Friday, May 22, 2009

Modern Art and Social Capital

One of the best things about living in the Twin Cities is the appreciation for the arts and the attenuate benefits that come with that appreciation, such as free Thursday nights at the Walker Art Gallery. The only problem? Modern art is incredibly stupid and pretentious.

For example, there was a collection of works by a guy who had simply cut a line into blank canvases. You see, he wasn't wasting canvas (as I might argue), but instead he was commenting on the hegemony of canvas in Western art, while critiquing ideas of space and conventionality. Or, he was just cutting a line into a piece of canvas.

I could give multiple other examples, but they all remind me of a good buddy's high school art project. When asked to make a wire sculpture, he mashed a bunch of wire together into an oddly-shaped ball and called it "The Wrath of Youth." He received an F and had to re-do the assignment.

This is why modern art can be better understood with some sociology. You see, what separates my F-receiving friend from the large-amounts-of-money-receiving artists is social capital. You see, social capital is analogous to regular capital -- if you learn the values and mores of a social clique (like the art world) and increase your social capital, you can "buy" more respect and believability, much like the more regular capital you have, the more goods and services you can get. Now it gets more complicated than that, but that's the quick version.

And you can see it in action in the art world -- when I (someone with no artistic social capital) cuts a hole in a canvas, I have wasted some perfectly good canvas. But once one has become a famous artist (and has a large amount of social capital in the art world), such random destruction becomes a highly-valued work of art. The only difference is the social status of the two people involved -- one has high social capital, the other has little.

That's one of the best things about sociology -- it can easily be used to puncture the over-inflated egos of pretentious artistes. Sure, they would probably just argue I'm looking at it all wrong, but it's hard to argue the idea that the same piece of work produced by a high school student wouldn't be nearly as valued as it is when it's produced by an already recognized artist. Thus, it's pretty hard to argue anything other than that the value lies in the social construction of the object, rather than the actual object itself...

1 comment:

Brenda said...

When I was in 7th grade, this badass kid transferred in and just spent that one year with us. My only real memory of him was that one time for art class, he took a plaster mold of a Native American shown in profile, and painted over the whole thing in this amazing olive-camo green. What a statement! It was like, this is what I think of you and your dumbass plaster-painting project! And what a stupid thing to paint, an effing Indian head. Of course, he received an F. But I think about that art project all the time! It totally informs my practice as a teacher.