Art and the civilising process

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Across a wide range of often fragmentary writings on art from African art to Watteau, Velázquez and Picasso, this chapter reconstructs Elias’s account of long-terms shifts in visual art as a symbol of the transition from craftsmen’s art to a courtly aesthetic to the ‘artist’s art’ of bourgeois Modernism. In crude summary, Elias charted a long-term shift from: art produced by relatively undifferentiated societies believed to be animated by the spirit world; the establishment and decline of a court aesthetic; the emergence of more ‘realistic’ perspectival art; the nostalgic romanticism of social groups experiencing de-functionalisation; through to the tension balances between kitsch and modernism of highly differentiated but relatively unexciting societies. The chapter outlines the changing function of art within civilising processes and reconstructs Elias’s approach to the specific nature of art’s resonance as a symbolic form of human communication.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe anthem companion to Norbert Elias
EditorsStephen Mennell, Alex Law
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherAnthem Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781839986659, 9781839986666
ISBN (Print)9781839986673
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2023

Publication series

NameAnthem Companions to Sociology
PublisherAnthem Press


  • Sociology of art
  • Tension concepts
  • Feeling-reasoning balances
  • Specialists and non-specialists
  • Cultural intermediaries
  • Art as data
  • Realism and abstraction
  • Spontaneity and self-control
  • Kitsch style
  • African art
  • Valence and hinge


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