9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Consumption as Distinction Building II, C5.01

Visual arts appreciation patterns: crossing horizontal and vertical boundaries within the cultural hierarchy

The appreciation of nine distinct visual art styles was assessed by presenting color plates to some 3,000 Flemish respondents. We set out to study the relation between vertical cultural boundary crossing, or omnivorousness as we know it, and horizontal boundary crossing, i.e., a broad and encompassing preference within the domain of legitimate visual arts. It turns out that, although Bourdieu's distinction between a conservative taste for classical works and a more progressive taste for modern art remains highly relevant, a substantial proportion of our sample enjoys both classical and modern works. This latter segment also ventures somewhat into non-legitimate culture. We thus discern a group that combines high levels of horizontal boundary crossing within the legitimate visual arts with some vertical boundary crossing. However, the cluster limiting its visual arts preferences to modern works has markedly more outspoken non-legitimate and popular preferences. This reminds us of the bourdieusian difference between a culturally apt social segment, the cultural elite, for whom cultural stimulation prevails over symbolic restrictions, and a new middle class, paying lip service to the more complex, highly valued products of modern art, while keeping active participation within the confines of popular or non-legitimate culture. Those with a visual arts taste limited to classical works are much less culturally active, as are those with low preference levels for most modern and classical visual art styles. As such, the analyses demonstrate that horizontal and vertical cultural boundary crossing have different meanings and probably represent distinct strategies for distinction as well.