What’s happening with art, whose death has been so fre-
quently pronounced? What in the past few decades has
turned it into an alternative for disappointed investors, a lab-
oratory for thought experiments in sociology, anthropology,
philosophy, and psychoanalysis, and a resource for fashion,
design, and other tactics for drawing distinctions? It’s even
being asked to take the place once filled by politics by pro-
viding collective spaces to deal with intercultural relations.
Since early in the twentieth century, sociology has showed
that artistic movements can be understood only in connec-
tion with social processes. We can see this “external” entan-
glement of art more easily today because so many artworks
are increasing in economic and media worth. To explain this
phenomenon, it’s no longer sufficient to make the sort of
hypotheses that were once generated about religion, such
as suggesting that art offers us imaginary scenes to compen-
sate for our real frustrations, whether by escapism leading
to resignation or by creating utopias that revive our hopes,
turning art into “a kind of alternative religion for atheists,”
in the words of Sarah Thornton (2008: xiv).
Nor is it enough to argue, as critical sociology does, that
aesthetic choices form a place of symbolic distinction. The
ability to comprehend highbrow art and the surprises of the
avant- garde, taken to be a gift, as Pierre Bourdieu said, eu-
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