Essays on Art, Aesthetics, and Culture
5. The Distinction Between Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art: Remarks on Bourdieu’s Critique of Aesthetics
Pierre Bourdieu is without doubt one of the most influential sociologists of culture and art. In several publications, notably in his magnum opus, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, and in the collection of essays, The Field of Cultural Production, he has subjected aesthetics and traditional art history to a searching critique.
Since the heading “aesthetics” covers a great variety of theoretical and practical pursuits it may be useful to make a few distinctions in order to obtain a clearer view of Bourdieu’s critique. The analysis of artistic programmes and ideologies and the study of the history of art and the history of criticism are all part of the broad conception of aesthetics which includes all kinds of theoretical and historical interest in the arts. But “aesthetics” can also be equated with the philosophy of art, as is often the case in the Anglo-Saxon world. But even if we define aesthetics as philosophical aesthetics, that is, as the philosophy of art, we have not made things much clearer since the philosophy of art can also be many things, or, as the evil spirit says in the Scriptures, “My name is legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:9).
When I speak of philosophical aesthetics or the philosophy of art I have in mind the analysis of fundamental concepts in the discourses on art, such as the concept of art itself, the concept of the aesthetic, genre concepts,...
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