LECTURE—Pierre Bourdieu and Andrea Fraser—The Ethics of Museum Display

This week seems to be Pierre Bourdieu week for me – which is good, as I’ve not read anything of his before and I’m quite liking his work, with certain reservations.

Yesterday, the lecture for the Framing Art course concerned “Museums and their Audiences”, approaching the subject from both directions, the museum’s and the audience’s.

The museum’s role was presented in terms of its movement away from what our tutor, Roberto Cavallini, described as “the exhibition of artifacts to the exhibition of things”, in other words from a passive to an active principle, away from the pure display of a multitude of similar objects to the development of interactive, thematic frameworks. For this we looked at Andrea Fraser’s text “Museums Highlight: A Gallery Talk”1, presenting an institutional critique of the museum and its processes – in this case the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

For the viewer, they now become the object in their own right, the target of sociological studies of their relationship with the institution. Here Bourdieu’s text2 discusses the relationship between education and aesthetic appreciation, that the individual’s art appreciation and their appreciation of museums depends largely on early experiences:

Each individual possesses a defined and limited capacity for apprehending the ‘information’ proposed by the work, this capacity being a function of his or her overall knowledge (itself a function of education and background) . . . (Bourdieu, p. 37)

As a result, Bourdieu claims “. . . aesthetics can only be, except in certain circumstances, a dimension of the ethics (or, better, the ethos) of class.” (Bourdieu, p. 46) and concludes:

In fact, arrows, notices, guidebooks, guides or receptionists would not really make up for a lack of education, but they would proclaim, simply by existing, the right to be uninformed, the right to be there and uninformed, and the right of uninformed people to be there . . . (Bourdieu, p. 49)

1. Fraser, A. (1991). Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk. In October 57 (Summer). pp. 104–122.
2. Bourdieu, P. and Darbel, A. (1969) Cultural Works and Cultivated Disposition. In The Love of Art: European Art Museums and their public. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 36–50.

Shi’s Fever

. . . and now Shi has my fever. Fortunately I’m feeling mostly better now so can look after her. She’s very hot (38.7ºC at 7.30am), has a splitting headache and feels sick. We have an appointment at the doctor’s this morning where they will hopefully be able to help.

Just back from the doctor. There was no sign of a chest infection or tonsillitis, which is good news. They just recommended Paracetamol and liquids to relieve the symptoms and make Shi more comfortable.

ANOTHER UPDATE (Tuesday morning)
Good news! Shi is now (almost) back to normal. There’s no more fever, just a sore throat and slight headache hanging on. Hello sis!

Ed’s Fever

I’ve developed a fever over the past few days, probably caught from someone at college. Last night I was up to 38.3ºC and didn’t really sleep at all. I’m feeling slightly better today although still above my normal temperature and I have a bad headache. Shi is being lovely and looking after me even though she’s not feeling too well herself. I love you Shi!

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