Tag Archives: Taste After Bourdieu

Reflections on Taste

The conference Taste After Bourdieu, held in May 2014, explored issues to do with taste in the museum, gallery, street and home. For a group of Chelsea MA and CCW PhD students, it also afforded them the opportunity to be a part of the discussion. Beginning with a reading group organised by Dave Beech, the students researched Owen Jones’ analysis in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class alongside Jukka Gronow’s examination of taste and fashion through the lenses of Immanuel Kant and Georg Kimmel. Based on conversations and a collaborative process, they decided that their contribution to the conference would be an unadorned, MDF confessional booth. Through this visual, tactile and interactive booth, the group sought to provoke the subtle and sometimes obvious denials, ironies and conflicts of private versus public tastes. To what extent is the individual able to nurture and foster taste according to their unique palette, without conforming to socially approved standards of taste? Does human desire for acceptance and validation force the individual to play the role of fearful subject observing the emperor’s new clothes? When translated into the worlds of fine art and design, to what extent is the majority of current output inspired by commercially profitable taste versus what might be the artist’s or designer’s contrasting aesthetic and creative truth? When all was said and done, the students digested their experience of creating the booth and their overall contribution to the conference in their publication, Reflections on Taste. The student group consisted of Chrissa Amuah, Caroline Derveaux-Berte, Jaime Greenly, Jessica Hart, Katasi KirondeMohammad Namazi, Alex Roberts and Kioka Williams.

In the words of Roberts, ‘The fact that it was a reading group was the starting point. There was always a sense of wanting to do something interactive and document our collective experience. It was a way of recording something tangibly, because there were always open-ended questions coming up, and we realised that you can’t pin taste down. Questions about securities, insecurities and the need for acceptance were recurring themes in discussions. This was a chance for us to bring our individual perspectives together.

'ugly swan cushion'

The “ugly swan cushion”

The group focused on ways in which we frame our personal tastes. Jaime had a model example by way of her “ugly swan cushion”. She knew that most people think that it’s naff, but she really likes it. We used this concept to encourage other people to interact with the confessional booth. The group members anonymously photographed personal objects which provoked the question, who would publicly admit to owning this? In this way the notion of what is presented privately versus publicly guided the group. We approached the publication using the same method. Each person contributed an individual essay accompanied by their image from the booth, thus admitting which one was theirs!

In addition, there was an interactive group essay at the end. One person began with a paragraph, and the next person reacted or built upon that. We all took turns adding to the text in this way, each student contributing no more than 200 words. The essay’s aim was for the text to be published anonymously.  It reinforced the concepts we had begun with, looking at the public versus the private, while giving us a collective voice.  We also asked Malcolm to contribute his own text and had the whole publication edited by a third-party (Robert Gadie).

At the moment, I’m really enjoying having my brain stretched as well as my perspectives. Collaboration gives you an opportunity to readdress how you think, but also how you make work individually and collectively.’

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.

Taste After Bourdieu

CCW Graduate School is pleased to announce the programme for Taste After Bourdieu. The conference brings together UK and international speakers from arts practice, art education, curation, sociology and cultural criticism to ask – what is the current relationship between aesthetic judgement and social distinction? In response to the influential twentieth century analysis of taste proposed by Pierre Bourdieu, how should we construct a cross-cultural analysis of taste in the twenty first century? Taste After Bourdieu offers an analysis of taste across four key domains – the Museum, the Gallery, the Street and the Home – to re-evaluate the relationship of aesthetic judgement to social distinction for a new era.

Taste and the Museum, considers the fate of the ‘post-taste’ museum in Europe, which, while it is no longer required to deliver the self-cultivation of the individual, is facing new strictures on what kinds of taste building it can now assume. Taste and the Gallery, charts a course between the either/or of the sociological reduction of aesthetic experience and an uncomplicated assertion of the autonomous individual subject of taste. Taste and the Street adopts an Asian perspective on public taste that uses examples from street fashion, popular culture and high art to challenge the co-ordinates of a Bourdieusian analysis. Taste and the Home, adopts the cross-cultural ambitions of a Bourdieusian analysis while questioning whether the very act of switching from one context to another or from one geographical space to another, undermines the social mechanisms of distinction that Bourdieu has described.

Working within and across these four domains enables us to embrace the Bourdieusian idea of a cross-cultural analysis of taste while questioning the reduction of aesthetics to social distinction that has accompanied it.  On the one hand, the reduction of aesthetic value to social distinction has proposed an end to the separation of high and low culture and anxiety about status and respectability. On the other hand, this same reduction of aesthetic value to social distinction is supported by new kinds of personal and cultural anxiety, new forms of cultural institution and new expressions of social and political power.

Keynote Speakers:

  • 15 May: Prof Tony Bennett, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney
  • 16 May: Prof Penny Sparke, School of Art and Design History, Kingston University

For more information and registration visit the conference website

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