This is a big, big, important book, and I’ve spent only a little time notating it – so if you’ve come across these notes somehow, don’t take them to be in any way comprehensive.
Cultural taste is created by upbringing and education. Its primary function (“consciously and deliberately or not” (7)) is as a marker and legitimator of class distinction.
Upbringing becomes a more powerful determinant of taste the less ‘legitimate’ an area of culture is.
Cultural consumption is a communicative act, in that it is an act of interpretation based on knowledge of a code. Shades of Gross here
No such thing as ‘pure’ aesthetic experience – it’s all acculturated and thus historical.
This is increasingly true of modern art, which prioritizes form over representation. It’s art-about-art, not art-about-life.
‘Popular aesthetic’ [working class] marked by subordination of form to function. In other words, popular aesthetics are anti-Kantian. this is a logical impossibility, if his other argument is true – namely that there is no pure aesthetic experience
aesthetic distance = the luxury of detachment from life’s hardships
aestheticization of daily life = the ultimate act of class distinction, and an affront to the working class. This is 180-degree opposite of Dewey. I side with D on this one – aestheticization of daily life seems to be the historical rule rather than the exception
aesthetics must be considered within the context of ordinary life, not as a separate, rarefied sphere of experience. I agree with him here – as would Dewey and Williams
the book’s findings are based on survey research conducted in the 1960s. his survey is similar to one I have wanted to field – about the ways in which people understand the role of aesthetic practices and products (specifically, music) in their lives. However, one variable he doesn’t seem to have considered is access to information about cultural forms, as distinct from preference for cultural forms.
Even film tastes (e.g. for certain directors), which are not taught educationally, co-vary with more established aesthetic tastes, because they are obtained and communicated through social groups.
Art which prizes form over function categorically demands a purely aesthetic disposition in the viewer. Extreme of this is ready-mades, in which the artist demands that the viewer reject the use-value of a ‘purely’ useful object, thus addressing the entire world with an aesthetic gaze.
Art museum = institutionalized aesthetic disposition. Prior contexts evaporate.
Aesthetic disposition is incommensurate with immediate feeling of sensory pleasure because it interposes cognition. Not sure I buy this. The human mind can operate on several levels at once – it’s not a linear process.
Popular culture aesthetic – anti-Kantian simple, straightforward, unambiguous isomorphic with reality, consumed with a willful naïveté and direct engagement with spectacle. This description insults ‘common’ people by assuming that reality as they perceive it is unambiguous. Maybe instead the desire for unambiguous representation is a reaction against the ambiguity of daily life. (cf. Radway)
High culture aesthetes, by contrast, are detached, disinterested, indifferent to content – form is everything. The price is that they do not engage life. Moral agnosticism. Aesthetic disposition implies symbolic competence.
Artistic competence can be acquired either through institutional learning or through regular contact with works of art (especially within a context that focuses on form over content, e.g. museums).
Connoisseurship – unconscious mastery of aesthetic codes based on prolonged exposure.
Apparent ‘naturalness’ of tastes hides the social mechanism of taste acquisition and naturalizes/normalizes class distinctions.
Cultural capital can only be acquired outside of economic necessity not necessarily
Habitus = the classist systematization of taste, that both generates and verifies judgments.
“To the socially recognized hierarchy of the arts, and within each of them, of genres, schools or periods, corresponds a social hierarchy of the consumers. This predisposes tastes to function as markers of ‘class’.” (1-2) thesis statement
“A work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded.” (2) true to an extent, but there are major exceptions – i.e. alternate codes, self-contained codes, reader-defined codes.
“The aesthetic disposition demanded by the products of a highly autonomous field of production is inseparable from a specific cultural competence.” (4)
“Intellectuals could be said to believe in the representation – literature, theatre, painting –more than in the things represented, whereas the people chiefly expect representations and the conventions which govern them to allow them to believe ‘naively’ in the things represented.” (5) intellectuals vs. people. his class-determinism is a theoretical weakness.
“Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.” (6) THE MONEY QUOTE – thesis statement.
“Illegitimate extra-curricular culture . . . acquired . . . outside the control of the institution specifically mandated to inculcate it and officially sanction its acquisition . . . is only valorized to the strict extent of its technical efficiency, without any social added-value, and is exposed to legal sanctions (like the illegal practice of medicine) whenever it emerges from the domestic universe to compete with authorized competencies.” (25) institutional legitimation of culture. Very relevant to musical practice.
“If the work of art is indeed, as Panofsky says, that which ‘demands to be experienced aesthetically’, and if any object, natural or artificial, can be perceived aesthetically, how can one escape the conclusion that it is the aesthetic intention which ‘makes the work of art’, or, to transpose a formula of Saussure’s, that it is the aesthetic point of view that creates the aesthetic object?” (29) aesthetic view >> aesthetic object. True, but we can still recognize intended aesthetic meanings in manufactured objects. PB disagrees, arguing that we can never know ‘scientifically’ whether an object was intended to be aesthetic. But I think this argument only works if you assume a strict, Kantian binary between ‘art’ and ‘non-art.’ If, instead, you assume that all human-created objects have a combination of aesthetic- and use-value (albeit at differing ratios) then PB’s objection evaporates.
“It must never be forgotten that the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated ‘aesthetic’ which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics.” (41)
“The definition of art, and through it the art of living, is an object of struggle among the classes.” (48)
“the aesthetic disposition is one dimension of a distant, self-assured relation to the world and to others which presupposes objective assurance and distance.” (56) aesthetic experience << >> social relations
“Aesthetic intolerance can be terribly violent.” (56) ain’t that the truth
“The most intolerable thing for those who regard themselves as the possessors of legitimate culture is the sacrilegious reuniting of tastes which taste dictates shall be separated.” (56-7) mash-ups!!! Power of pastiche.
“As for the working classes, perhaps their sole function in the system of aesthetic positions is to serve as a foil, a negative reference point, in relation to which all aesthetics define themselves, by successive negotiations.” (57)
“The habitus is both the generative principle of objectively classifiable judgments and the system of classification of these practices.” (170) habitus defined
Here are some apt reflections from former classmate Daniel Chamberlain:
Pierre Bourdieu's "Distinction and the
Aristocracy of Culture" effectively deconstructs an approach to
appreciating art and culture that relies on aesthetics. He does this by
theorizing how a 'specific logic' is at work in the 'economy of cultural
goods.' (431) In the subsection entitled Distinction, Bourdieu
suggests that art and culture is not inherently good or bad in an aesthetic
sense, but that these distinctions are produced by social hierarchies. He
specifically states that taste is not a natural gift, but instead that
"cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education."
(431) His argument is basically that social hierarchies work through
institutions and social formations to give certain individuals (and indeed
classes of individuals) access to the cultural codes that allow for the
understanding and appreciation of certain types of art.
inherent in this analysis is the idea that everyone can appreciate certain forms of culture and art, regardless of social hierarchy - in these sections about the natural I picture landscapes and rainbows and such. The idea is that even the most basic viewer can appreciate a decent representation of a beautiful object. Beyond this simple art lies much more complex manifestation of art and culture. In order to appreciate these pieces, one must begin to value form over function. Bourdieu refers to this as the 'pure gaze', and suggests that it is a radical break with an ordinary attitude toward the natural world - the interest in the representation is separate from and valued apart from the interest in the object represented. The ability to decode these forms and complex aesthetic practices only comes with training, and this training is a form of "specific cultural competence" available only within certain social formations. In the later section on Aesthetic Disposition, Bourdieu digs into this distinction between form and function and lays the groundwork for the consideration of producer v. beholder's intention.
Underlying all of this is Bourdieu's concept of the habitus. As I understand it, this is how he directly links taste with class. He directly refers to habitus as 'the systems of dispositions characteristic of the different classes and class fractions." (435) I think that this is the most engaging and insightful aspect of his article, as it is here where he goes beyond the social hierarchy/institution argument to suggest that the individual is in part determined by her taste. That is, taste is not an external or objective competency that can simply be deployed, but instead that taste reflects on the individual and helps to situate (and represent as situated) the person deploying their taste. Of course all of that was just clunky way of rephrasing Bourdieu's claim that "taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier."
This argument really aids an understanding of how people act in certain ways and respond to certain cultural forms. While this is an argument clearly mobilized by the distinction between 'high culture' (opera, modernist art, etc.) and 'popular culture', it suggests something similar to nearly all of the other pieces we read this week - de Certeau's tactics and poaching can be understood as a means of distinction for those without power; Hebdige's concept of subculture is a clear example of classifying the classifier; Jenkins' textual poachers. While these articles are generally concerned with marginal cultural activity, they all suggest that the making of cultural distinctions is an important aspect of creating a sense of identity for the self.
What all of the work we read today has in common, moreover, is a distinct move toward investing individual social agents with a degree of power that is absent in more determinist models. Although this opening of spaces for resistance can often seem too optimistic, it is nonetheless a welcome recognition that there is a space for individual actions even if these actions are constrained by larger social, cultural, and political formations.