When Two Fields Collide: Bourdieu, Education and a British Artistic Avant-Garde
With the advent of the Second World War, a number of British artists left their urban environments for the relative peace and safety of rural and coastal residence in Cornwall. This paper examines a particular place in time: St Ives in the 1940s and 50s. It begins by tracking the artistic biographies of two of the leading exponents of British abstract art: Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. It considers their encounter with the coastal paintings of Alfred Wallace and their subsequent move to the town where he had worked. The paper is framed by a theoretical perspective derived from the work of the French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu and his conceptualisation of artistic avant-gardes. It consequently employs a three-level approach involving analysis of biographical habitus and field structures. The paper shows how artists of a certain habitus constituted themselves as an avant-garde by positioning themselves within the art field, and within the broader social space. Configurations of social, economic and cultural capital will be examined to show the education and formation of a particular British artistic style which, for a time at least, became an international avant-garde. The work of such painters as Heron, Barnes-Wallace, Lanyon, and Wells will also be considered. Finally, the paper explores how such a social analytical approach to aesthetics enriches and deepens our understanding of both the ‘rules’ and values of art. The presentation will take the form of a discursive montage using text, diagrams, biographical analyses together with several examples of paintings and sculpture.
Keywords: Pierre Bourdieu, British avant-garde Habitus, Artistic Field, Cornwall, Education, Cultural Capital
Dr. Cheryl Hardy
Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Education,, University of Winchester
Prof. Michael Grenfell
Professor, Faculty of Social Science, University of Southampton