Céline + Bourdieu = awesome


For further proof that you can apply Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital to just about anything, check out Sam Anderson in New York Magazine reviewing rock writer Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (published by Continuum, 2007):

Wilson’s real obsession here is not Céline but the thorny philosophical problem on which her reputation has been impaled: the nature of taste itself. What motivates aesthetic judgment? Is our love or hatred of “My Heart Will Go On” the result of a universal, disinterested instinct for beauty-assessment, as Kant would argue? Or is it something less exalted? Wilson tends to side with the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who argues that taste is never disinterested: It’s a form of social currency, or “cultural capital,” that we use to stockpile prestige. Hating Céline is therefore not just an aesthetic choice, but an ethical one, a way to elevate yourself above her fans—who, according to market research, tend to be disproportionately poor adult women living in flyover states and shopping at big-box stores. (As Wilson puts it, “It’s hard to imagine an audience that could confer less cool on a musician.”)

Excellent. More extracts from Wilson’s book are available here.

A big lump o’coal for some English arts organisations


The Guardian reported yesterday on the Arts Council of England’s decision to axe funding for nearly 200 organisations, although a significant number will be enjoying large grant increases. Little comfort to the National Student Drama Festival, however, which looks set to lose its £52,000 grant in advance of its annual festival only a few months away…

With over £1 billion in their coffers, is the ACE’s decision savvy management or serious scrooging?:

The Arts Council admitted the pre-Christmas timing was bad, but said “tough decisions” had to be made. Its spokeswoman, Louise Wylie, said the criteria on which it was taking the funding decisions included access and breadth of audiences, and the excellence of work. The council has been taking decisions in tandem with a national review into excellence in the arts by Brian McMaster, former director of the Edinburgh International Festival. The government is expected to publish his report in January.

The news comes at what had been an atmosphere of good cheer in the arts after the Arts Council was given a higher than expected financial settlement by the government. But the council’s strategy is to hand out the money so that organisations can thrive rather than just survive. “In among the bad news for the minority, there is extraordinarily good news for the majority,” said Wylie.

It admits that there will be fewer organisations getting money, but points out that while 194 are seeing funding cut, another 80-odd are being added to its portfolio. (more)

Turn off the telly

ny_reading.jpg Caleb Crain in The New Yorker writes on recent studies that demonstrate a marked decline in reading among the American public… as usual, television gets much of the blame, but Crain makes some interesting points, drawing on Maryanne Wolf’s recent book Proust and the Squid (great title!) which examines the neurobiology and cultural evolution of reading, and a host of other researchers on literacy along the way:

The scholar Walter J. Ong once speculated that television and similar media are taking us into an era of “secondary orality,” akin to the primary orality that existed before the emergence of text… But there is research suggesting that secondary orality and literacy don’t mix. In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement “The presentation was interesting,” and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement “I did not learn anything from this presentation.” The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.

Cain gives plenty of cause for worry if the decline in public reading continues:

… the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, “all he can do is give us desires.” Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them. Such a habit might be quite dangerous for a democracy to lose.  (read the rest of the article)

The BIG store, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios


MA programme alumna Rayne Booth is curating a new show at TBG&S, just in time for the holidays:

Hallelujah! All your contemporary art needs under one roof!

This Christmas, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios will be temporarily transformed into The BiG Store, a department store specialising in contemporary art. With prices ranging from €5 to €5,000, this is a perfect opportunity for budding and established art collectors alike to access the best new contemporary art by a wide variety of emerging and established artists.

Like the classic Marx Brothers movie from which it takes its name, The BiG Store will be an engrossingly eccentric and anarchic vision of a modern department store. This exhibition will feature specially commissioned work from over 90 of the most interesting and challenging artists from Ireland and abroad. A commercial sales floor will be temporarily installed in Temple Bar Gallery, transforming the space into a commercial gallery/shop; a disguise which aims to confront the objectives and functions of a commercial art space, as well as inviting the viewer/shopper to embark on a provocative expedition into themes of economy, art production and distribution, power, consumerism, fetishes and excess.

Exhibition continues until 22 December 2007

EU Culture ministers adopt ‘European agenda for culture’

eu_flag_star.jpgAnother petal unfolds from the flower of EU cultural bureaucracy (er, policy). In a nutshell, EU Cultural Ministers have accepted the topics for discussion proposed by EC Commission on Culture: (1) promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue; (2) promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy for growth, employment, innovation and competitiveness; (3) promotion of culture as a vital element in the Union’s international relation. Now that we’ve moved from talking about talking, to agreeing what will be talked about, the next step is… more talks? Hmm.

The European Forum for Arts and Heritage has more:

Education, Youth and Culture Council, Brussels, 15-16th November 2007

During their November meeting, the European Ministers of Culture adopted the objectives and instruments proposed by the European Commission in its Communication on Culture. The Council resolution on the ‘European agenda for culture’ brings to a close the long consultation process and opens up some new perspectives for cultural policy developments at EU level.

Following difficult negotiations between EU Member States, and a large-scale consultation exercise with civil society representatives in Lisbon last September, the EU finally agreed on a ‘European agenda for culture’, which should open the way for strategic and coordinated EU action in the cultural field.

In addition to its Culture programme, and respecting the principle of subsidiarity which excludes any kind of European harmonisation of national cultural policies, the EU will launch an ‘Open Method of Coordination’ applied to the cultural policy field. This intergovernmental, voluntary and flexible instrument is intended to stimulate Member States to reflect, converse and exchange ideas on a number of key policy issues, which urgently require enhanced cooperation at European level. If the Council agreed on the topics to be discussed within the framework of the Open Method of Coordination’ during the next three years (mobility, access to culture, cultural statistics, the economy of culture and the implementation of the UNESCO convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions), the concrete instruments and time tables have to be worked out. Access to documents and civil society participation will be of crucial importance to make sure that discussions develop in a democratic and transparent way.

In addition to proposing the Open Method of Coordination in the field of culture, the adoption of the ‘European agenda for culture’ should also open the door to the recognition of the role of arts and culture within the European Commission system and policies: the setting up of internal instruments to finally implement proper cultural mainstreaming, the gathering of cultural statistics by Eurostat and the development of a genuine structured dialogue with civil society organisations. Hopefully, this new ‘agenda for culture’ should finally lead to an increased European budget for culture in the financing period after 2013.

(Click here for the resolution in full.)