The culture industry, a term developed by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer,1 emphasized the increasing standardization and managerization of the so-called cultural goods, along with the separation of workers (including the so-called cultural workers) from the means of production, otherwise typical for the industrial commodity production. A gap emerged between artists and the culture industry managers.2 This gap cannot be bridged, but it can be considered unimportant.
The clumsy (though by no means accidental) phrase creative industries—a slightly altered copy of the culture industry, plus “liberated” from the critical “burden” to fit the matrix “cultural policy”—confirms Adorno and Horkheimer’s claim that the culture industry is an arena, a battlefield, the field of struggles, similar to Pierre Bourdieu’s field of cultural production, in which the thought potential is subjected to elimination.
He who does not want to talk about capitalism must also keep silent about fascism, wrote Horkheimer.3 Anyone who speaks critically about culture must speak profoundly clear about the culture industry/the field of cultural production (which is mated with the economy of maintaining false needs that udermine one’s unconditional joy).
The age of consumption as the peak of the entire process of accelerated productivity under the sign of capital is also the age of radical alienation.4 An ad, for instance, becomes an information when there is nothing left to choose, when brand recognition has taken the place of choice, while at the same time the totality forces everyone who wants to exist to (sub)consciously accept this condition. This is happening under the monopolistic mass culture. In this process, we distinguish between three phases: advertising, informing and commanding. The last one is currently being implemented wrapped in the forced/artificial state of emergency.
When the culture industry shows off, it also likes to show how its products were made and how it functions itself. In these conditions, art (its shadow) is merely an exhibition niche, one of many niches. The rules of the game are the (seeming) rules of the market: equal opportunities for all are, in fact, a struggle of all against all, a battle of actors.
The scheme of the culture industry is primarily a canon of synthetically produced ways of behaving, and the message of the capital must be hidden or disguised,5 as the (seemingly total) dominance likes to remain invisible. In this totality, criticality is risky. Whoever openly challenges their vision of freedom, whoever does not adhere to the prescribed guidelines, is forced to remain outside, to be excluded. The totality of mass culture reaches its peak in the demand that no one may differ or deviate from it,6 from its rules—so every participation in the culture industry is characterized by a specific terror, since this industry was “developed by predominance of the effect, the tangible achievement, the technical detail over the work that once carried the idea and was liquidated along with it”.7
The consumer of artistic products is not a king, as the culture industry would have us believe, nor is he a subject, but merely an object (a disembodied administered unit). The guiding principle is the realization of “cultural goods” (commodities) as a value rather than concern for their specific content.
The autonomy of works of art is being deliberately destroyed by the culture industry, with or without the conscious will of its operators—both those who execute orders and those who hold the power.
To mask this civilizational sadness, public relations are at the fore: each product of the culture industry becomes its own advertisement within the system of stardom, inside which a “painless” selection of participants is carried out, based on appropriate incestuous criteria, whereby the mediating role of the media is decisive (the amount of “media reactions”, “media coverage”, “appearance in the media”, “media image”). More or less discreet cooperation of participants with key actors in positions of power (so-called lobbying, networking, partnership) is a must. This is, in fact, only the visible part of the picture of artist’s (or wanna-be-artist’s) alienation and botization.
Among the actors of the field of cultural production, of which the field of art is a part,8 there is a hierarchical relationship based on their symbolic capital, which actually secures the boundary between the real and the imaginary—which is abolished in the last part of this writing.
The field of art is a field of forces, but also a field of struggles in which agents transform or conserve these forces.9 The field of art—an order of relations between the actors of artistic production—is both a “field of power” and a “field of class relations”, and it is largely and at most decisively influenced by “the consumer audience”.10
The basic drivers of the field of art are either certain revolutionary crises or more or less noticeable changes in the behavior of the consumer audience. Both phenomena change the power relations in the order in which the work of art functions as a product. This product can be marketed to a lesser or greater extent, which depends on the amount of capital and also on the accumulated symbolic capital that it disposes of in the marketing process.
Symbolic capital is understood as a certain credit which, under certain conditions and always in the long run, also guarantees economic profit. Through the understanding of symbolic capital as a brand of an artist or a work of art, Bourdieu unfolds the avant-garde from the point of view of the bare process of placing the interested protagonists (producers) in the field of art:
“To ‘make someone a name’ means to make a sign for him, to achieve recognition […] of his difference from other producers, especially the most dedicated ones; at the same time, this means creating some new position beyond the currently occupied positions, in front of them, in the avant-garde.”11
In a similar way, Adorno identified the brand as a substitute for the eliminated possibility of choice in the age of advertising-as-information to which the subject, in this case the artist and, indirectly, his artwork, must adapt if they are to exist.12 The brand has become an irreplaceable symbolic capital in the field of art.
Bourdieu always pointed out the role of practice in social dynamics and views of the world. He strove for a break with institutionalized forces, especially with the university institution and all that it concealed—violence, lies, canonized stupidity. “I have never left the will for, as Adorno said, nicht mitmachen (not participating), for eliminating compromise with the institution, starting with the intellectual ones.”13
Symbolic violence, as described by Bourdieu, is the imposition of categories of thought and perception (of a superior agent) on subordinated social agents who take such a social order for granted. It is the embedding of unconscious structures that seek to perpetuate the structural actions of superiors. It is about building, maintaining and even worshiping hierarchical relationships as “cultural” relationships. After a violent intervention, subordinates perceive their position as just.
Symbolic violence is in many ways much more influential and effective than physical violence, as it is woven into the modes of action and cognitive structure of the individual. It imposes a whole spectrum of possibilities for legitimizing the matrix.
One of the characteristic forms of symbolic violence is censorship, which is never so complete and invisible as when no agent has anything to say except what he is objectively authorized to say. In this case, the agent does not even have to be his own censor, since he is, in a way, censored once and for all through the forms of perception and expression that he has internalized and which impose their form on all his statements.
Among the most effective and pervasive censorships are those that exclude certain agents from communication by excluding them either from speaking groups or from positions from which speaking is authoritative. In order to understand what can and cannot be said in a group, it is necessary to take into account not only the symbolic power relations that are established in this group and that deprive some individuals of the opportunity to speak or force them to win the right to speech, but also the very laws of group formation (for example, the conscious or unconscious logic of exclusion), the laws that function as prior censorship.14
Between the fields and within them, there are fights between agents and thus also symbolic violence. Between the fields, let’s add, there is also a space of possible cracks, which allow different staging and performances of symbolic capitals, their situating.
The struggle is possible because the agents and groups involved are not present in the same present, they are nested in their own presents. As an illustration of this notion, Bourdieu uses the example of an avant-garde group that has no contemporaries to recognize it, and consequently has no audience, except perhaps a potential one, in some future. The second group, the “conservative”, has its “contemporaries” only in the past. The avant-garde is thus separated by one artistic generation from the already recognized avant-garde, which is also separated by one generation from its avant-garde predecessor. Therefore, the distances between styles, when it comes to the field of art as a social space, are best measured by time scales.
Introducing a new producer, artistic product, new taste system, fashion or trend to the market means simultaneously pushing other producers, products and taste systems into the past. In reference to the discussion of how taste is formed from positions of power, Bourdieu wrote that we must never forget that the “aesthetics” of the working class is a subordinate or ruled “aesthetics”, as it is bound to define itself with the help of the dominant, of the ruling aesthetics.15 However, to add, only until the moment when the subordinate protagonist takes the time and space to empower his own aesthetics (to abolish his apparent submissiveness, the colonization).
With every change in the structure of the field that occurs, there is also a displacement of the structure of tastes, a change in the system of symbolic distinction between existing interest groups.16 The constant transformations and mutations of symbolic capital over time are also the result of the constant mutations of capitalism’s modes of self-reproduction.
It is necessary to start with being different. This difference is ultimately a qualitative (established and embodied within a self that is consciously related to the common), never a denominative one (like being colorfully integrated according to the canon, which means essentially alienated).
Jean Baudrillard defined the symbolic as an act of exchange and a social relation that terminates the real, breaks with the real, thus also with the opposition between the real and the imaginary.17
Spinoza introduces the rule that an affect can be curbed and removed only by an affect that is opposite and stronger than the affect that needs to be curbed.18
The break with the real is performed as an affect in situation, a projected, innovative, yet tangible affect that provokes an affected situation (of coincidental exchange between whoever present), and the very joy of projecting this affect (while inventing it again and again) is art. Art is therefore not about artificiality, but about the vitality of invention that cannot be wrapped in/by the real. This art is fieldless, it is, of course, outta culture.
1 In their Dialektik der Aufklärung from 1947.
2 Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry, p. 98, pp. 100–101.
3 In the article Die Juden und Europe.
4 Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society, p. 191.
5 For example, under the labels of ecological, child-friendly, lifelong learning, quality leisure time, care for heritage, carbon neutral, or with the help of grandiose architectural interventions (the trend of building museum, opera and theater buildings as extravagant architectural objects—the city attractions that are often the core of gentrification interventions).
6 The Culture Industry, p. 91, 92 and 93.
7 From Dialektik der Aufklärung, quoted by Martin Jay in his book Adorno, p. 115.
8 The system of fields was conceptualized and analyzed in detail by Pierre Bourdieu.
9 Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 30.
10 The Field of Cultural Production, p. 44 and 57.
11 The Field of Cultural Production, p. 106.
12 The Culture Industry, p. 85.
13 Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologija kot politika, p. 9.
14 Pierre Bourdieu, Što znači govoriti: ekonomija jezičnih razmjena, p. 145.
15 Pierre Bourdieu, La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement.
16 The Field of Cultural Production, pp. 107–108.
17 Jean Baudrillard, Simbolička razmena i smrt, p. 148.
18 Baruch de Spinoza, Etika, p. 27.