UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Art knowledge and the social role of the university art department in the aftermath of postmodernism Cline Abrahams, Cheryl L.


This study presents a sociology of art knowledge. It explores relationships between art knowledge and institutional structures, making visible how and why certain conceptions of art are hierarchized and generalized so as to be considered essential to the nature of all art. It renders problematic the existing situation in which the art traditionally taught in schools and universities is, for the most part, insular and culturally singular in basis, and examines why this cultural singularity persists in a society which is culturally pluralistic. The thesis is that the university art department has the monopoly on defining, legitimating, and perpetuating this insular and culturally singular art knowledge for transmission through the school' system to all cultural and social groups. The ways in which the university effects art knowledge are discussed in terms of ' the university's curricular structuring and disciplinary ties; its social role as patron, producer, definer, legitimator, and socializer in the arts; and in terms of its ability to neutralize "avant-garde" attacks, including the postmodernist incursion of popular culture into the realm of "sacred" culture. The theoretical framework of this critical analysis is a sociology of knowledge, and the materials for analysis were obtained by reviewing public documents on art programs, policy on the arts in postsecondary education, and a cross-disciplinary selection of literature in social theory, educational theory, aesthetics, and art history. The institutional structures and norms described throughout the study present significant resistance to the postmodernist commitment to challenge conceptual parameters and hierarchies of art knowledge that hinder a broadening of the cultural base of art. The study makes imperative the need to seriously consider this resistance if educational systems are to embrace the artistic activities of a diverse population and if art is to move into a more vital and relevant role in society. It makes imperative for sociological study of art systems (which in the past has concentrated almost exclusively on the role of museums, galleries, critics, dealers, and artists' "lofts") to take into account the role of the university art department as a primary institutional basis of art knowledge, and as a definer of cultural knowledge about art.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.