Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Division in Art Practice and Application to Methodological Approach

Bourdieu’s 1990 The Logic of Practice. (Chapter 5 The Logic of Practice Page 80-98 Stanford University Press) is used as a point of discussion for this short blog post.

This is written with the look towards a paper I’m writing on The Methodology of Art Practice. It’s a complex text about practice as a whole but I have tried to apply some aspect to my understanding of practice led research in the visual arts, through some of the key enlightening elements of Bourdieu’s logical extrapolation.

From the beginning he lays out that practice is problematic and can be viewed 'negatively'. Bourdieu stipulates that the connection between practice and the translation of practice creates a separation from the moment of practice that causes a discontinuity between its appearance and it's supposed meaning. He calls this 'the language of consciousness and the language of mechanical model'.

He links practice to time, saying that it is in time that 'practice unfolds' and to then place this in a theoretical context would suggest its destruction through synchronisation. He explains practice as a heightened moment in which there is a detachment from the past and the practitioner projects into the future giving an urgency, and essential property or product of what he calls ‘the game’ and 'the presence in the future that it implies' p82. It is this sense of the future, this forward direction that makes the game what it is. But if you are to look on, or watch the game and contemplate the proceedings you are disconnected from that experiential moment, a severance from the practice. Therefore, the reflective theorising has a discontinuity with the actual practice.

Can the artist develop a position of what Bourdieu calls 'pre-condition of adequate decoding.'? That is can the artist properly identify the references to different situations that have informed the works discourse, can they recognise a culmination, a complete view of the social and logical conditions of change within the product?

It's this separation of practice and theorising which interests me the most. Being submerged in the practical moment is a phase that is separate from the reflection that can override the experiential quality of the practice, that is the physical essential moment of doing which culminates in a product. Does this create a theorisation effect?

I believe that this is an important part of the theory behind a methodological approach but how should it be used?

I believe that potentially there should be a deep focus, intense almost microscopic analysis, where possible, of the building blocks that make up your practical endeavour. This is the methodological approach to research and should remain within that context and therefore could potentially be different for an artist who is purely engaged with their practice and outside the research field, although this situation may be key to how some artists work no matter their situation.

This poses the question of what is your practice? Is it just the moment at which a series of mental elements, decisions, influences culminate in a product or is it the process by which you experience these constructs? Are there any barriers and do there have to be? Is the artist’s practice all in compassing because the resulting product is a culmination of the influences upon the mind of that person? How can we separate the art practice from life when life, and everything we experience in it, influences the theoretical background of the resulting work? If an artist creates, recognises method, records and analyses the method, produces work as a result of the method, engages with this essential in the moment practice and then ultimately repeats how can we separate practice from a theorising affect when potentially they are one and the same.

How much does the subconscious play in hiding methodology from the artist? Viewing the human consciousness as a metaphorical net that unavoidably catches a high percentage of influential experiences, that shape who we and must surely include unexpected or unrealised peaks of activity that contribute to our decision-making, it must then on some level empower the practical essence of the moment when an artwork is created. The choice of colour, subject, object, meaning as a result should originate from a range of experiences that may hide meaning from us. To empower methodology the artist must look beyond the strictly practical nature of what they do and seek to capture as much of the true nature of their practice as possible.

It is only something that the artist can truly embrace and will involve honesty, self-examination and hopefully revelation. It is only natural to impose systems upon what we do, even supposed random processes. The attempts at randomness can be recorded as part of a method, of this there is no doubt, but the level of randomness will vary and external systems may be used and will appear to be separate from the persons being, as we are restricted by a physicality.

So, to truly understand our Methodology we must interrogate what it is that drives our artistic action. What is it that makes you do the things you do in the way that you do? A process of recording will have the division that Bourdieu’s The Logic of Practice highlights; moment of creation and looking to the future then to recording that looks backwards, involving a degree of separation from the essential practical moment but in the sense as I've explained this division is part of the wider picture that becomes your practical basis. Acknowledgement of this step between the two may well enlighten the methodology.

I end with Bourdieu’s definition of what he calls a Theorisation Effect (p86): ‘Forced synchronisation of the successive, fictitious totalisation, neutralisation of functions, substitution of the system of products for the system of principles of production.’ Do we as artist researcher employ a Theorisation Effect in our Methodology?


Bourdieu, P. 1990 The Logic of Practice. Chapter 5 The Logic of Practice Page 80-98 Stanford University Press.

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