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

Julia Peters & Henk Roose (2020)

British Journal of Sociology, 71 (5), p. 952-969

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.

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