Avant-garde and leisure: the art critic as intermediary ‘specialist in verbalisation’

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    In his recently published utopian ‘thought experiment’ on excitement processes Norbert Elias (2018) described leisure as a small island of physical and emotional release engulfed by a vast ocean of impersonal routine and self-restraint. Drawing from examples of jazz, dance, and art Elias argued that leisure productions typically pass through a relatively unrestrained, informal and experimental phase to become more refined and codified as they make contact with wider figurations, culminating in more fully formalised, routinised and consciously planned ‘kitsch’ leisure models. Leisure professionals in film, television, sport, and the arts enjoy increased authority to determine the standards and models of cultural value and taste. It remained unclear to Elias that a habitus orientated to the necessities of work could be adjusted without guilt or shame to the spontaneous pleasures of innovation and creativity in conditions of a greatly enlarged potential for leisure. A diffuse population of non-specialists lag behind leisure specialists and find themselves excluded from the excitement potential of large fields of leisure enjoyment and enrichment. Intermediate professionals, like critics, commentators, promoters and journalists, act as ‘specialists in verbalisation’ to articulate and circulate new models of taste through what Elias described as ‘a kind of internal public opinion, a competitive estimate of each other’s achievements and values, an internal status order of their production and performances’. This paper revisits Elias’s sociology of leisure to examine the intermediary role of art critics to articulate and circulate models and standards of aesthetic taste for avant-garde artworks that appear incomprehensible to wider publics lacking any common criteria to register aesthetic judgements, beyond untrained, highly subjective and personalised sentiments about the relative merits of leisure performances and productions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019
    EventLeisure Studies Association Conference - Abertay University, Dundee, United Kingdom
    Duration: 9 Jul 201911 Jul 2019


    ConferenceLeisure Studies Association Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Internet address


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