When Art Worlds Look to Sociology for Inspiration: A Case Study of Contemporary Art Conservation Strategies

Monday, July 14, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: Booth 57
Oral Presentation
J. MARONTATE , Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Recent scholarship in cultural sociology has provided new theoretical frameworks and methodological strategies for studying diverse (and sometimes incommensurable) value systems (Boltanski and Thevenot 2005, Heinich 2008).  This paper examines the relevance of trends in the sociology of values (or pragmatic sociology) in a case study of recent international initiatives involved with the development of new approaches to contemporary artistic heritage conservation. The paper presents research on the activities of four international initiatives devoted to the development of new strategies for the preservation of artistic heritage. The paper examines how contemporary art conservation networks are attempting to grapple with the increasing realization that diverse value systems and multiple meanings of the arts they care for can be taken into account in new visions of the role of conservators in the preservation of artistic heritage. It examines recent trends in conservation research, in particular the efforts of art conservators to adopt sociological methods and theories for inspiration. Conservators have become increasingly involved with research about the 'meaning' of objects and cultural heritage sites when planning interventions. They study records of the creator's intent, conduct interviews with artists or other authorities, critically analyze the historical contexts of the work's origins and of subsequent transformations seeking insights about ways to preserve the integrity of the work that respect its symbolic and cultural significance. These efforts by art conservators to draw on sociological insights provide a compelling example of the relevance and uses of sociological research in contemporary art worlds, however they also raise questions about decision-making, in particular how to use social scientific theory as an affordance for practical action.