Sociology 3573
Sociology of Art & Culture
(Peter Weeks, Fall, 2006)

Office Location: EC219 Tuesdays & Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.
Phone: 452-0467 Semester 1
E-Mail: pweeks@stu.ca Classroom EC103

Course Description:
From sacred expressions and tools of propaganda to aesthetic objects of reverence and commodities for status acquisition, the arts have enjoyed many roles in society. Employing various sociological perspectives, this course will explore the nature of art in society by looking at how art objects are produced, distributed, and received.

Theoretical perspectives will be related to historical and contemporary examples of painting, architecture, and photography  to explore the interplay between art and society, as well as the interrelations among the different arts themselves. Although this is partly an art appreciation course, the sociological perspective places art works in their social context. An underlying concern is the current prevalence of images in our everyday lives and the media.

The role of technology in the various arts is another theme. Reproductive technology as, for example, in photographs of paintings and music recordings, has allowed for the ‘consumption’ of art works in settings far removed in time and place from their original settings  thus changing their meanings. Recent digital technologies have had further implications.

The focus of this course is not confined to ‘the fine arts’, but also explores aspects of ‘popular culture’. Here, we will explore some of the sound and visual images which are so pervasive these days in the global context. Further, the relations between popular culture and the ‘fine arts’ in terms of a hierarchy raises further issues for us to examine.

Music recordings, photographs, videos, and multimedia presentations will be used for illustrations and for stimulating discussion. Guest presentations are also under consideration.


Required Text:
The instructor has assembled a set of readings under the title, Readings in the Sociology of Art & Culture, second edition, which will be available for purchase from the university bookstore.

Assignments & Evaluation:
Marks are allocated as follows:

A. Learning Journals - 25%
The purpose of the learning journal is to accumulate a series of observations and critical commentaries on such things as music encountered in a given setting, images in photographs, advertisements or videos, aesthetic or design aspects in everyday settings including buildings that you notice. This provides an opportunity to apply and make connections among the ideas and concepts that you are learning. Students are expected to purchase a bound notebook for journal entries or a binder into which they can be assembled.

B. Report - 20%
Essay-style questions provide an occasion to synthesize the ideas in the readings and class sessions.

C. Midterm - 20%

D. Formal essay or project demonstration/presentation - 35%
This is a more in-depth essay on one of a set of topics to be handed out later. An alternative is a class presentation. There will NOT be a final examination

List of Topics:

1. Introduction:
(a) What is a sociological perspective on art - in relation to insider accounts?
(b) sociological concepts of art & culture,
(c) hierarchies in art worlds,
(d) fine art vs. popular or commercial art or culture.

2. Social functions and uses of the arts.
(a) comparisons across societies & over time,
(b) "cultural stratification", "cultural capital".
(c) political uses - including protest,
(d) commercialization of music (including "elevator music" as background, etc.)

3. Basic principles of pictorial art.

4. Changing relations between the arts and society:
(a) major periods and styles of art,
(b) from different sources of patronage to the market — the economic support of art & artists,
(c) government & other sponsorship of high-status art.

5. The Art Object as a Social Process:
(a) Becker's Art Worlds as a leading form of this type of analysis. Art works as the result of collective work efforts—in contrast with the idea of the uniqueness and genius of the individual artist,
(b) changing division of labour in different arts,
(c) conventions in 'artworlds',
(d) deviance and innovation in art.

6. Technology & Art:
(a) Walter Benjamin on the work of art that is technologically reproduced,
(b) the effects of reproduction of art objects and the changes of meaning in their new contexts,
(c) impact of the Internet.

7. Photography:
(a) introduction to & brief history of photography,
(b) conception of photography as non-interfering, objective observation,
(c) artistic photographs. Debates on whether photography is an art.
(d) relation to the subject or event,
(e) interpretive practices in the production & reception of photographs.
(f) implications of digitalization.

8. Architecture:
(a) designs and styles in relation to their social context,
(b) relations between form & function,
(c) symbolic meanings of buildings.

9. Uses of music and visual arts in advertising & popular entertainment:
(a) 'cultural studies' perspectives,
(b) prevalence of images,
(c) sound & picture in movies & music videos.
(d) the use of classical music in advertising, movie themes, etc.

1006 Introduction to Sociology
2313 Deviance
2513 Sociology of Communication
2613 Sociology of Gender
3013 Classical Sociological Theory
3023 Modern Sociological Theory
3513 Sociology of Education
3523 Sociology of Knowledge
3563 Sociology of Music
3573 Sociology of Art & Culture
4013 Senior Seminar
4033 Advanced Sociological Theory


Dr. Peter Weeks / Sociology / Faculty / STU Homepage