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Distinction through visual art

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Visual art is one of the fields where, according to Bourdieu, culture is used to reproduce the class structure. Like other items in the cultural repertoire, paintings, as major examples of visual art, imply social divisions in how they are engaged with by artists, critics and audiences. Within the Bourdieusian framework, cultural engagements with paintings are interpreted as indicators of social position, since appreciation depends on a trained capacity in the family and the educational system, which is often inaccessible to less powerful sections of the population. This would imply that the sorts of paintings favoured by working-class people differ from those preferred by the middle or upper classes. More recent studies have contested the view that a gulf exists between the art tastes of different classes in ways that reproduce the class structure. The argument of the omnivore thesis that distinctions between more popular and legitimate tastes have become blurred has predominantly been based on empirical references in the field of music. This article explores this thesis on the basis of data about visual arts in the Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion project. While some differences continue to be connected to social divisions of income, education and occupational groups, important similarities are found across the board, and certain significant differences appear to relate to factors other than social class, such as ethnicity, age and gender. It is also significant that some people appear disconnected from and disinterested in paintings.
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Keywords: Bourdieu; Cultural consumption; Social divisions; Visual art

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-06-01

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