Building careers, managing capitals
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I sought to find out whether this was a tension between artistic and commercial in the career of visual artists, and if so, how this tension was managed. In attempting to uncover information which could address the research question I undertook in-depth career history interviews with artists which covered their time at art school through to their current practice. The career history method was deliberately chosen in order to address the research question at a tangent as both the literature, and my own personal experience of the field of contemporary visual art, had suggested that the topic of artistic and commercial was a sensitive one. By framing the interviews around the experiences the artists had through the time period of their training and career, I was able to approach the research questions indirectly from the perspective of the artists. Through analysis of the interview transcripts the framework of Bourdieu’s capitals arose as one that would capably explain the activities which the artists were undertaken and I used this as a framing device for the empirical chapters in the thesis. In exploring ideas of cultural, social and economic capitals in relation to how artists describe the activities they undertake during their career it became apparent that the broad structures of cultural capital needed further refinement in their application to the careers of visual artists. In the thesis I chose to elaborate further on the concept of artistic capital which has, until now, been unexplored by scholars. I have developed an understanding of artistic capital as a subcategory of cultural capital with particular application to the field of contemporary visual art – with the potential for wider application beyond the thesis. The three capitals of artistic, social and economic proved a capable structure for understanding whether there was a tension between artistic and commercial and how artists managed this. Through this research I have found that artists come to believe, during their early career and training through art school, that there is a tension between artistic and commercial as this is perpetuated by institutions and art world participants through their exclusion or dismissal of commercial aspects of the visual art field. Through their careers they come to realise that this tension is less prevalent than they thought and that they are able to manage these two aspects of artistic and commercial more effectively. However, artists continue to be faced with instances where this tension is imposed upon them by other art world players who perpetuate the belief that there is an inherent, unresolvable tension between artistic and commercial. These individuals attempt to shield artists from this perceived tension later in their careers when artists are already adept at managing the competing priorities of artistic and commercial without the two creating tension.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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