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Title: Context with a capital C. On the symbolic contextualization of artistic artefacts
Authors: Berghman, Michaël; S0165058
Issue Date: 26-Jun-2013
Abstract: In correspondence with the institutional conceptualization of art, the strand of cultural sociology propounded by Pierre Bourdieu conceives of art (or legitimate culture) as defined in the course of social processes. In this view, artistic value is attributed by authoritative positions in the artistic field. Moreover, as this field is officially supported by the state and the education system, its definition of value becomes socially dominant as well. However, as this implies that artistic artefacts are only valuable to the extent that they have been appropriated by authoritative field positions, the question arises how people – to varying degrees – develop an ability to notice attributed symbolic value in the actual experience of an artefact. This dissertation elaborates the view that the process of symbolic investment can be understood in terms of contextualization. When encountering artefacts, the observer learns to associate the various elements s/he perceives. Hence, an association is established between artefacts, their constituent features as well as elements of the context in which they are presented – so-called modalities of presentation. In this way, modalities of presentation gain symbolic meaning as well. Therefore, they come to connote legitimacy. In subsequent encounters, they serve as signals to symbolically categorize (unfamiliar) artistic artefacts.I have scrutinized this in the course of three experiments. These manipulate the context of presentation of a collection of paintings. It is found that the legitimacy of the physical location in which artefacts are presented boosts appreciation. Likewise, appreciation increases when paintings are accompanied by texts attributing artefacts to acclaimed artists rather than amateurs. Texts interpreting a painting’s contents also lead to a more positive evaluation, but only along criteria that are salient in aesthetics – like originality, interestingness or complexity. Such texts do not affect the assessment of painter’s skill or whether one would be willing to hang a painting at home. Interpretive discussions even lower appreciations of beauty, which is presumably due to the fact that this criterion is not deemed relevant in (contemporary) aesthetics.<p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height:120%;mso-pagination:none;tab-stops:28.0pt 56.0pt 84.0pt 112.0pt 140.0pt 168.0pt 196.0pt 224.0pt 252.0pt 280.0pt 308.0pt 336.0pt;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">As symbolic contextualization operates through associations evoked by perceived elements, it follows that the more experiences one has gone through concerning art, the firmer the associations get. Hence, I study the hypothesis that familiarity with legitimate culture – in the form of cultural capital – enhances the extent to which context is taken into account in the evaluation. This is supported as various cultural capital measures are found to interact positively with thelegitimacy of the experimentally manipulated presentation. The pattern found on average gains strength depending on the amount of cultural capital. <span style="font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;,&quot;serif&quot;;mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria;mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA" lang="EN-GB">Moreover, artefacts’ features also get associated with legitimacy through previous experiences. Therefore, artefacts that have received recognition by the art institution are expected to be liked better on the basis of their features – that is, regardless of the context – in contrast to works that have not been institutionally recognized (for instance, amateur works). In line with the theory, I find that cultural capital also enhances appreciation of paintings originally made by professional, established artists. This may be taken to mean that familiarity with legitimate culture increases the ability to recognize and appreciate institutionally attributed symbolic value. <w:latentstyles deflockedstate="false" defunhidewhenused="true"  <w:lsdexception="" locked="false" priority="0" semihidden="false"  <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height:120%;mso-pagination:none;tab-stops:28.0pt 56.0pt 84.0pt 112.0pt 140.0pt 168.0pt 196.0pt 224.0pt 252.0pt 280.0pt 308.0pt 336.0pt;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"><span style="font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;,&quot;serif&quot;;mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria;mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA" lang="EN-GB"><w:latentstyles deflockedstate="false" defunhidewhenused="true"  <w:lsdexception="" locked="false" priority="0" semihidden="false"  <span="" style="font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;,&quot;serif&quot;;mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria;mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA" lang="EN-GB"><w:latentstyles deflockedstate="false" defunhidewhenused="true"  <w:lsdexception="" locked="false" priority="0" semihidden="false"  
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Centre for Sociological Research

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