Form + Function

Bourdieu talks about a demarcation between “high” and “barbarian” tastes being about the functionality of the art-object.  The line between art and not is determined the “intention of the producer,…[which] is itself the product of the social norms and conventions” (29).  Bourdieu then makes the point that the work also depends on the beholder’s intention when viewing an artwork.  The reading makes the case that this intention will differ significantly depending on the beholder’s background.

In effect, Bourdieu has added the element of class to the discussion of how art is perceived.  He has broken up Kant’s various layers of interpretation (from the basic sensory delight to the more nuanced, layered cognitive process that must go into a real aesthetic judgment), and applied different aspects of these to different people.  Kant, on the other hand, had assumed that all people perceive things in basically the same way.

Two phenomenon are interesting in illuminating this idea.  First, that legitimate works tend to lose their legitimacy once they become popularized (14).  Second, that “a relatively large proportion of the highest-qualified subjects assert their aesthetic disposition by declaring that any object can be perceived aesthetically” (36).  These two seem contradictory: if a work is popularized, it should appeal to the less educated strata as well as the very highest.  This would mean its legitimacy would only be lost for the middle group, but the same quote suggested that the popularization of good work lent it a “middle-brow” sensibility.

The second quote suggests that the highest educated/class of people will appreciate work that is both functional/narrative/representational as well as formalistic.  In Kantian terms, this should be a coincidence between the sensory “delight” and the cognitive understanding.  It seems inevitable that the collision of these two will lead to a better artistic experience.

This merging of form and function seems to mirror Benedict Anderson’s recurring argument of threes.  With regard to decolonization, he suggests three types of nature: the original, “pristine,” pre-colonized nature, then the rebuilt nature of the colonizers, and finally the third nature in which the decolonized people must take both their original land and the reality of colonization into account to make a third, relevant nature.  In the same way, maybe the best way to experience art is to combine a popular aesthetic with a formalist framework, then find a “third” way.

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