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Bourdieu and Michon MA-course Literature and Society

Who or what decides upon an artists fate? Pierre Bourdieu, Pierre Michon
and the theory of the literary field [slide 1]
1. Introduction [slide 2]
Let me first introduce the subject of todays class by explaining why I have
chosen Pierre Michons short stories about Lorentino and Joseph Roulin as an
illustration of ourdieus theory of the mar!et of symbolic goods"
#irst of all because of the theme of this course" ourdieus theories have had $
and perhaps still have $ great influence in #rance when it comes to what he calls
the distribution of cultural capital in society% the role education plays in it% and
the way all forms of art &literature% painting' are affected by it" (hese ideas suit
perfectly with the theme of this course% literature and society" )ne of ourdieus
main wor!s is La Distinction &*+,+- translated in *+./ as Distinction'- in this he
discusses the genesis of social relationships and examines the lifestyle of
#rances class structure" 0s you can read in the footnote at page *1% the article
you have read for today is at the basis of Distinction"
(he second reason is my own research project that focuses on the revival of the
painters novel" 2e will see that the way painters are portrayed in this !ind of
novel has a social dimension and the short stories written by Michon are good
examples of this"
I will start with a brief summary of the history and characteristics of the
painters novel% then we will discuss the theory of ourdieu and analyse the two
short stories"
2. he painters no!el
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(he painters novel $ specialist disagree on the 3uestion whether it is a genre or
not $ was% at least in #rance% very popular in the nineteenth century% but
gradually disappeared at the beginning of the twentieth century" (he last
twenty4thirty years however% it is bac!% in #rance but also in the 5etherlands"
Rather surprisingly% we see artists not only in what is commonly called 6high
literature but also in 6low literature e"g" the detective novel" (he classic
example here is of course 7an rowns The Da Vinci code"
0 painters novel could be defined as follows8 a text in prose in which the
protagonist is a painter and in which visual art and aesthetics are discussed%
either directly $ in the conversations the painter has with his friends and fellow
artists $ or indirectly $ e"g" by means of e!phrasis% the description of paintings
by the narrator $" 2hen we loo! at the way painters are portrayed in these
novels% we find a series of topoi% literary commonplaces" Roughly spea!ing% the
artist is [slide "]
either an inspired genius% misunderstood and socially marginali9ed-
struggling for recognition% rebelling against the prescriptions of the 0cademy
of 0rt% living in an old and empty garret : and in this portrait we can clearly
see the influence of Romanticism &the first half of the century'
or a successful artist% socially compliant% who follows the aesthetic rules set
by the 0cademy and lives in a mansion- sometimes he is even a shrewd
businessman who capitali9es on the 6taste of the public% that is to say the
bourgeois : that is how the painters novel expresses the commerciali9ation
of art in the second half of the century
0s you can see these literary commonplaces have a social dimension $ I will
come bac! on that later% while discussing ourdieu"
5ear the end of the *+
century the painters novel faded away% but the last
twenty4thirty years we see it coming bac!% not only in #rance &perhaps you have
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heard of Michel <ouellebec3s novel% La arte et le territoire!The Ma" and the
Territory' but almost everywhere in 2estern =urope% in >anada and in the
?nited @tates" (hin! of 7onna (artts novel #et "uttertje!The $old%inch that is
forthcoming &(hursday' [slide #]" (he list of titles is nearly endless% so just a
few examples8 for the 5etherlands you can thin! of 2illem Jan )tten% S"echt en
&oon &translated as The 'ortrait by 7avid >olmer' or Margriet de Moor% De
schilder en het (eisje and for AreatBritain8 (racy >hevalier% $irl )ith a 'earl
*arrin+ or Pat ar!er% Li%e lass" 0nd that brings me to three tendencies we can
observe in todays painters novel [slide $]8
*" (he return of the literary commonplaces observed in the *+
century painters
;" 0 predilection for what they call in #rance 6fictional biographies8 authors
either fill in the blan!s in the biographies of worldBfamous painters $ the novel
by Margriet de Moor% De schilder en het (eisje e"g" offers an hypothesis of why
Rembrandt left his studio to paint a dead girl hanging on the gallows [slide %] $
or they choose as protagonist a painter that has fallen into oblivion% as in
Michons short story about the circumstances that have decided upon
Lorentinos fate-
1" (he presence of painters in 6popular or 6low literature% especially in the
detective novel% thin! of The Da Vinci code. In #rance this !ind of detective
novels is so widespread that one of the publishers even invented a name for the
genre% ma!ing a pun by changing 6polar% the #rench familiar word for 6policier
&detective novel' into 6polart"
(he 3uestions that arise are% among others% why art and the artists are bac! and if
there is a relation with the position artists have in society or with evolutions
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going on in art and4or literature" (his is all the more interesting because
contemporary writers seem to revert to the same &social' commonplaces in the
portraits they s!etch of their painters" ourdieus theory of the literary4artistic
field could contribute to answering these 3uestions8 e"g" there might be analogies
between the literary4artistic field in the *+
century and the contemporary
literary4artistic field"
: return to realism- competition with other media &photography4film- 4computer
and video art' : leads to discussion among artists
)f course% we cannot discuss all the aspects of the revival of the painters novel
in two hours- what I want to do is *' s!etch% explain and discuss in broad outline
the article you have read $ that will be necessary% I suppose $ and see the lin!s
with my research and ;' read the short stories in the light of ourdieus theory8
a' what can we say about the reasons Lorentino never became a famous painter-
b' why has Michon chosen himC c' why does he show us Dan Aogh through the
eyes of his postmanC
". Bourdieu
0s you probably !now ourdieu has had a great influence on teachers%
intellectuals and political activists in #rance% most certainly because of the fact
that his notions of fields% class% power relations and symbolic goods can explain
the failure of the ideal of 6education for everyone% which was one of the goals
of the students insurrections in the late *+EFs" In his main wor! La
Distinction!Distinction &*+,+4*+./'% ourdieu discusses the origin of social
relationships% examines the lifestyle of #rances social classes and analyses the
#rench educational system% which is still very hierarchic" (he places to be are
not the universities% but the 6grandes Gcoles to which a 6concours $ a
comparative exam $ is the only access8 every year there is a limited number of
places and only the best students are admitted" 0nd the selection is the same
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after graduation8 those who have the highest mar!s obtain the best jobs% e"g" at a
prestigious 6lycGe in Paris and not somewhere in the country% 6la #rance
profonde- or when you loo! at political life there is an old boys networ! of
6Gnar3ues% former students of the Hcole 5ationale de l0dministration &they are
M0' " ourdieu ma!es it clear that the best and most successful students are
those who are the richest in terms of symbolic capital% in other words8 those who
come from families where &literary' culture is important"
ourdieus approach of art and culture is that of a sociologist% which means the
focus is on the world of art more than on the wor! of art for itself8
he examines *' the way individual artists and groups of artists interact8
collaboration% mutual exclusion% conflicts and competition and ;' the way
their world &the artistic field4field of cultural production' is organised-
his aim is to discover the characteristics of the field% the patterns you can
discover% the way it functions and decides upon reputations and careers8 he
3uestion he as!s for instance is whether the avantBgarde can liberate art from
fixed &that is to say bourgeois' social structures and if so% howC
(his approach of art implies the end of the romantic concept of genius% one of
the commonplaces4topoi we have seen8
the wor! of art is no longer considered as the result of a supernatural gift-
artists and art are mere products of their time-
wor!s of art function in social configurations &institutions' that determine
their reputation8 art academies% art criticism% museums% grant providers- these
configurations are intertwined with other social institutions
: this means that art is not a mystery but a social construction- the artist is an
actor in a social field of influence" 0nd that brings us to I(he mar!et of
This part of the lecture has been taken from Ton Bevers, Kunst, geschiedenis en sociologie, in: Kitty
Zilmans en !arlite "albertsma, Gezichtspunten. Een inleiding in de methoden van de kunstgeschiedenis,
#imegen, $%#, 1&&', pp()*1+),-, 1&&'(
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symbolic goodsK : a little difficult to read- the argumentation often is
#. he &ar'et of sy&(olic )oods
4.1. The logic of the process of autonomization
ourdieu first explains how art or% to put it correctly% the field of cultural
production% became autonomous" 0s I said before% the notion of field is central
to his theory- let us see what it means [slide *]8
#ield &economic% educational% political% cultural' L a structured space with its
own laws of functioning and its own power relations independent of those of
politics and economy : that is how the emancipation4liberation of the
artistic4literary field too! place8 for centuries% nobility and church determined
the cultural production"
ut8 even though each field is relatively autonomous% it is structurally
homologous with the others8 ourdieu uses the word 6correlation here"
Its structure is determined by the positions agents occupy in the field% so
there is always a competition going on between these agents for control of
the interests or resources that are specific to the field in 3uestion and can give
them authority" In the case of the field of cultural production% interests and
resources are not material- its capital is symbolic L the authority inherent in
recognition% consecration and prestige that gives the artist symbolic power%
that is to say8 power not reducible to economic capital"
0 field is a social universe with its own laws of functioning8 external
determinants can have an effect only through transformations in the structure
of the field itself : that is the evolution ourdieu s!etches in the first
chapter of the article8 four main reasons &p" */'% three periods &p" *J- the %irst
,ein+ the -uattro cento . the "eriod in )hich the story a,out Lorentino
ta/es "lace' in which we see a complete revolution of the artistic field%
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because power relations are changing8 professional artists and intellectuals no
longer accept rules coming from others &church% academies% politics' and this
autonomy transforms the relations between artists and between artists and
(he conse3uences of this growing autonomy are8 *' the creation of a divide
between artBasBcommodity and artBasBpure symbolism &pure art'- between the
field of large scale production &#LP' where cultural goods are produced for
nonBproducers of cultural goods% for the public at large- and the field of
restricted production &#RP' where cultural goods are produced for other
producers of cultural goods &cultural elite' - ;' the artist is submitted to the
laws of the mar!et of symbolic goods% although he might thin! he is
completely free"
: <ere we come across the topos of the artist as the creative genius and as the
rebel who does not accept bourgeois norms% who wants to define his own
standards" If we follow ourdieu% this ideal of Romanticism is just a reaction to
economic pressure and to artBasBaBcommodity"
: Question in relation to my research8 are there% in contemporary society%
economic structures that can explain the revival of this romantic toposC
[parallel+ i&portance of cost,effecti!eness- hero,worship- &edia hype .
co&&erciali/ation of art]
4.2. The structure and functioning of the field of restricted production
Mou can summari9e the laws that determine the field of restricted production by
saying8 to exist L to differ &6the 3uest for distinction% p" ;*'8
B to differ from the artists in the field of large scale production% because this field
has its own criteria for evaluation-
B newcomers must assert their difference% that is to say get themselves !nown
and recogni9ed by endeavouring to impose new modes of thought and
expression% without following the prevailing modes of thought% without obeying
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the doxa &the reigning rules'" (herefore they are bound to disconcert the
orthodox by their 6obscurity and 6pointlessness and they will have to defend
their own positions"
: there is a permanent search for originality in matters of aesthetics- a
permanent search for distinction L socioBcultural differentiation% for being
: artists do so especially by using new stylistic and technical principles8 in
painting &from realism to impressionism to 3uestioning painting itself' and in
literature &from realism to the modernist and postmodernist novel% the latter
showing overtly its structure e"g" with the commentary of the narrator brea!ing
the suspension of disbelief : there are no references to external demands% hence
no acceptance outside the field'"
<ere we come across two other topoi that turn out to be induced by the
economics of the field and are in a way 6dismantled8
B the romantic myth of personal expression turns out to be socially induced8
finally it is all a 3uestion of competition and distinction8 the more you want to
distinguish yourself% the more you has to be original in your choice of form% of
B poverty of the misunderstood genius in his garret8 the more an artist see!s to
distinguish himself% the less he will be accepted outside the #RP- he will fail but%
and that is remar!able8 failure is a sign of election% you are just too original to
be understood and to be a commercial success- success is suspicious because it
is a sign of compromise with the world outside the artistic field &#RP'" : in
another article ourdieu calls the field of restricted production 6an economic
world reversed% because economic success is seen as a barrier to symbolic
power &consecration'- cf" what he calls 6the gratuitousness principle &p" ;*'
4.3. The field of institutions of reproduction and consecration
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Mou might wonder why the field of restricted production does not disappear%
since it is separate from the public at large" In chapter 1 ourdieu explains how
that is possible $ the main factor being the role of the educational system"
2hereas in the field of largeBscale cultural production consumption is
independent of educational level% in the field of restricted cultural production%
consumption and educational level are closely related" (his is because in the
field of restricted production% consumption is related to aesthetic disposition and
the mastery of the codes"
(he field of restricted production can only function because of the existence of8
B the institutions that conserve the capital of symbolic goods
B the institutions that reproduce agents capable of understanding the code
Mou could say that these institutions $ academies% museums and the educational
system create a system that maintains itself &p" ;/' because they
B have the power to grant cultural consecration
B reproduce producers of a specific type of cultural goods% the corresponding
consumers% the consecration authorities necessary for this type of wor!% a
cultivated public and the agents of legitimi9ation or canoni9ation"
0nd then ourdieu signals a paradox when it comes to innovation" Innovation
means that the field has to be receptive to new ideas8 a new definition of wor! of
art% new aesthetics% new values about production and distribution and the
formation of new networ!s to spread the new ideas" ut at that point the field of
restricted production finds itself in opposition with the institutions whose
mission is conservation &page ;E% he distinguishes between avantBgarde%
academies4museums and the educational system- between intellectual culture
and scholastic culture'"
: paradox or at least ambivalence8 with their innovations% producers in the field
of restricted production challenge $ conservative $ educational authorities but
they are dependent upon them for recognition" ourdieu observes that the liberty
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they ta!e depends upon their social status8 intellectual functionaries &petitB
bourgeois' and independent artist4intellectual &bourgeois' both have a
subservient position% but those who come from the 6petite bourgeoisie are most
directly under the control of the state because they are dependent on grants"
0nyway% it is clear that school functions li!e a filter8 it reinforces successfully
those who already possess the attitudes and aptitudes of the cultivated classes $
who master the code of interpretation% !now the rules of the game $ and it
refuses those who do not have these 3ualifications" (his means that education
leads to reproduction of the culture of the dominant group% it reproduces the
hierarchy of the social world &good example of correlation'8 education reinforces
and consecrates the ine3ualities instead of diminishing them" (his is where we
find the notion of 6habitus8
<abitus [slide 0] L the set of dispositions which generates practices and
perceptions% the way an individual acts and perceives the world around him"
<abitus is the result of a long process of inculcation% beginning in early
childhood and therefore *' it is li!e a second nature $ the dispositions remain
unconscious% the actions they provo!e are not underta!en deliberately and
consciously to attain a certain goal- ;' it lasts a lifeti&e- 1' it is transposa(le in
that it generates practices in many fields of activity- /' it is structured because
it incorporates the social structure in which the inculcation too! place :
members of the same social class share the same habitus : one can spea! of
6class habitus and J' structurin)8 habitus generates practices adjusted to
specific situations"
4.4. Relations beteen the !R" and the !#"
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0part from the art produced in the field of restricted production% there is also
middleBbrow4average art% the product of the system of large scale production"
ourdieu discusses it in chapter / and he observes that8
B in contrast to the 6high culture where artists wor! for their fellow artists and
where innovation is the only means of survival% middleBbrow art obeys the
imperatives of competition for con3uest of the mar!et-
B in contrast to the 6high culture where the wor!s create their public% in middleB
brow art wor!s are entirely defined by their public &highest social denominator-
average spectator'-
B in contrast to the 6high culture that cherishes the cult of form for its own sa!e
&out of devotion to art for its own sa!e'% middleBbrow art searches for effect8
because of its submission to the mar!et- the artists are cautious and use only
tried and proven techni3ues-
B in contrast to 6high culture that is autonomous% middleBbrow art is
heteronomous% that is to say dependent on the mar!et"
(hese differences% according to ourdieu% lead to a Ivery une3ual power of
distinctionK &p" 1*'- ImiddleBbrow culture has to define itself in relation to
legitimate cultureK &p" 1;'" (he practitioners of middleBbrow art% in the margins
of legitimi9ed art% find themselves in an ambivalent position8 they attac! what is
consecrated% but are not able to offer an alternative% so in fact their attac! is a
longing for recognition" ut the only reason they can attac! is that every artist
has his position in the cultural field% according to his degree of consecration"
4.$. "ositions and position%ta&ings
<aving a position leads to positionBta!ing $ that is the last aspect ourdieu
discusses &p" 1J' and he shows that all relations among agents and institutions of
diffusion or consecrating are mediated by the structure of the field- the way
agents ta!e position is influenced by the representation they have of their
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position in the field8 they act accordingly% e"g" by imitating academic critics and
borrowing their language that is generally considered as 6a high standard"
PositionBta!ing is partly a matter of habitus $ unconscious strategies $ and partly
a matter of conscious strategies $ based on the representation the agent has of
his own position in the field and that of the agent he interacts with $" (his is
again a matter of habitus8
B an author chooses a publisher according to his position in the field
B an editor judges an author according to his position in the field
B a critic judges a wor! by the name of the author and the publisher
(his leads to selfBpreservation% but innovation is still possible- it comes from the
critic who deciphers the wor! of an avantBgarde artist and thus encourages him
to continue" @ee the example of Les =ditions de Minuit $ a #rench publishing
house well !nown for its 6nose for innovation8 they published the 6nouveaux
romans &consisting entirely of metadiscourse' in the EFs and ,Fs and the soB
called minimalists &that reintroduced the intrigue and the characters' in the .Fs
and +Fs" #irst the authors were mere individuals% but because the critics and the
public saw them as weird innovators they formed a !ind of school% their
reputation &status4position' gradually bettered and they became the leading
: this means that the topos of vocation and the choices the artist ma!es are
nothing more and nothing less than a decision based on positions in the field &p"
1+'8 what seems to be inspired by vocation% determined by an intellectual
itinerary or fashion is in fact the result of the artists hierarchic position in the
field and of his cultural capital &p" 1+'" @o again we must conclude there is
nothing sacred or mystic about the artist at wor!-
: the same goes for citations &intertextuality and interpicturality'8 to cite N to
pay tribute to or to be original% but L to ta!e position in the field"
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$. Pierre Michon
efore studying the artistic field represented in the short story% let us tal! about
the position of Michon in the contemporary literary field8
one of the great names of contemporary #rench literature &though perhaps his
wor!s are not really bestsellers'- he refuses to be a celebrity% a media
part of a new development8 after the form experiments in the novel $
6nouveau roman which ourdieu calls 6denovellisation in note **% page ;;
$ the story% the intrigue is bac! &not only in #rench% but also in 7utch
literature- cf" Daessens% De revanche van de ro(an and the essays published
by 0thenaeum% Pola! O Dan Aennep'" Mou should note that from the *+

century onwards the exclusion of all social or socially mar!ed content from
the wor! was a mar! of 6experimental that is8 highBbrow culture% but no
the story is the experiment' the innovation' the characteristic of novels
belonging to the !R""
Michon8 3uestions concerning art and artists8 why does a writer write or a
painter paintC <ow can we explain this yearning and under what
circumstances can it flourishC Is it because he wants to earn money% to gain
public recognition or statusC )r because he wants to create eauty &with a
capital'" In other words8 what ma!es an artist an artistC
(he story about Lorentino is part of a series of short stories called Masters and
Servants &Ma0tres et serviteurs- *++F' in each of which Michon chooses as
focali9er a servant or an un!nown painter" (he story about Joseph Roulin was
published separately &*+..- tribute to Dan Aogh *FF years after he made the
portraits of Roulin'% but in fact follows the same idea% the same structure with
Dincent van Aogh seen through the eyes of the postman"
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#or our analysis% two issues are important8 *' what can we say about Lorentino
en Joseph in the light of ourdieus theoryC and ;' why has Michon chosen
$.1. Roulin and (ourdieu
1hat is the interest o% o,servin+ Van $o+h throu+h the eyes o% 2ose"h 3oulin4

: in fact this short story is a perfect illustration of4discussion with ourdieuP
Roulin is naQve% is unprejudiced and tries to understand the talent of Dan
Aogh- he sees and interprets the paintings before Dan Aogh became a myth%
famous because of his suicide and because of what art critics and art
historians say about his wor!- Roulin !new Dan Aogh before his mar!et
value became proverbial% before his wor! was commerciali9ed" <e does not
!now any of the learned% sophisticated interpretations art historians gave and
still give of Dan Aoghs wor!s" #or us% Dan Aogh is a myth% his paintings are
worth billions of =uros and it is impossible to loo! at them without having in
mind that he is a great artist" It is impossible nowadays to deny that Dan
Aogh is a star% let alone to say that he is a bad painter" ut Roulin can loo! at
his wor! in neutral way so the narrator ma!es Roulin thin! about the enigma
of art &p" ;,' in a spontaneous way &see also the end of the story where the
narrator spea!s'"
Roulin dreams of a Republic giving everyone the opportunity to love art &p"
B what surprises him isnt in any of the boo!s &pp" ;14;/'
B confrontation learned interpretations &solar$liturgy' R simple painting of a
@unday morning &pp" ;/4;J' : unfolds on a canvas for the biographers to
come% the businessmen in Manhattan &p" ;J'
B Roulin li!es the wor!% without !nowing anything about painting &p" ;.'
$ource: !anet van !ontfrans, .eschreven levens( Vie de Joseph Roulin van /ierre !ichon in: 0nnemarie
van "eerikhui1en, 2rene de 3ong en !anet van !ontfrans 4red(5 Tweede levens. Over personen en personages
in de geschiedschrijving en de literatuur, 6ossiuspers %v0 )-1-. pp( 1&&+)1*(
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(he narrator 3uestions the sources of Dan Aoghs reputation8
B Roulin does not read between the lines% but reads the lines themselves- he
does not frolic in metaphor &p" +'
B the novel that had been written too often ever since &p" **'
B a man as massively notable today $ and perhaps for as few reasons &p" *;'
(he narrator systematically undermines everything the 6learned boo!s say
about Dan Aogh and about his portraits of Roulin-
B Roulin would be surprised to see what these boo! tell about him &p" J'
B the narrator systematically underlines that we do not !now anything for
sure8 he could% he could% he could &p" ,'
B the holy sanctuaries &p" *1'- hac!neyed words and attitudes &p" *,'
B including the commonplaces &p" ;,'
B 0ccording to Roulin &or is it the narratorC' the 6superlative citi9ens% les
a(ateurs% are told they should be 6enamored of certain wor!s of art &p" /,'"
(he world of art is represented by the young man% the artBdealer who visits
Roulin and tells him about Dan Aoghs rising star : Roulin as!s himself
who had decided that he was a great painter &p" /F'- the young man tries to
explain what nobody understands &p" //' : ironic remar! about 0mericans
who !now what beauty is and by their dollars are able to prove itP
(his story shows us how the #RP wor!s and how reputation is determined by
social laws% by the hierarchy in the field"
$.1. #orentino and (ourdieu
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an you e6"lain7 ,y analy&in+ the "o)er relations in the artistic %ield
re"resented in the story7 )hy Lorentino7 in s"ite o% his talent7 has "assed into
o,livion4 8 Lorentino does not "lay the +a(e o% "o)er relations
"oer relations beteen )asari and #orentino
Dasari [slide 1]8 rich- went to school with members of the family 7i Medici-
friend of Michelangelo- his wor! &frescos% paintings% churches' were
commissioned by popes and grand du!es- his biography of more than ;FF
artists is worldBfamous- : he is an authority% can decide4has decided upon
reputations- an 6agent of legitimi9ation
does not pay much attention to Lorentino- he is not worth ten or twenty pages
&*;,'- [slide 12] all he does is suggest interpretations of his life $ 6leaves it as
understood &*;,'
but what does the narrator doC (wo remar!s8 hand poorly suited to painting
&*;*'- we do not have to believe Dasari &*;,' L he casts a doubt on Dasaris
judgment% thus denying4perverting the power relations"
The *artistic+ field in the short story
(he end of the Suattro cento &*;*'% so at the beginning of the autonomy of
the artistic field% but that was only for the elite in #lorence and we read
Lorentino never dared to go there-
#ield of class relations8 opposition between the city and the country% between
townspeople and peasants8 the latter fear that they will not be understood%
will not have enough words to ma!e their existence !nown &*;1'- cf" *' the
allusion that @aint Martin is there not only for the du!es but also for old
Marias &*;1' and ;' the farmers poor mastery of the language &*;1% *;J'
0rtistic field8 reflects these relations8
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B the peasant with the pig is send away and humiliated by the painters%
because &understatement' he did not seem to come from 0rcady &*;;'% thats
to say he is not one of the rich commissioners-
B the peasant is deeply moved by the magic of images &*;/'- because of his
ignorance% he has his own hierarchy% his values are completely different from
those that are commonly accepted : for the peasant a portrait is what is most
impenetrable and mysterious% because of the price $ you pay half the price of
a farm% only for the colours" @o8 in the hierarchy of the artistic field he is just
a nobody"
The position of #orentino
Dasari says that he is poor% that he ma!es portraits of the rich and mighty and
that he is a pupil4follower of Piero della #rancesca- but we do not !now for
sure if Dasari spea!s the truth% because according to the narrator he follows
the legend &*;*' and he is a romantic% that is to say he has a vivid
imagination &*;;'-
5" (he narrator too has a vivid imagination% because we do not !now at all
if he is right- his story about Lorentino is not even a reconstruction% it is mere
supposition : part of his strategy to reveal% and then undermine% the power
relations8 he shows us that a low position in the hierarchy and a lac! of
reputation do not necessarily imply that you are a bad painter"
: so he needs an un!nown painter whose life is still a mystery to all of us"
2hat does the narrator tell us about LorentinoC
B that he is a painter without a sign &*;;' which means that he does not
belong to the established painters-
B how he ma!es the portrait &*;E'8 Lorentino is not an innovator but clings to
accepted representations $ the expected moment% the saint as a Roman
soldier- hesitation which model to choose : he is ashamed to receive
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something from his master and to receive something from a peasant L
influence of economic structure4power8 he is middleBclass-
Reconstruction of #orentino,s life *- habitus+
Loren9o d0ngelo L Lorentino for his mother% the neighbours and his patrons
&*;,B*;.' : he accepts this as reasonable &free indirect speech' T reflection
of economic field- but also a denigrationP
does not see the chiaroscuro- he has been taught to imitate the style of Piero
L authority &*;.'- he does not have the guts to innovate-
as!s himself if he has become what he wanted to be &*;.'- he has created a
perfect woman $ his daughter 0ngioletta $ but he has not painted her &L the
topos of the struggle between art and family- topos of Pygmalion'
: Lorentino is wondering why he has not been successful &*;.'
: finds himself only good enough to paint a peasants saint for a peasant
&*;+'% but that is his idea% determined by his position in the artistic field
which reflects his economic position- he would have preferred another saint
because they represent a higher &symbolic' value-
: he has a pupil% but he thin!s he has not taught him much8 he has taught
him theory% but not talent% genius- he has not been a master to artolomeo
&*1F' L he has failed because he himself was among the greatest &Piero%
Dene9iano'- and artolomeo is li!e a peasant% which means he is not really a
pupil to Lorentino &*1*% *1;- is not even mentioned by Dasari *1;'8 he thin!s
about his artistic career in terms of power relations8 master4pupil% finds
himself unworthy% but we do not !now if that is true"
: Lorentino suffers from his imperfection% see the thoughts he attributes to
his wife 7iosa about him being successful and receiving orders from the
courts% the pope% the princes &*11B*1/' : not for artistic reasons but for
reasons of power% glorification% reward L economic reasons &*1/'
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he thin!s he does not deserve this fate% revels in selfBpity &*1/B*1J'% which
means he depreciates himself and that is exactly one of the theses of
ourdieu8 once you are in a certain class% you tend to repeat the social
evaluation of that class% it sort of becomes hereditary because you display the
behaviour they expect of you% it becomes your habitus"
!lash%bac& *- habitus+
<e goes to @ienna for a competition with Melo99o da #orlU &Ithe little colleague
who also had mixed plaster for PieroK : he does !now how to play the game'
and looses- he then sees himself as the misunderstood genius &*1E- topos' and
thin!s he is unworthy of the daylight &*1.' : he exaggerates% internali9es the
judgment of just one commissioner and adjusts his behaviour to it8
B becoming a painter is a struggle- you only do it to become the best painter
B he wanted to go to #lorence% but did not go% because only good painters do $
they appear in public &*1+' : that is how and why they get ordersP : Lorentino
does not play the game-
B he sees himself as unworthy% because princes do not give him orders% prelates
do not favour him and he only paints in country churches &*/*'-
B he goes to orgo with his son Piero di Lorentino who is miniaturist- he wants
him to meat the old and blind Piero della #rancesca% just to show that he !nows
the great painter &*/*% */;'-
B Piero della #rancesca is seen as a 6living legend &*/1'% as a 6genial relic
&*/1'- he remembers Lorentino only because of 7iosa &*//'-
B when they tal! about the others% Melo99o and Luca% who now wor! for the
pope% Lorentino !eeps up appearances8 Iyou cannot have it allK &*/J'"
The execution of the portrait *after the flash%bac&. return to story time+
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Lorentino dreams of another patron% @aint #rancis disguised as a pope or a
warlord &*/,'% who would have inspired him to create a masterpiece" <e as!s
himself why he was not gifted by heaven &*/.- but it is his own fault% he is a
victim of earthly power relations' : apparition of @aint Martin who spea!s on
behalf of Aod &*JF' and points out that the great masters too are dependent on
Aod &topos' L introduction of another standard% but also perversion of the
earthly power relations" 5" (he title Trust this si+n8 Lorentino did not have a
earthly sign% but now receives a sign from heaven &*;*- pun only possible in
=nglish- it is not in the #rench originalP'"
Lorentino then sees Piero as his brother and only sees the great patron &*J*- he
becomes more selfBconfident'" <e creates his own masterpiece% in a style of his
own and surpasses his master &*J;' L he attac!s what is consecrated- the
narrator speculates about this style &*J;B*J1'
: narrator proposes a different definition of masterpiece L give the best you
can% dedicate it to whom it should be dedicated &*J1'
: conclusion8 artolomeo does have a master &*J/'
/hy #orentino did not became famous0
B the peasant does not say much because he fears he has to pay more &*J/'
B lords or captains simply do not come along &*J/'-
B nobody else comes along &*JJ' because the village is not the centre of the
cultural field-
B Dasari did come to the church% but did not get the chance to see the portrait and
so perhaps missed a masterpiece &*JJ'% that ends in the wall of the church to fill
a hole"
B the portrait of @aint Martin was a consumerBbased wor! and lost its relevance
with the death of the owner"
$.2. /hy has 1ichon chosen to tell the story of #orentino0
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Michon completely perverts hierarchy8 *' in the story he shows 6the rules of the
game and shatters them by suggesting that Lorentino was a very gifted man%
perhaps even a greater artist than Piero- in fact he shows the negative effects of
the mar!et of symbolic goods% of the hierarchy in the #RP and ;' he writes in a
very elo3uent% very polished #rench &that evo!es a funeral oration or a
laudation' on someone who has passed un!nown into history : paradoxically%
that ma!es him a distinguished writerP ut what he really does is criticise the
commerciali9ation of art and the hierarchy in the world of art" 2ith the
apparition of @aint Martin &after which Lorentino paints his masterpiece' he
seems to return to the romantic topos of the inspired genius" (he story is a
critical reaction to the contemporary world of art"
Marjolein van Tooren 09.09.13