Projekt Fundacji Bęc Zmiana

Kuba Szreder: Art as a Common Good

The key question that I would like to put forward will seem relatively simple at first glance.  Is art a common good? (…)

Art institutions cling onto the conviction of the exclusivity of the aesthetic experience and the special status of art as a common good.  What is interesting is that the more priceless, autonomous or valuable the aesthetic experience is deemed to be, the more it legitimizes the social position of its patrons.  The more people outside the narrow body of the capitalistic elite have access to art, the more it is publicly exhibited, the more effective it becomes in maintaining social inequalities.  Obviously, museums and other public institutions have contributed to the popularization of art by providing society with an aesthetic education and emancipating the public.  In addition, as the result of a historic process, museums or art institutions in certain countries have become independent from their sponsors.  They have gone over to public management. They have become an element of the social-democratic welfare state, which has deemed free access to culture to be one of its fundamental objectives.

It is important to add that in the case of social legitimization, we are dealing with a certain paradox, which Pierre Bourdieu wrote about in great depth.[2]  It is not true that art can only be considered as a type of aesthetic haze that fogs the material relations between production and power, thus rendering their proper recognition impossible.  Art legitimizes its own patrons precisely because it is autonomous.  Artistic objects are valuable because art is something priceless, a universal form, a common good.

In order for art to maintain that special status, the process of creating public collections is key.  Thus art is more than merely a form of common good enjoying a special social status.  This reverence is crystallized mainly in institutionalized social practices.  Artworks as social things are quite banal. They can be possessed, purchased, sold, hung on the wall, fawned over in the hush of a study or salon, or boasted about as an indicator of social standing.  As such, they are hardly distinguishable from other forms of luxury goods such as jewellery, estates or expensive cars.  An art collection, on the other hand, is much more intriguing from the social point of view.  This collective being constitutes an institution’s modus vivendi.  A collection is more than a group of artistic objects; it constitutes  social practices and celebratory rituals, gatherings  and popularization.  In this way, art is transformed into a public common good.  Ordinary objects, both material as well as more intangible phenomena, become works of art solely by being placed in this dynamic social milieu.[3]  They become sacred and start to be recognized as carriers of priceless aesthetic experience, by bringing in a value from beyond.  They begin to function within the multi-time reality of a museum, to use Ranciere’s formulation,[4] because they co-exist with art works and objects belonging to completely different eras and contexts, thus appearing to be eternal and universal as a result.  They are exhibited and experienced as works in their own right, released from strictly utilitarian functions.

This generation of illusion, as Pierre Bourdieu[5] would have put it, is a social activity per se.  Obviously, this magical power of attribution is now universally recognized.  The ready made, or other contemporary strategies, use the museum as a vehicle for original attribution, a context creating aesthetic value.  As a result of the attribution process, objects become artefacts endowed with aesthetic power, just like relics are the vessels of sanctity. [6]

Kuba Szreder – a sociology graduate from the Jagiellonian University and a PhD student at the Loughborough University School of the Arts.  Curator and creator of interdisciplinary research projects.  He cooperates with Obieg and the Krakow publication Ha!art.  He is also the co-editor of books including Futurism of Industrial Cities.  He is curator of the Warsaw Free University.  In his doctoral thesis, he focuses on an analysis of the work of the curator in the era of late capitalism.

[1] Tekst jest rozwinięciem wykładu wygłoszonego 11 maja 2012 roku w trakcie oprowadzania po wystawie Skontrum w Muzeum Rzeźby im. Xawerego Dunikowskiego w Królikarni (Warszawa, ul. Puławska 113a).

[2] Pierre Bourdieu, Reguły sztuki: geneza i struktura pola literackiego, tłum. Andrzej Zawadzki, Universitas, Kraków 2007.

[3] Luc Boltanski, Od rzeczy do dzieła. Procesy atrybucji i nadawania wartości przedmiotom, [w:] Wieczna radość. Ekonomia polityczna społecznej kreatywności, dz. cyt., s. 17–49.

[4] Jacques Rancière, Dzielenie postrzegalnego…, dz. cyt., s. 129–137.

[5] Pierre Bourdieu, Reguły sztuki…, dz. cyt., s. 260–268.

[6] Luc Boltanski, Od rzeczy do dzieła…, dz. cyt., s. 26.