What Michael Grenfell and Cheryl Hardy attempt to do in Art Rules is to introduce the reader to the thinking of Pierre Bourdieu about art, specificallWhat Michael Grenfell and Cheryl Hardy attempt to do in Art Rules is to introduce the reader to the thinking of Pierre Bourdieu about art, specifically visual art. Bourdieu was a French sociologist who often found himself at odds with the structuralist and post-structuralist mandarins of the 60s-80s. His work on art is based on study of the things that surround art in our society--the book discusses at great length early work he did on museums involving taking polls of visitors and non-visitors in various locations.
Bourdieu, like most French thinkers, loves inventing jargon, and a lot of the book deals with explaining Bourdieu's complex jargon--habitus (all the specific things about a particular person that give that person an identity--for example, his economic class or his personal sense of style), fields (an area of society relating to one particular thing--like everything that has to do with politics, for example). Habitus and various fields are constantly in dialogue with one another. And in Bourdieu's view, an artist is someone with a particular habitus which is strongly determined by his place in various intersecting fields. These fields bestow on him types of capital--social capital, economic capital, and cultural capital. Cultural capital is useful for artists because it can be used to gain economic capital. In a sense, artists have to convince people occupying certain fields and controlling economic capital that what the artist is doing is "good art".
This seems a bit abstract, but Grenfell and Hardy have many very specific examples. And when you read the examples, you kind of say, oh, duh. This artist went to the right art schools and won the right prizes and was collected by the right collectors and museums. In this way, what Bourdieu was saying is not dissimilar to what economist Don Thompson was writing about in the $12 Million Stuffed Shark, except Thompson approached it from an economics point of view instead of a sociological point of view.
The thing is, when you apply these ideas to the real world, they start out seeming obvious. I think you can drill down to levels where they are more subtle, but from where I sit, I think the response is, so what if they are obvious. If you look at art history through a Bourdieu-ian lens (or a Thompsonian lens), it is going to look quite different than the kind of art history I grew up with. Frankly, I find it more interesting. It requires that you consider the sources of (social, economic, cultural) capital in a society and identify fields that art exists within....more
You won't get what you're expecting when you read this book. At least, I didn't. I was expecting a summary of the mostly French theory that has influeYou won't get what you're expecting when you read this book. At least, I didn't. I was expecting a summary of the mostly French theory that has influenced thinking about art in the U.S. over the past few decades, along with certain Anglo-American followers. I was expecting October magazine for beginners. But Freeland takes a much more expansive view, looking at art theory from Plato forward. So Foucault and Baudrillard are mentioned, but so are Hume, Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Nietsche, John Dewey, Thomas McEvilley, Pierre Bourdieu (who is French, but feels like he comes from a different place than the post-structuralists), the Guerrilla Girls, Linda Nochlin, Leo Tolstoy, Freud, Nelson Goodman, Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan. And the structure of the book is thematic rather than chronological. All this is to its benefit--it doesn't read like a rehashing of Artforum articles. Its major fault is also one of its major virtues. It is too brief to examine any given theory with sufficient depth, but by being so brief, it is a quick read....more
One can forgive a micro-press book for lapses in editing, but I wish this book felt less like random sweepings of whatever the authors had available.One can forgive a micro-press book for lapses in editing, but I wish this book felt less like random sweepings of whatever the authors had available. This lack of an editorial hand is especially evident in "Doing What Is Necessary and Needs to Be Done," a roundtable discussion with the editor, Steffani Jemison, and the artists who brought Project Row Houses into being. This was a good discussion with a lot of interesting bits, but the problem is that when you bring a group of old friends and colleagues together, they have shared experiences for which they use a kind of shorthand to discuss. Occasionally Jemison will footnote a reference to a particular art exhibit, but that's not enough. She should have, perhaps, written interstitial bits explaining how PRH was being born as it relates to the conversation. Or an introduction outlining the history. As it is, you don't quite know what happened.
My favorite piece was a selection of sarcastic emails from a writer named Egie Ighile. He writes brief responses to pieces that the group has read for the Book Club. His most hilarious response is to an essay called "Reconsidering Metaphor/Metonymy: Art and the Suppression of Thought" by Charles Gaines. One takes it that Gaines thinks "metaphor" is bad and "metonymy" is good. Ighile questions first what these two types of rhetorical devices have to do with visual art (the essay was published in an art magazine) and then demolishes the notion that one type of figure of speech is somehow better than another. He does this through counterexample, with this brilliant but clearly evil metonymic sentence: "The White House believes a healthy Wall Street means a healthy Main Street."
There are many interesting bits in Book Club Book, but I liked Ighile's writing and the PRH roundtable the best....more