Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks

Networks and fields of artistic taste: Exploring the dualities

by James G. Ennis

Abstract

Who likes what, and why? The structuring of taste in the arts is illuminated by network and field perspectives. The theoretical problem is one of duality: what sorts of individuals share tastes, and on the other side, what sorts of cultural objects are valued by the same kinds of persons? The data structure corresponds: a rectangular matrix of individuals by art objects (songs, novels, films, composers, performers etc.). How do individuals share preferences or influence others? How are art objects classified as similar or different, harmonious or dissonant? How do social influence and cognitive classifications co-constitute a meaningful field? Network analysis, hierarchical clustering, and the less well-known technique of multiple correspondence analysis are applied to survey data on Americans’ taste for, and participation in the arts, especially music. Meaningful dimensions and clusters index persons’ characteristics (class, education, race, sex, age, region…) as well as hierarchies of inclusion and difference among music genres.

Social patterns in taste for art interest not just sociologists, but artists as well. Russian- American emigre artists Komar and Melamid investigate and satirize such difference in their paintings, and via scientific surveys of what audiences like. Reanalyzing their data on roughly one thousand Americans, I use multiple correspondence analysis to identify dimensions of difference, in the tradition of Pierre Bourdieu. Fields of taste depict the co-constituting of social characteristics and cultural preferences. Axes in the fields correspond to advantage, age, and engagement. Geometric data analysis facilitates insight from simplified structures to rich, detailed specifics.

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