PAGE PAGE 1 Woodson Jessica Woodson Patrick Lawrence English 1010 ? 027 October 28, 2009 The Many Uses of Art in Society Art is a widely debatable topic among scholars, viewers, artists and quite frankly, anyone who has ever come in contact with a piece. It surrounds our daily lives and is used for many different purposes. These purposes range broadly from class to class, people to people and viewer to artist. What art is theoretically used for in society and what some say it essentially should be used for varies. There have been controversial debates on this issue with several strong perspectives on the topic. Art has several usages in society; some authors, such as John Berger and Walter Benjamin, support this idea. Other authors, like Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, refute this idea, saying that there are certain aspects of society that keep art from having multiple uses. There definitely exists more than one role of art; its uses may sometimes be limited, but art should be used in many ways. The use of art is an extensively disputable topic and differs, among various authors, between what it is used for and what it should be used for; because of art?s versatility, there are always counterpoints made. Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist who built his ideas upon the views of Marxism, firmly makes the point that art is used for the bourgeois to maintain a higher standing in society. He acknowledges that maintaining the bourgeois structure is bad, inevitably keeping art from having multiple uses. It is a cyclical process where the bourgeois live in better circumstances. Because of this, they get better schooling and jobs, so they think they are better than everyone (thinking they can only understand art and not the lower class), when in reality, they can?t grasp the fact that that?s not true. Bourdieu believes that it is this perspective of the bourgeois that prevents the abundant amount of interpretations that art should be opened to. This idea of arrogance displayed by the bourgeois is illustrated in the line, ?The unnatural idea of a culture given at birth, a cultural gift bestowed on certain people by nature, supposes and produces a blindness to the functions of the institution which ensures the profitability of the cultural inheritance, and legitimates its transmission by hiding the fact that it fulfils this function? (Bourdieu 111). The bourgeois, thinking very highly of themselves, believe that their ideas of art are the only ideas that matter and that are accurate in society. This closes off so many opportunities for art to be used in different ways by different people, especially by those of the lower class. They have a control over art against the lower class, which, in turn, keeps art from having multiple uses by narrowing it down to limited possibilities. For instance, a relationship exists between the bourgeois and the control of art, since they are of a higher position in society. Since museums are ran by those who are considered upper class and live in better circumstances, and the bourgeois fall under this category, they control art through museums. They control art by including some, making them feel like they belong, and excluding others. Bourdieu clarifies this idea: ?If this is the function of culture, and if the love of art is the clear mark of the chosen, separating, by an invisible and insuperable barrier, those who are touched by it from those who have not received this grace, it is understandable that in the tiniest details of their morphology and their organization, museums betray their true function, which is to reinforce for some the feeling of belonging and the for others the feeling of exclusion? (112). Museums are the place where people are admiring towards art. According to Bourdieu, something mysterious and vaguely religious fills them with a sense of wonder toward what they're viewing. There is in argument between the world of art, which is said to be sacred, and the world of everyday life, which contains profanity. In Bourdieu?s essay, it is said that the lower class is being kept out of these museums, limiting the usage of art. Because of the bourgeois? control of art, society claims that in order to appreciate art, one must be a part of a particular class or group, which is not true. It is this belief of the bourgeois that keeps art from having multiple uses, which ruins the broadness of art that makes it special. Michel Foucault, a philosopher, sociologist and historian known for his critical studies, demonstrates an extension of the belief that there are aspects in society that keep art, specifically writing, from having multiple uses. What causes this problem is the fact that not every writer is considered an author. The line between who is and who is not an ?author? is blurred and sometimes the idea that someone is an author is incorrect; it depends on whether what they have written is considered ?work?. Foucault clarifies this idea: ?Even when an individual has been accepted as an author, we must still ask whether everything that he wrote, said, or left behind is part of his work. The problem is both theoretical and technical? (Foucault 2). Even if what is written is composed of the elements that label it as ?work?, and the writer is, indeed, the author, there still lies the thought that what one reads and interprets is not always necessarily the intentions of the author, which prevents pieces from having multiple meanings, and inevitably uses in society. This concept is supported by Foucault as he states, ?The notion of writing, as currently employed, is concerned with neither the act of writing nor the indication ? be it symptom or sign ? of a meaning that someone might have wanted to express. We try, with great effort, to imagine the general condition of each text, the condition of both the space in which it is dispersed and the time in which it unfolds? (Foucault 3). The author of a piece of art may have created the work with a different meaning than what the viewer decodes it to be. A misconception, when the audience does not accurately understand the ideas that the author wanted to express, leads to many meanings from being shut out. The idea that art should be used as a passageway of ideas from viewer to artist that differs from person to person is later supported by Berger. However, this sometimes can result in the identification of the author being mistaken and his/her objective of writing a piece of work to be limited, unavoidably constraining its usefulness. As seen, there seems to be a link between social class and art. Bourdieu speaks of two sets of people whose outlook on art are cast into distinctively different theories. For example, barbarians buy art just for the monetary value, which represents bad taste; civilized people buy art for the value and symbolic meaning along with appreciation behind that meaning, which represents good taste (Bourdieu 111). Bourdieu justifies this concept when he states, ?By symbolically shifting the principle distinguishing them from the other classes in the field of economy or culture, or rather, by increasing the strictly economic differences created by the pure possession of material goods through the differences created by the pure possession of symbolic goods such as works of art or through the search for symbolic distinctions in the manner of using these goods?the privileged classes of bourgeois society replace the difference between two cultures, products of history reproduced by education, with the basic difference between two natures, one nature naturally cultivated, and another nature naturally natural? (111). There are different reasons why people, specifically those of different classes, buy art. In reality, who?s to say what the worth of a piece of artwork really is? The fact that the bourgeois create a rigid class structure based on economic characteristic limits what art is used for. They use art for the monetary gain in their lives, which is superficial. They are interested in material goods, while the lower class of society is interested in symbolic goods, which is more meaningful. Bourdieu talks about arts use primarily in its current state, which shows the distinction between different types of art buyers. Art should be used for an individual to form ideas about it themselves. What society views as worthy comes to one by their upbringing and outside sources. It does not come from an innate instinct that should guide how we view art for the rest of lives just because we are born into that rank in status. If that were true, the usage of art would be restricted. The belief of the bourgeois that a natural intuition exists, limits the usage of art to just what one is born into, whether it be a higher class or lower class. Bourdieu seems to agree when he makes the statement, ??children from cultivated families who accompany their parents on their visits to museums or special exhibitions in some way borrow from them their disposition to cultural practice for the time it takes them to acquire in turn their own disposition to practice which will give rise to a practice which will give rise to a practice which is both arbitrary and initially arbitrary imposed? (109). Humans learn and grow a taste for a specific element, such as art, through experience and not just by birth into a specific group of people. Through repetition and practice, a greater understanding, and an inevitable personal connection with art grows. Nevertheless, this exposure of art through family is what he says supports the bourgeois in their possession of culture. Everyone gains their view of art from education; this sets up the bourgeois to succeed and the lower classes to fail. Clearly, the outcome of ?personal interpretations? of art is that it is nearly impractical to believe that an individual can form ideas about something, primarily based on their own personal ideas. According to Bourdieu, there is always something preventing that, such as ideas inscribed by education and family, which greatly confines the usage of art to only certain viewpoints. Art does not always have a mystical power. Undermining the principle of mystification, people who actually do appreciate art, make sense of a specific piece of art. They appreciate it and forget that it?s supposed to be magical just because they learned it. If one is taught the mystical power of art, and knowing this concept is seen as being culturally advanced, someone less culturally advanced actually views art with more appreciation. Personal things, like individual admiration and enjoyment, should really determine taste in art. We find pleasure in the things we like doing, are used to doing and with concepts we are most familiar with and can relate with, and yet, according to Bourdieu, this is a classist activity (109). The idea of familiarity because of repetition is shown through the line, ?...in its learned form, aesthetic pleasure presupposes learning, and, in any particular case, learning by habit and exercise, such that is pleasure, an artificial product of art and artifice, which exists or is meant to exist as if it were entirely natural, s in reality a cultivated pleasure (Bourdieu 109). Art should be based on what one decides to believe about it over time rather than what a certain social class raises one to think, because that swallows up a lot of the possibilities of what art could ultimately be used for. Although some authors may say that there are several elements that might stand in the way of art?s many uses, there are other authors who believe the opposite to be true. John Berger, a Marxist/humanist art critic, believes that art should have multiple uses. For instance, he explains the correlation between education and visits to museums, and also believes strongly that art is used as a direct witness of the past. Art is obviously being used for two different purposes, based on the social class focused on. Berger explains how art is essential and important compared to other forms of documenting an event. One purpose of images is the fact that they are more precise, compared to works of literature, and filled with more detail, giving viewers a more in depth analysis on what is occurring (Berger 99). Berger takes this stance as he states, ?No other kind of relic or text from the past can offer such a direct testimony about the world which surrounded other people at other times? (99). This theory of direct testimony is further reinstated is in the lines, ?Images were first made to conjure up the appearance of something that was absent. Gradually it became evident that an image could outlast what it represented?? (Berger 99). Also, the more imaginative the artist is, the easier it is for a viewer to connect with the piece and experience whatever it is the artists had in mind, even if the viewer was not there at that moment in time. Art is a transfer of ideas and emotions, which cannot be put into words, but has to be felt and shared between artists and viewers, almost as if the artist is telling a story. Art should be used as a transmittance of creators to viewers that have individual ways of seeing because it opens the doors for multiple uses. Depending on the creator of the piece of art, there are certain experiences that the artist wants to share with its viewers, which can be interpreted in many different ways. Berger asserts the premise that viewers have different experience when he states, ?Yet when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions about art? (99). This concept alone gives art multiple uses; for one person it could be used for something entirely different than another person. A person going through a stressful circumstance can take away meaning from a piece of art that touches them enough to get through the rest of the day; their use of art (an escape from reality) may differ immensely from someone who creates art in order to gain money from it or buys art with a supercilious perspective. For instance, the greater part of the population in society does not visit art museums; they use art for a different purpose, disregarding monetary value. According to Berger?s incorporation of a chart comparing the national proportion of art museums visitors to level of education, the idea that the higher class (those who receive more education) visits art museums more frequently as compared to the lower class (those who do not receive adequate education) is shown (110). There is a correlation between an interest in art and privileged education received. For the most part, those who are fortunate enough to get an education are of a higher class in society, such as the bourgeois, who use art based on monetary value. The mass of the population, the lower class, uses art for a different purpose because they do not feel accepted at museums where art is being displayed based on monetary value. Berger clarifies this idea: ?The majority take it as axiomatic that the museums are full of holy relics which refer to a mystery which excludes them: the mystery of unaccountable wealth? (110). Berger feels art has multiple uses as he explains art as a direct witness of the past and the relation between visits to art museums and level of education, which coincides with Benjamin?s common theory regarding the ?masses?, now to be explained. Walter Benjamin, a Marxist literary critic, consistently talks about the ?masses? in his piece of work, which corresponds with Berger?s discussion on the majority of the people in society, the lower class, previously mentioned. It has been said that the bourgeois are the ones who control art, by controlling museums, frequenting them the most, and choosing what is being viewed. When Berger explains how art can be used for creative expression, for example, through a collage of personal elements, and how that can still count as art, he is referring to Benjamin?s idea of the ?masses?. Art can, and is, used for individual expression and is believed, by the lower class, to be just as worthy hanging over their bedposts than in a museum (Berger 115). Art is also used to mechanically reproduce images as time goes on and as perspectives of society changes. Benjamin validates this point: ?Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain? (Benjamin I). With a new age, mechanical reproduction of a work of art has been a new event that exponentially increased in appearance. Over time, society has seen more uses of art; there have been some changes over time. This idea is explained in the line, ?With the woodcut graphic art became mechanically reproducible for the first time, long before script became reproducible by print. The enormous changes which printing, the mechanical reproduction of writing, has brought about in literature are a familiar story? (Benjamin I). The use of art has definitely expanded but just because art has been used in this way with the new age does not mean this is how Benjamin thinks it should be used. The two actually vary greatly and it is clear that art should be kept traditional and ritualistic to maintain its value. This idea is clarified as Benjamin says, ?One might subsume the eliminated element in the term ?aura? and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art? (II). Art loses its value over the years because of mechanical reproduction, which inevitably causes a loss in aura as well. This gives art another use; however, there is a defect to this usage because art should be used to maintain explicitness. Aura represents originality and authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced and in the words of Benjamin, ?the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition? (II). An original piece of art preserves its authority. There is a loss of aura through mechanical reproduction of art itself. For example, ?Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence? (Benjamin II). Through Benjamin?s analysis of art one can see that art should be kept exclusive to maintain an impression on its viewers that is not drained by a loss of aura. Through the theories of Bourdieu, Foucault, Berger and Benjamin, it is clear to see that art has many uses in society, as well as elements that prevent it from having multiple uses. There are always personal opinions and biases on what it really should be used for and there always will be, which makes it such an exhilarating topic to explore. Nevertheless, art, being such a broad topic, should be open to several uses and not constrained by social or economic issues. Although viewpoints differ, connections are made between the outlooks of these four figures and it is inevitable that sides will always be taken on the argument of art and its use. Works Cited Bartholomae, David, and Anthony, Petrosky. ?Ways of Seeing.? Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. John Berger. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2008. 95-118. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Thesis. UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, 1936. Andy Blunden, 1998. Bourdieu, Pierre. ?Conclusion.? Illuminations. Pierre Bourdieu. New York: Schocken books, 1968. Foucault, Michel. ?What Is an Author?? Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1969.
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