The Heir & the Cowboy: Social Predisposition, Mediation & Artistic Profession in Marcel Duchamp & Jackson Pollock

From the original Spanish by Dr. Nuria Peist, as translated by Joseph Robertson

In his analysis of Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Pierre Bourdieu compares the positions of the protagonist Frédéric Moreau and his friend Deslauriers. The opposition is manifest in the distinct origins of each —the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie— and their echo in the social space of mid-19th-century Paris —the lack of interest in success and the excessive ambition of the one and the other. For Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock, two of the most emblematic artists of the first and second waves of the 20th century avant-garde, the timing and manner of their access to success have much in common with Bourdieu’s analysis of the two characters from Flaubert’s novel.

Marcel Duchamp enjoyed the security and the support derived from his family’s station and from having the social and cultural capital he accumulated throughout his personal evolution. As a result of this inheritance, the artist was able to postpone remarkably the moment of his consecration. Jackson Pollock hailed from a family of farmers and had to go to great lengths to make a place for himself in the avant-garde art of the mid 20th century. The social space Duchamp is in a position to ignore is the antithesis of Jackson Pollock’s need for success. Lacking a social life guaranteed by right, economic security, and the comfort to move with ease in the intellectual circles of the times, he cannot afford the luxury of pulling back from opportunities as they present themselves. The American painter’s need for recognition takes on the form of a conquest of a space to which he is not the rightful heir. “What Frédéric can have by merely wanting it,” notes Bourdieu, “Deslauriers must achieve by force of will” (Bourdieu, 1995: 40).

Once the comparison is established, it becomes necessary to ask ourselves whether the relationship is, in effect, immediate, and why. Can we be sure that the struggle to achieve or to reject consecration is commonly tied to the possession or lack of capital arising from the social development of the individual? Are the cases of Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock isolated examples, or do they fit the characterization of types that follow the comparison proposed by Pierre Bourdieu? To answer these questions, we must observe how each artist’s mechanism of mediation was activated, in order to work out a qualitative analysis of three basic points: the form taken on by the career of artist, how the person of the artist and his dispositions relate to the field of art in order to occupy the spaces available to him at any given moment, and the effective obtaining of consecration.

Continue reading “The Heir & the Cowboy: Social Predisposition, Mediation & Artistic Profession in Marcel Duchamp & Jackson Pollock”