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Art, as a category, must be distinguished from music, painting, writing &c. Current usage of the term art treats it as a sub-category of these disciplines; one which differentiates between parts of them on the basis of perceived values. Thus the music of Philip Glass is considered art, while that of Adam and the Ants is not. This use of the term art, which distinguishes between different musics, literatures, &c., emerged in the seventeenth-century at the same time as the concept of science. Before this, the term artist was used to describe cooks, shoe-makers, students of the liberal arts, &c.

When the term art emerged with its modern usage, it was an attempt on the part of the aristocracy to hold up the values of their class as objects of irrational reverence. Thus art was equated with truth, and this truth was the world view of the aristocracy; a world view which would shortly be overthrown by the rising bourgeois class. As a revolutionary class, the bourgeoisie wished to assimilate the life of the declining aristocracy. However, since the activities of the bourgeoisie served largely to abolish the previous modes of existence, when it appropriated the concept of art it simultaneously transformed it. Thus beauty more or less ceased to be equated with truth, and became associated with individual taste. As art developed, the insistence on form, knowledge of form, and individualism (basically romanticism), were added to lend authority to the concept as a particular, evolving, mental set of the new ruling class.

Further reading:

'Distinction: A Social Critique Of The Judgement Of Taste' Pierre Bourdieu (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1984).

'The Cult Of Art: Against Art And Artists' Jean Gimpel (Weidenfield & Nicolson, London 1969).

'Art, An Enemy Of The People' Roger L. Taylor (Harvester Press, Hassocks 1978).

Stewart Home, first published in Smile 11, London Summer 1989.

Stewart Home on the Art Strike after the Art Strike (lecture at V&A)

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