Buzzfeed and the "the acceleration of the temporal rhythm of late capitalist visual culture"

Mark Carrigan: "The quote in this title isn’t from a critique of Buzzfeed written by a contemporary critical theorist loftily bemoaning everything this site is coming to represent. It’s from a paper written by the founder of Buzzfeed when he was a critical theorist loftily bemoaning the cultural logic of late capitalism..." Hmm...

A Response From A "Normal" Participant To The No Boundaries Conference 2014 by Luke John Emmett

Luke John Emmett wrote a new note: A Response From A "Normal" Participant To The No Boundaries Conference 2014.

Luke posted this excellent and thoughtful response to his experiences at No Boundaries 2014 on his Facebook page.  I thought I'd reblog WP style so people who don't use FB can have a gander...

 

It has taken me a few weeks to sit back and think about everything I have learned from the No Boundaries conference before writing this response. I was originally going to post it to Theatre Bath as an article but decided that actually that's not what Theatre Bath is about and my personal rants and views have no place there. So here it is on Facebook instead!

 

I may edit this again in the near future when more things spring to mind (this is draft 6 I believe), but for now here it is!

 

 

No Boundaries 2014

 

Having never attended any of the State of the Arts events before I didn't have any preconceptions about what this would be like. I wasn't quite sure what the conference was going to be about or how it would work so I went into the experience with an open mind.

 

The title itself, “No Boundaries” is a very large ask of any conference. In fact by drawing attention to the word boundaries in the title it makes you acutely aware to look out for any boundaries that do arise – and they did. A few technological boundaries were broken but how much were the boundaries actually stretched when it comes to talking about arts and culture?

 

 

The Ticket Structure and Pricing

The idea behind the tiered ticket structure was to allow“a wide range of Arts and Cultural professionals”  to attend the conference. The tickets were priced at different tiers depending on the size of the organisation, everything from £60 for independent artists up to £234 for large organisations. This, for me, created the first boundary of the conference. In trying to spread the tickets “evenly” it actually excluded a lot of people from attending. I would particularly have liked to see a ticket bracket for arts organisations that are not funded by public money, so for example the many profit share theatre companies in this area and also the voluntary organisations. And perhaps a tier for low-income individuals and practitioners. The conference was very much weighted from the top downwards with the preference seeming to be on getting the big names and “Cultural Leaders” there rather than those of us on the bottom rungs of the ladder. For a conference whose focus was on “doing not funding”, I think this needs to be addressed next time – just because we don't have public funding does not mean we don't have an opinion or anything valuable to bring to a discussion on the arts and culture.

 

 

Technology

Technology played a huge part in this conference – in fact you could not get away from it. It could have easily been mistaken for a digital conference rather than an arts and culture one. I’m sure some people will argue that this was the point – bringing the two things together in a more cohesive way. I’m not sure – the technology, as brilliant as it was, actually sometimes acted as more of a distraction. Now don't get me wrong, I love technology and gadgets coming from a technical background but perhaps at times they were just trying to be too clever and showing us what they could do, rather than what they should do. The production and technical teams did an amazing job in keeping all of the technology involved with the conference working - and there was an awful lot of technology to maintain. The whole event was broadcast live over the internet between Bristol & York so that both cities could see and hear everything that happened. This was no mean feat and hats off to the production teams for making this work smoothly.

 

It was also brilliant to see that subtitles and a British Sign Language interpreter were used to make the content more accessible to all. This was a brilliant achievement and certainly broke boundaries. As one participant said - this has raised the bar and set a benchmark. There is no way back from this now. It can be done and should be done for all future events.

 

They produced a book, overnight (WOW!), which contained all of the keynote speeches from the first day, a breakdown of all the speeches for the second day and a whole host of responses from Twitter. These were distributed to every participant and will serve as a legacy of the conference and a useful resource for those of us who wished to revisit the speeches later. After the book went to print they were planning to keep updating the online version so that it included the second day of the event as well. I was amazed when they handed me the book - again another brilliant innovation that others should try and replicate in the future.

 

 

 

The online version of the finished book can be found online here: http://nb2014.bookkernel.com

 

 

The Conference Itself

Supported by the Arts Council England, British Council and the Local Authorities of Bristol & York you could not get away from the impressive scale of the conference. It was massive and must have cost many thousands of pounds to stage. I was assured by a few of the attendees that it was much better than the State of the Arts conferences that the Arts Council had run before. Having never attended one of those I cannot comment on that.

 

The organisers hoped that "By sharing provocative ideas from a diverse range of sources, new models, methods and collaborations will grow to shape the future of the arts."

 

 

I would question part of this statement. What provocative ideas? The only time that anyone was even slightly challenged was by the brilliant and articulate Luke Wright who said he:

 

 

"Expected to be welcomed at the conference as an artist but felt like he’d wandered into the wrong office".

 

 

A view that I very much empathise with - I didn't tick any of the magic boxes of our “cultural elite” and floated around the fringe of conversations while our already established "cultural leaders" chatted amongst themselves. Me being me, I did try and break into a few conversations, hovering on the edges and slowly pushing in. This was met by the cold steely stares of the closed groups - who was this unrecognised young person trying to break into their elite circles of conversation. Needless to say I failed miserably.

 

 

The conference offered no ice-breakers or opportunities to be introduced into these elitist circles instead you were left wandering around craning your neck to try and read the tiny names printed on people's shiny lanyards - this resulted in many of us walking around with tilted heads staring at each-other's chests trying in vain to discover who was who. Another boundary! Thank goodness that there were some familiar faces there or it would have been very uncomfortable!

 

There was an underlying sense of panic and perhaps even desperation that I haven't been aware of in the arts until this point. I think the realities of funding cuts and an uncertain future for many organisations was perhaps the cause of this. The fact that funding wasn’t anywhere on the agenda didn't help matters much.

 

 

The argument I would make is - it's great talking about new ways to work in the future but what point is there in discussing the future when many organisations live in fear that they won't be there to see it? With more and more Local Authorities and the Arts Council tightening the purse strings and numerous cuts happening weekly, this is the real threat to organisations – not just that they aren't adapting enough to meet the needs of modern audiences. How can a conference about the future of arts and culture that takes place in a time of austerity not mention funding? You may argue that it was actually refreshing not to hear people talking about money and I would agree if the conference had actually provided us with alternative ways of working that would prepare organisations for budget cuts - it offered us little in this respect.

 

 

It also struck me as weird that there was no mention of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). "LEPs are locally-owned partnerships between local authorities and businesses. They play a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and the creation of local jobs."

 

 

See more at: http://www.lepnetwork.org.uk/the-lep-network.html#sthash.0rv0HfSO.dpuf

 

 

LEPs are looking more and more likely to be the key source of funding and support for Arts and Cultural organisations in the very near future. As continued evidence emerges about the benefits to the Economy that the arts and culture brings I believe that more and more investment will come through these partnerships and less from the Arts Council and Local Authorities on their own. LEPs are definitely worth keeping a close eye on over the next few years.

 

 

Elitism

I throw the word around as though it is a dirty thing to be sneered at. Whether people like it or not there are quite obvious hierarchies at play within all cultural and arts organisations. I have no problem with people rising to the top of their profession but I do wish that some of them would re-engage with their roots and remember where they themselves came from.

 

 

And I would ask this: “If they cannot actively engage with other members of the creative community who are slightly lower down the pecking order than them, then how can they ever possibly hope to engage with their audiences and the people who support their work?”.

 

 

Whilst listening to the keynotes and conversations I was very aware that they are full of lingo, which, in itself can create a boundary to "normal" listeners. I'm by no means saying that these speeches should be "dumbed down" but I would merely like to make the point that the language we use is creating a barrier. I look at my journey up the elitist ladder over the last two-and-a-half years (whether I like it or not I have begun this ascent). I recognise the fact that when engaging with some of our cultural leaders my use of language changes, even in writing this report I begin to realise that I'm throwing in words which some people will not be able to relate to. Perhaps it is a camouflage mechanism to try and blend in with those that society tells us we are supposed to look up to? I'm not sure but I do realise that in order for me to speak to bigger organisations my vocabulary has had to grow in an attempt to converse and gain support from bigger, more established companies.

 

 

The Speakers

An eclectic mixture of speakers were on-hand throughout the two days to share their thoughts and experiences from a cross-section of cultural organisations. All of them were brilliant in their own way. Some were perhaps more relevant than others but it was a good diverse range of speakers.

 

 

 

The speakers I related to most included Sophie Setter Jerome, an amazing 17 year old who gave a talk about social media and how to use it to connect with young people. How viewers of her YouTube videos had become more than just an audience but as key contributors to her work. She finished by saying

 

 

"If you want to engage with young people online, you need to meet us where we're at. Don't expect us to come to you."

 

 

Key Themes:

One of the reoccurring themes in this conference was around the importance of the audience.

 

It reminded me of a lot of the things John McGrath discusses in A Good Night Out. McGrath says:

 

"It is next to impossible to take the existence of various different audiences into account, to codify their possible reactions to a piece of theatre, to evaluate a piece of theatre from within several frameworks. So what do we do? Well, I'll tell you what most of us do - we take the point of view of a normal person - usually that of a well-fed, white, middle class, sensitive but sophisticated literary critic: and we universalise it as the response."

 

Sophie Setter Jerome explained her views on her YouTube viewers:

 

 "I've referred to these people who watch my videos as my audience, but in a lot of ways that does them a disservice, because they don"t just watch my videos, they actively engage with them, just as I engage with other people's content. Their contributions to what you have made are every bit as important as your content itself, it's a group project and that's really important to remember."

 

Lynsey Merrick from the Lowry explained how they are attempting to embed cultural activities back into the "mainstream" by working with vulnerable and at risk young people. The Lowry is now seen as a key organisation in making this happen.

 

 

 

Vicky Haywood stated,

 

 "Artists need to engage more"

 

The brilliant Russell Willis Taylor commented,

 

 "Audiences have an increasing appetite for participation, not just passive observation. People want to pay as well as pay... Collaboration is a muscle - the more you use it, the better you get."

 

David Lockwood who runs the highly successful Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter reminds us to

 

 "Be connected. To your audience. To your artists. And make sure you occasionally clean the toilets as well!"

 

 

Nicholas Lovell, author of the Curve talked about how to make money out of things that are given away for free. He relates this to fans and super-fans. A fan is someone who appreciates what you do, a super-fan is someone who loves what you do and wants to invest in you and your idea. He says,

 

"Let those who love what you do spend lots of money on things they truly value... Love your community. Love your free fans, they're the heart of your community. Love you super-fans, they're going to pay your bills."

 

 

How much do we as artists actually think about our audience?

 

 

Do we consider what they expect from a production, what demands they may have?

 

 

Howard Barker in Arguments For A Theatre says:

 

 "To take an audience seriously means making demands on it of a strenuous nature. There are people who wish to be stretched, challenged, even depressed by the work of art, and who will make considerable efforts to experience those things."

 

John McGrath comments,

 

 "I do believe that there is a working-class audience for theatre in Britain which makes demand, and which has values, which are different from those enshrined in our idealised middle-class audience."

 

There was a lot of talk about audiences but it seems not a lot of talk to audiences.

 

 

Everyone who spoke identified that the audience are important but there were no real answers on how to directly connect with them. This is where being able to break into discussions would have been incredibly useful. To formalise ideas and an action plan to engage audiences across art forms would have been a brilliant use of this conference and seems like a obviously missed opportunity. Perhaps this is a gap that the My Theatre Matters Campaign can begin to fill?

 

 

Diversity

Sure we all have equal opportunities policies but how many of us can honestly, hand on heart say that we are actively seeking out new ways to ensure that we are truly diverse and equal in what we do?

 

Nii Sackey from Bigga Fish reminded us how uncomfortable we still are with diversity. He challenges us to

 

"start to get comfortable our uncomfortable-ness".

 

He also said that

 

"The arts should be less like Downton Abbey and more like the Closing Olympic Ceremony". 

 

 

Conclusion

Nothing can take away from the achievement of this conference. It was a massive feat and orchestrated brilliantly by those involved behind the scenes. The talks were interesting and a few good points came out of them. There was nowhere near enough discussion or the physically doing of anything productive though, which seemed a shame as this was a key opportunity having so many of our “cultural leaders” in one place at one time (or perhaps that should be two places?).

 

I have certainly learned a lot from attending the conference – more what not to do, which isn't a bad thing. I will use the things I have learned to enrich Theatre Bath's future events and projects.

 

It has made me reflect on Theatre Bath a lot more and I want to end with a few of those thoughts now...

 

The No Boundaries conference has reminded me of how far Theatre Bath has come in the last few years and actually I think we're doing things right. Working from the bottom upwards has allowed us to engage with more people than it would have if we'd worked from the top down.

 

I hope that everyone who gets involved with Theatre Bath feels some sense of ownership of it. It has always been my vision that it works with and through the community it supports rather than dictates what that community should do or become. 

 

We will continue to be open to anyone with an interest in theatre, at whatever level that may be - audience members, students, community theatre makers, professionals. Everyone is welcome to get involved and we will hear everyone’s views no matter what they might be.

 

At a time when funding is increasingly becoming less and less we hope that the Theatre Bath network and united voice we provide can help strengthen the case for theatre and the arts in Bath. As we discovered last October – Bath theatre really does matter and it matters because of those of you who are involved with it. As audience members, as participants, as the makers of magic. For anyone who has ever dared to dream and make that dream a reality by being brave enough to put your imaginations, your souls, out there to be seen by the world. You make Theatre Bath, and without you we would not exist. So keep dreaming, keep imagining, keep pushing boundaries, keep challenging and keep creating the amazing magic through your works of art and we'll continue to champion and support your work as best as we can.

 

###

 

For more information on the conference and to watch all of the speeches visit: www.nb2014.org

 

 

The two books I've quoted from (and that I highly recommend you read) are:

 

 

A Good Night Out, Popular theatre: Audience, Class and Form by John McGrath - (1996) Nick Hern Books.

 

 

Arguments For A Theatre (Third Edition) by Howard Barker - (1999) Manchester University Press.

 

 

Photo

Photo

Photo

Photo

Today at 1:30am
like
4 people like this.
Luke John Emmett
Hear Luke Wright's poem An Introduction To The Arts here:

https://m.soundcloud.com/lukewrightpoet/an-introduction-to-the-arts

SoundCloud - Hear the world’s sounds
m.soundcloud.com
Today at 1:50am
Alison Farina McGlynn
Luke this is brilliant. Not only a very informative report on what happened, but a valuable insight to the boundaries that do exist in this field. I'm sick of hearing how elite arts organisations bang on about how inclusive and supportive of the local ecology they are, yet make every effort to exclude, even going to the extreme of avoiding saying hello or even making eye contact with those they know, but who aren't part of their clique. It's a tough old world, for a field that's driven by sensitivity and emotion. It's important for those higher up to remember that ultimately we all have the same goals.
2 · 11 hours ago
Jill Bennett
I agree, Alison - it can feel like a kick in the teeth to wave at someone who doesn't wave back but I just assume everyone has their reasons.
1 · 11 hours ago
Natalie Remington
Brilliant, Luke. An interesting and balanced report.
1 · 9 hours ago
Alison Farina McGlynn
Hey Luke, what about as either part of a larger event (Theatre Bath Confrence?) or just on it's own, having a 'speed-dating' session for people to get the opportunity to speak to industry people they might not normally have the opportunity to, feel to shy or nervous to, not have the time, inclination, whatever...and in that time specify that we don't talk about our work, sell ourselves, justify ourselves, whatever. Just use it as an opportunity to talk to people one-to-one for specified time about yourself and what you like to do when not working. Maybe that will take the pressure off people and give everyone the chance to see each other just as people? ‪#‎noboundaries‬
2 · 8 hours ago
Luke John Emmett
Thanks for the feedback guys. Was hard to write and keep it balanced - just wanted to rant.

Alison Farina McGlynn speed dating type thing is def on the cards. We want to try and get a Producer, An Acting Agent, A Literary Agent, A Tour Booker etc and have them all in one room and people can book slots to see them and talk to them. The RSC do something similar and it is one of their most successful "outreach" events x

1 · 5 hours ago

No Boundaries – no fringe

WP_20140226_08_57_12_Pro (1)

No Boundaries 2014 was heralded as an ‘open symposium on the role of culture in 21st century society accessible for established cultural leaders and for those who are discovering their leadership role’. Artists were also able to attend. The symposium also took place over two cities: Bristol and York. We were promised a wide variety of speakers, free to propose open space events, an early morning Arts Council England briefing, a disco and loads of geeky hi-tech internet streaming between venues, so I went to York.

What happened? Well, I went feeling a little cynical about these sort of gatherings but hopeful of being able to infiltrate debates here and there. This one was different though. #NB2014 was a bit more constructed than most conferences. Perhaps this was a constraint imposed upon organisers by their own wish to push technological boundaries? This made me feel that, as the two days progressed, there was little space to talk or even think rather than no boundaries. For much of the conference I felt talked at rather than involved. Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England, broke the mould by inviting an open debate at York about ACE’s new draft document snappily entitled The Wider Benefits of Art and Culture to Society: A review of research and literature. It was a good discussion and the document looks promising. The trouble was that that much of #NB2014’s content did not really challenge the status quo. There was much talk of economics, many platitudes, some self-congratulation, shrieking google goats, big new buildings, lovely food, ‘provocations’ that often were not provocative, perfume sniffing, tech glitches, dad dancing disco… You get the gist.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the speakers or the conference. It was what I expected. More constrained than I had imagined given the choice of moniker but, more or less, to be expected at events aimed at established and emerging ‘cultural leaders’. It was interesting and infuriating. That is good. I expected it. What I didn’t expect was elements that made me feel like UK arts and culture ‘leadership’ might be becoming more authoritarian. The need for a ‘common language’ with which to convince the masses they need to take art and culture more seriously made me think Orwellian Newspeak. The heady blend of technology and scent wafted words from A Brave New World around my head. These books informed my childhood and remain firmly resident. Literary influences such as these (and my hard-line non-conformist Christian upbringing) inform my cynicism. They make me watchful, anti-authoritarian, rebellious and playful. I seek potential space, sometimes sense Bad Faith. I play the game. We all do. That’s why we were there.

I didn’t expect a posh bloke from New Zealand explain in a smugly sentimental manner how a theatre was quickly re-established from the ruinous Christchurch cityscape (even though many local houses in poor neighbourhoods still haven’t even been assessed yet.) I certainly wasn’t ready to hear him ask the audience to stand, one hand on heart, the other in the air, and pledge something about how it’s all about the audience! Hallelujah! What did I do? I remained seated. I did not pledge. People looked at me. Some asked why? Wasn’t it obvious? I laughed. Now things were getting interesting. What next (2013/4/5/6/7/etc.)? I wondered if we should all synchronise our clapping (physically and digitally) for the rest of proceedings. Maybe an orchestrated dance with #NB2014 flags et al. would follow? It didn’t of course. Instead, I felt angry. I went to open space events and met nice people and talked more openly. I made contacts. I thought new thoughts stimulated by people who were there to be open, to talk openly. And, by the end of the conference, likeminded people eventually gravitated towards each other, mumbled, argued, agreed, smiled, and went home with old-new ideas.

There were some really inspiring moments at #NB2014 too. Joy Mboya from Godown Arts Centre, Nairobi (a good old school ‘arts centre’) illustrated how artist-led initiatives can lead to democratic(ish) creative placemaking that engages different classes and people across a post-colonial conurbation; Benjamin Barber talked some sense about people, politics and place; Alex Fleetwood said ‘fuck off’ and wanted to flip funding on its head; Jake Orr passionately pleaded for critical writing’s role and for paid work in the arts; and Jo Verrent’s three minute blast about the important need for disability to be taken much more seriously. But my two highlights were performance pieces by two talented young poets: Henry Raby and Luke Wright. Raby managed, in an interactive poem about best friends and dinosaurs, to get the entire York audience to repeatedly chant ‘Rex’ over and over again. Wright, as is alter ego Fat Dandy, took things a whole lot further and produced the only truly antagonistic moment of the two days when he said he had expected to be welcomed at the conference as an artist but felt like he’d wandered into the wrong office then went on to attack NPOs and arts elites in a brilliantly fast-paced poem about how young artists and arts workers are expected to work for free as interns (although these positions are usually filled by endemic old-school nepotism.) Some people shifted positions uneasily. I (and a few others) cheered and laughed. More! More! But there wasn’t any more.

And that is my final overarching feeling. There needed to be more antagonism, more discussion of the flaws in the present system, more talk of fairness and rights for artists and employees and paid apprenticeships not internships, more talk of people who visit and don’t visit arts venues, more talk of participation, socially engaged practice, broader communities outside of the arts, amateurs, class, politics, disability, the need for much more diversity. In short, more radicalism. Now I know this conference wasn’t officially for that and I respect that it there needs to be a space for ‘arts leaders’ to meet in their own ways and that some of them might not be comfortable with free, open critical discussion and debate. But I think No Boundaries (or whatever clever new name they come up with next year – because there will be a ‘next year’ – there always is) should in future feature a fringe event as well as being itself more open to debate. Often the fringe is where new thinking really springs forth. It is more fun, more honest, more shocking, and more radical. For me, and I think many others who felt they shouldn’t go to #NB2014 or were uncomfortable with the formality of proceedings and lack of space to talk freely very often, future ‘state of the arts’ fringe festivals would complement the main event and really be A Tale of Two Cities – the haves and the have-nots. That would be a start…

CAN PARTICIPATORY ART SUPPORT SUSTAINABLE SOCIAL CHANGE?

Here's a short version of the presentation I gave at BALTIC 39 recently about my doctoral research project following project approval...

[office src="https://skydrive.live.com/embed?cid=506D631092AC8D21&resid=506D631092AC8D21%218652&authkey=AHcSIbopkmIDxBg&em=2" width="1000" height="400"]

 

Any comments more than welcome.

Here we go round the mulberry bush

A repetitive, cyclical dance around a plant upon which mulberries don’t really grow whilst mimicking of everyday actions and chanting ‘This is the way...’  and a response to a blog post on the #culturalvalue initiative website by Daniel Allington entitled Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective.

clip_image002

Walter Crane, Here we go round the mulberry bush, colour printed wood engraving, 1878

 

The art business, a trade in things that have no price, belongs to the class of practices in which the logic of the pre-capitalist economy lives on… These practices, functioning as practical negations, can only work by pretending not to be doing what they are doing. Defying ordinary logic, they lend themselves to two opposed readings, both equally false, which each undo their essential duality and duplicity by reducing them either to the disavowal or to what is disavowed - to disinterestedness or self-interest.[1]

Who said Bourdieu’s cultural capital and network theory don’t mix? Daniel Allington explains in this post that he finds this unlikely coupling ‘a useful way of studying cultural value from a perspective informed by Bourdieu’.[2] This is not all, he begins by stating that ‘Art for art’s sake… means understanding the value of culture as intrinsically cultural.’[3] Bourdieu, art for art’s sake, and many other words and assumptions in Allington’s essay all sit uneasily with my perspectives of arts and culture (based as they are upon critical theory and my own practise as part of the arts ‘field’), as indeed does the rather insidious term ‘cultural value’.

For me, the antiquated and elitist concept of ‘art for art’s sake’ is circular – self-referential – intrinsic. So too, surely, is the conceptualisation of ‘the value of culture’ as ‘intrinsically cultural’. What is the value of culture? Essentially cultural. What are intrinsically cultural beliefs? Cultural value. Here we go round… For Allington, the answer to this conundrum may lie in Bourdieu’s suggestion that ‘cultural value is a form of belief’; a belief in ‘magical’ and fetishised objects of art and literature that believers consider magical.[4] Citing The Emperor’s New Clothes, ‘It isn’t’, according to Allington, ‘that there are people who have laughingly duped the rest of society into believing in something they know very well not to be real.’[5] Rather, it is about ‘symbolic capital’ in which ‘[t]he making of art for art’s sake is… not about satisfying an audience of consumers, but about earning the esteem of fellow producers, who are also competitors for one another’s esteem.’[6] Allington attempts to legitimise this statement by referencing Bourdieu’s The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods, selecting the following quote: ‘“the conviction that good and bad painting exist” is both “the stakes and the motor without which [the field of painting] could not function’”.[7]

So what’s the problem here? Well, it would seem to me and my somewhat limited knowledge of Bourdieu – limited because I do not find it particularly useful or important from an art historical perspective – that Allington has misread Bourdieu’s intentions. The quote at the beginning of this piece is from the first paragraph of The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods. It clearly illustrates Bourdieu’s disdain for the ‘arts business’. Bourdieu’s entire essay is about the complicit nature of all participants in the field of cultural production who, by refusing commercialism and even claiming to be ‘anti-economic’, actually profit via a ‘disinterested’ game of smoke and mirrors that ultimately creates ‘symbolic capital.’[8] But symbolic capital, as Bourdieu explains:

[I]s to be understood as economic or political capital that is disavowed, mis-recognized and thereby recognized, hence legitimate, a ’credit’ which, under certain conditions, and always in the long run, guarantees ’economic’ profits.[9]

Indeed, Bourdieu goes on to explain that this ‘circle of belief’ ensures that ‘only those who can come to terms with the “economic” constraints inscribed in this bad-faith economy can reap the full “economic” profits of their symbolic capital.’[10] So, this is like The Emperor’s New Clothes. The believers know the ‘magic’ isn’t real because they all dance the bad-faith dance, round and round. Producers, curators, critics, sellers, buyers, even (sometimes) the viewing public, all play the art game – they all know their place, their role in a field where naivety has no place; an arts economy where:

In and through the games of distinction, these winks and nudges, silent, hidden references to other artists, past or present, confirm a complicity which excludes the layman, who is always bound to miss what is essential, namely the inter-relations and interactions of which the work is only the silent trace.[11]

So, rather than ‘conceptualising’ intrinsic cultural value as a form of circulated belief as Allington does in his essay,[12] one could view the production of visual art (taking Allington’s example) as the making of an object of personal choice which is then selected by an institution/ commercial gallery and marketed to audiences by a variety of means (including critics). Only then are values (cultural, economic, social) assigned to it which are then reassigned to the work over and over as it ages and is perceived anew by different audiences.

So my argument with Allington is that he has misread Bourdieu in his attempt to investigate intrinsic cultural value. He has not accounted for the bad faith inherent in Bourdieu’s critical analysis of the art world game – a position I do not hold to personally. Bourdieu made his position very clear in 1972 when he explained:

The denial of economic interest finds its favourite refuge in the domain of art and culture, the site of [a] pure [form of] consumption, of money, of course, but also of time convertible into money. The world of art, a sacred island systematically and ostentatiously opposed to the profane world of production, a sanctuary for gratuitous, disinterested activity in a universe given over to money and self-interest, offers, like theology in a past epoch, an imaginary anthropology obtained by the denial of all the negations really brought about by the economy.[13]

I would recommend interested readers take a look at Brigit Fowler’s essay Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory of culture (Variant, 1999) for more on this subject.[14]

I could expand but I’ve still exceeded 800 words (975) – the limit imposed by the #culturalvalue initiative debating rules.  But I like to break rules.


[1] Pierre Bourdieu, trans. Richard Nice, ‘The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods’, in Media, Culture & Society, 2, Academic Press Inc. Limited, London, 1980, p.261.

[2] Daniel Allington, Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective, The #culturalvalue Initiative, 5th December 2013, http://culturalvalueinitiative.org/2013/12/05/intrinsically-cultural-value-sociological-perspective-daniel-allington/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Pierre Bourdieu, trans. Richard Nice, ‘The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods’, in Media, Culture & Society, 2, Academic Press Inc. Limited, London, 1980, p.266.

[8] Ibid., pp.261-262.

[9] Ibid., p.262.

[10] Ibid., p.263-264.

[11] Ibid., p.291.

[12] Daniel Allington, Op. Cit., describes this process as: ‘the value of (say) a visual artist’s work (essentially produced through interactions among cultural producers) flows out into the wider social world through the disseminating agency of (say) a retrospective exhibition in a major public gallery, which plays a direct role in reproducing belief in that value among members of the public who attend the exhibition, as well as an indirect role in reproducing belief among those who hear about it from acquaintances and/or read about it in (say) a newspaper critic’s review (and which in turn impacts back upon the field by cementing the artist’s reputation , though this closure of the feedback loop is left out of the diagram for simplicity’s sake).’

[13] Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a theory of practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977 [1972], p.197.

[14] Brigit Fowler, ‘Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory of culture’, in Variant, Volume 2, Number 8, Summer 1999, pp.1-4.


Bibliography

Allington, Daniel, Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective, The #culturalvalue Initiative, 5th December 2013, http://culturalvalueinitiative.org/2013/12/05/intrinsically-cultural-value-sociological-perspective-daniel-allington/

Bourdieu, Pierre, Outline of a theory of practice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977 [1972]

Bourdieu, Pierre, trans. Richard Nice, ‘The production of belief: contribution to an economy of symbolic goods’, in Media, Culture & Society, 2, Academic Press Inc. Limited, London, 1980

Fowler, Brigit, ‘Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory of culture’, in Variant, Volume 2, Number 8, Summer 1999