a copy of JAWS to give us his professional opinion. The incident stuck in my mind particularly as my vintage skirt had ripped in half at the back when I nervously approached him so I spent the whole conversation with my back glued to the wall. Despite this, Masood rang me from his train back to Intellect saying that he loved the journal and he would love to publish it.

What I wanted to share in this blog post, beyond my pride in how hard everyone has worked to get JAWS to where we are now, expecting our first professional, international edition in the next few weeks, was what I have learnt so far. Unusually for a scenography researcher, I am not a great proponent of Rancière, but I do feel I have become something akin to his ignorant schoolmaster in this role. I have found myself the editor of a professional arts/practice as research focused journal despite not being an artist or a researcher who employs practice.  I am also not an entrepreneurial, branding or PR expert. I am not even that great at spelling or spotting that bane of an editor’s job: ‘misuse of inverted commas’. As Paul Ryan said, we who started the JAWS project simply saw something we wanted was missing and tried to fulfill it.

So therefore, in the spirit of blog posts, I wanted to share my five, not quite tips, but perhaps things I have encountered (often unexpectedly) during this experience:

  1. Accept that most ‘collaborations’ will unavoidably become a benign dictatorship. I have often feared that JAWS has been in danger of becoming a cult of personality with my blue-haired bonce popping up everywhere as the main point of contact. At JAWS we make sure that the co-editors and image editor (who is a BA student that also heads up JAWS as a society) make decisions and lead elements of the project. However, there will always have to be someone who has the final responsibility, not just with decisions but also in terms of organization and delegation.
  1. Organization systems are key, and don’t be afraid of them evolving. Oh how I wish we had had our Intellect editors’ training a year ago! We use a combination of Google apps, doc spreadsheets and dropbox to keep track of submissions and reviews. With any big project like a publication or exhibition, limit your administrators to a maximum of three, otherwise there are emails and dropbox documents flying about all over the piece and no one knows which is the latest version. Social media is fantastic for engaging institutions and students outside UAL, learn to love 140 characters.
  1. Be prepared to hold hands. We are not the same as a normal academic journal as most of our contributors have never submitted an article before. Whilst sparing no wrath for those who send you their entire dissertation using you as a free proof reading service or those who don’t even take a glance at the guidelines and send concrete-block-style experimental poetry, you will have to hold the hand of others. I think whilst this particularly applies to JAWS, this will prove true for any large project. You will end up providing extensive technical help, in my case explaining a hundred times how peer review tracking boxes of word works and why photos taken on iPhone aren’t 300dpi, through to pastoral and academic care, with JAWS reviewers steering writers to key texts and arguments they might have missed. In the end it is rewarding, but you are going to spend a lot of time on this.
  1. People are busy and people are flakey. Everyone is busy, you have to learn to not take it as an insult on the importance of your own time when you end up drowning in work and terribly dull admin to make things happen when others turn it down. Initial enthusiasm can quickly disappear for a project when real life takes over. If you can’t take it on, sometimes things have to be dropped. Try not to take it personally.
  1. Funding is hard. Ah the permanent cry of the life of a postgrad. Even with the most successful projects, funding is an elusive unicorn. You will end up spending your own money on big projects and as much as I have stamped my feet in the past, it is systematic of getting something off the ground (a lesson from Dragons Den). I had high hopes after we got a professional publisher who covers all our marketing and printing costs but other things mount up. Travel to conventions and the publishers, posting journals out, website charges etc etc. Every penny you are granted you will have to justify repeatedly until you feel like the Victorian deserving poor in a Dickens novel.

These experiences are not supposed to put a damper on starting a student led project, they are just things I wish I had thought more about and which became key. I would still do it all again tomorrow and I look forward to seeing the journal continue on, even when I (hopefully) eventually graduate and can’t serve as editor in chief anymore. In fact, I especially look forward to handing it on to future students and seeing the publication change and evolve.’

If you would like to submit a piece, peer review or find out more about JAWS please email Frank at Frank@jawsjournal.com. The current call for papers runs until the end of April 2015 and full details can be found at www.jawsjournal.com

Memories of the Future: Malcolm Quinn’s Keynote

Malcolm Quinn, Director of CCW Graduate School, was recently invited to give the Keynote at the conference, Memories of the Future, organised by University of the Arts London and Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, held on 2-3 May.

‘My presentation for Memories of the Future drew on my recent research on the re-purposing of ideas and institutions in nineteenth century Britain, and about the social transformations that occur with a change of use. Can we think of time machines the same way? When we think of a time machine, we might think of an object that looks different from all other objects in the world, like the bizarre hybrid vehicle familiar from the stories of H.G. Wells.  I discussed a time machine which, rather than being a different kind of object in the world, might be constructed out of a different usage of existing objects. The time traveller, similarly, is someone who talks about and uses the things of this world in a different way than everyone else. I used this difference between new objects and new uses of existing objects to discuss the importance of satisfaction in narratives of time travel, and the difference between ‘not getting what you want’, which is the basis of the fantasy of obtaining satisfaction through travel to another dimension of time, and ‘not wanting what you get’ because the things that you get only have one set of instructions for use. The second part of my presentation applied this distinction to historical analysis – I asked if there was something that could separate knowledge of how things were in history (and how things might have been in ‘counterfactual’ histories) from the recreation of historical knowledge in a form that this world does not use it.  As an example of the latter, I discussed Robert Musil’s book The Man Without Qualities, where knowledge of World War One is used in a very remarkable way.’

A recording of Quinn’s full keynote can be viewed here:

Taste After Bourdieu: an interview with Malcolm Quinn

CCW Graduate School spoke to Malcolm Quinn, CCW Associate Dean of Research and Director of Graduate School, about the forthcoming conference that the Graduate School is hosting, Taste After Boudieau.  Quinn proposed the conference because CCW Graduate School has a commitment to promote cultural debate through the Graduate School themes of Environment, Identity, Social Engagement and Technologies. Taste After Bourdieu deals with the relationship of identity and social engagement in art and design practice and theory.

Why is CCW Graduate School hosting a conference about taste?

Many practitioners and theorists at UAL, from Elizabeth Wilson to Grayson Perry have engaged with the social dimension of art and taste, and CCW is following this with the UAL panel convenors and speakers for Taste After Bourdieu, who represent our current institutional engagement with contemporary debates on taste.  It is also the case that the publicly funded art school in England emerged from a political debate about public taste and cultural exclusion in the 1830s, so it makes sense to re-engage with those themes in 2014, at the end of a phase when the rhetoric of cultural inclusiveness and social mobility was the norm. In contrast, the current government have been described as ‘selective philistines’ (Catherine Bennett, The Observer, 2 Dec 2012) who are content for the population of Newcastle to embark on its own version of the Dark Ages, ‘while Downing Street’s connoisseurs blag £888 Wagner tickets or hanker for a Tracey Emin.’

Who was Pierre Bourdieu?

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French sociologist. His seminal text Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste was based on fieldwork that Bourdieu conducted in the 1960s, yet its analysis of the social formations of taste, and its central concepts of ‘cultural capital’, ‘habitus’ and ‘field’, are still influential in studies of culture and society and are now part of the lingua franca of cultural policy.  For example, the UK currently boasts an ‘Institute of Cultural Capital’ (ICC) in Liverpool dedicated to ‘debates concerning the social and economic value of cultural interventions’.

Why is Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of taste important to CCW/UAL?

Bourdieu thought that taste was a symbolic practice in the domain of culture that we use to enhance our life chances and where individual identity and social recognition is at stake. He thought that the institutions of art were crucial to the affirmation of differences between groups and social classes and in the reproduction of those differences. His work was marked by an analysis of culture ‘from the ground up’ that emphasised the importance of individual practices of cultural engagement and reception in everyday life. He claimed that institutions of art and culture such as art schools, galleries and museums divide those who feel confident in their expressions of taste from those whose upbringing and education inhibit them from using personal taste as a means of gaining social approval and recognition. Rather than seeing radical and avant-garde art as a challenge to social convention, Bourdieu saw artists as complicit with the moneyed middle classes in excluding whole sectors of the population from the game of taste and the possibility of gaining social recognition and approval.  Bourdieu opposed Theodor Adorno, who saw the individual artwork as holding out the possibility of social change through a challenge to the existing forms and conventions of art. Instead, Bourdieu claimed that the artwork and the artist are only socially legible if contained within a cross-cultural analysis of social distinctions. Bourdieu saw Marcel Duchamp as an exception that proved this rule, because Duchamp’s subversion of belief in the power of the individual artist disclosed the modus operandi of the entire field of art.

What are some of the current challenges to Bourdieu’s analysis of taste?

Bourdieu was one of the great academic ‘Mythbusters’ of the twentieth century, who wanted to demolish the myths of art and philosophical aesthetics in order to reveal the social reality of taste. This meant that art practice was both ‘out of place’ and ‘in place’ in his analysis.  Bourdieu thinks that art is ‘out of place’ because it distorts a clear view of the field of cultural practices and he thinks that it is ‘in place’ when someone like Duchamp discloses the way things really are with art and the social world. Bourdieu suggests that art and design practice is crucial to the formation of taste because taste is vital to social positioning. But perhaps art is crucial to the debate on taste because it suggests that not everything is in position. While we are obliged to negotiate social conventions of taste, we do not have to accept that these conventions tell us how things are with the world. The overwhelming power that Bourdieu accords to the role of social distinction in the game of culture can also introduce its own distortions, in which cross-cultural analysis is used to describe a game of culture built around the drive of dominant social groups to reproduce themselves. This means that your point of entry into the game of culture determines your level of engagement. In Taste After Bourdieu, our four domains of gallery, museum, street and home are there to allow for a cross-cultural account of how conventions of taste might operate across and between each domain, but they do not describe levels of cultural attainment. Student involvement is an important part of this conference and a group of CCW Graduate School students are preparing an intervention that will allow us to see new points of entry into these debates. Above all, our conference is directed to debate that will allow conventions of taste to be considered ‘after Bourdieu’ and his description of the social meaning of art and taste.

For more information about Taste After Bourdieu and booking, please visit the conference website.


Dr Malcolm Quinn, Associate Dean of Research and Director of CCW Graduate School, will be speaking at Stupidious at the South London Gallery on Saturday 8 Feb 2013, a day of talks and screenings that looks at stupidity as both a subject and a strategy of artistic production. This event follows the publication of Quinn’s article ‘Stupidity is Anything at All’ in a special issue of the journal Parallax, 19:3, pp. 70-82.

The event examines “the cultural importance of stupidity with a particular focus on its ethical and political effects as well as the challenges it presents to art making and critical writing. High culture is supposed to keep its audience from being stupid, yet artists and theorists have repeatedly turned their attention to this marginalised subject. Stupidity carries a number of significant associations and implications – questions of intellectual superiority, of judgment and understanding, of the nature of thought, of certitude and selfhood, of insult and exclusion, of legitimate and illegitimate knowledge.”  Further information and details for booking can be found on the South London Gallery website.

Dr Malcolm Quinn’s current research focuses on identity, taste and governance in the thought of Jeremy Bentham and Adam Smith, with reference to Jacques Lacan’s account of the ‘utilitarian conversion’ in ethics. He is the author (with Professor Dany Nobus) of Knowing Nothing Staying Stupid: Elements for a Psychoanalytic Epistemology(Routledge, 2005) and ‘Insight and Rigour: A Freudo-Lacanian Approach’ in The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts (2010).  His book Utilitarianism and the Art School in Nineteenth-Century Britain was published in 2012.

Collaborative Partnership Seminar Genève

On 13 and 14 January, staff from CCW visited the CCC Research-Based Master Programme and Pre-Doctoral Seminar at the Haute école d’art et de design Genève (CCC/HEAD), to discuss the development of a collaborative partnership around shared areas of research interest. CCC is co-ordinated by Professor Catherine Queloz and delivers a pre-doctoral seminar aimed at developing rigorous and culturally engaged practice-led research in art and design.

Professor Chris Wainwright, Pro Vice-Chancellor of UAL and Head of CCW, Dr Malcolm Quinn, Associate Dean of Research and Head of Graduate School CCW, and Professor Neil Cummings of CCW, delivered presentations on the PhD culture and curriculum at CCW/UAL, as well as presentations on their own research and one-to-one discussions on student research projects. Following the visit, CCW/UAL and CCC/HEAD are planning a joint seminar/workshop programme, commencing in autumn 2014, on the themes of the politics of memory and environment and sustainability, which cohere with the CCW research themes and the research aims of CCC. A common aim of both institutions is to use research in art as a powerful agent of artistic and cultural transformation, intervention, and translation.