From starving artist to entrepreneur. Justificatory pluralism in visual artists’ grant proposals

Julia Peters & Hank Roose (2020)

British Journal of Sociology. Online first

Abstract. Inspired by French pragmatism and using Bourdieu’s notion of “refraction” as an indication of a field’s autonomy, we explore in‐depth what kinds of justifications visual artists deploy to legitimate their requests for government money. Based on 494 government grant proposals from visual artists between 1965 and 2015 in Belgium, we find six such justifications. The reputational, esthetic, and romantic justifications are grounded in autonomous criteria of worth, such as artistic CVs, the work of art itself, and a compulsive desire to make art. Since the 90s, social, academic, and entrepreneurial justifications bring in heteronomous criteria, or refractions of field‐external values. Artistic practices become increasingly legitimized through engagement with social/political issues, academic methods and terminology, and an entrepreneurial spirit. We empirically show how the refraction of governmental logics is multi‐faceted, yet always related to or combined with artistic concerns, which we interpret as characteristic for the artistic field’s persisting autonomy in the face of heteronomous pressures.”

Excerpt. “Using unique archival records of grant proposals from visual artists asking for government funding between 1965 and 2015 in Flanders (Belgium), our objectives are twofold. First, we investigate the justifications used by visual artists to legitimize their work as worthy of state support. These proposals present one of the few loci where artists are forced to legitimize themselves as artists discursively. Thereby, they typically seek to “bridge private assessments and collective values” (Gielen, 2002, p. 126, translated from Dutch), that is, artists try to strike a balance between formulating their applications in line with their own artistic dispositions and what they perceive to be the criteria deployed by the government to distinguish good from bad art(ists). Our focus on justifications is inspired by French pragmatic sociology, which analyses how actors draw on a variety of “orders of worth” to justify their actions within certain situations (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Heinich, 2000, 2011; Lamont, 2012). »

Link to the review