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Art and Power Essay

When a sub-culture becomes dominant in society, it is said to have attained hegemony. A hegemonic subculture has the power to convince the vast majority of people that its ideas are the best right mainstream ones. It can also brand other subcultures and their ideas as deviant. Hence, a hegemonic power has control over ideas in society and shapes the way society thinks.

They can come in the form of institutions in society, and hegemonic ideas tend to be those of the ruling class in society. Art which the ruling class favors comes to be known as high art. Because the ruling classes want to preserve their privileged social position, their attitudes tend to be deeply conservative.

One feature of art sponsored by power factions in society is that it tends to be highly ornate and decorative. Art serves as a way for these people to show off their material wealth and power. This takes the system of patronage, where wealthy patrons of art sponsor skilled artists and commission works.

Sub-cultures can also achieve hegemony without having real wealth, political power, or being at the top of the social ladder. However, they still tend to be affiliated with the ruling class in society (if now how are they to be influential?). For examples, art academies, such as the French Academy, Academie de beau-arts came to dominate the art world through the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical periods.

These academies receive government support and had the power to determine what constituted “high” serious, socially approved art. Art was therefore expected to conform to the rigid principles established by the academies. One reason for the founding of the French Academy was to distinguish ‘true’ artists from mere craftsmen. The crowning achievement for any artist at that time would have been to become a member of the Academy, an acknowledged expert with the power to dictate artistic principles. This is therefore an institution of the artworld.


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