How Sociological Factors Affect Artist Life


How Sociological Factors Affect Artist Life Essay, Research Paper

A French philosopher and writer, Pierre Bourdieu ( Bourdieu et al.1990) claims that sociological factors such as education, family background, cultural development of an individual as well as one s belonging to a specific social class, plays a vital part in interpretation and participation in

the Arts. In order to evaluate this argument and make any logical conclusions, it must therefore be examined through evidence which in this case will be referring to an Australian artist, Robert Klippel.

Every artist s career has a shape or a development which tends to be greatly affected by sociological factors which influence the life of that artist .(Hughes 1964: 2). Robert Klippel s career shape was also a subject to formation which was promoted by factors such as education, family upbringing and background as well as the outer and inner environments which affected the life development of the artist. It is thus essential to consider these factors as they influenced and formatted Klippel s artistic vocation and career.

Robert Klippel was born in Sydney, 19 of June 1920, in a middle class family and became the

second in a family of three sons. His father had emigrated from Poland in 1904 and ran a successful business importing and distributing clothing and textiles. His mother, of English background, had been brought up in English fashion , educated well and expected to devote herself to marriage and the family. Klippel s father attended university where he studied

philosophy and took an Art theory course. During university years, he developed an interest in the Arts. From time to time he would visit an Art gallery or buy an expensive classical painting.Robert Klippel s, mother had a passion for classical music and would often visit the opera.

However, at that time Robert Klippel had little interest in education in the Arts and was not affected by the artistic family environment around him. Although, Klippel s parents were

educated well, Robert Klippel and his brothers were not encouraged to learn or participate in the arts as Klippel s parents thought that their children should go their own ways , it could even be said that they were brought up by the a light hand – always given opportunities to make their own choices and decisions in life. When referring back to Bourdieu and his argument, it could be argued that even though Klippel s parents were educated well and may have had a reasonable understanding of the arts, they would not be one of refined classification and certainly would lack a mastered degree of

artistic competence (Bourdieu et al.1990:42) as they could not fully value the importance of education and pass on to their children. However this idea may not apply in this case, as Robert Klippel himself was not affected by his family s level of education and from the yearly years led an independent lifestyle. Particularly during his youth, Klippel had little interest in any sort of education and with little direction from his parents, he preferred to work on the mill, spent little time doing his school work and became used to fail many examinations. At one time, Klippel even thought that his life was doomed to be a failure . Klippel s family was quite financially stable and all the three sons attended secondary school including Klippel himself, who had a careless approach towards education and found that it was

not for him. In fact he did not receive any art education or learn much of what he later became interested in. He describes his school years being: uneventful and a waste of time (Gleeson 1983 :4). However it was during his early schoo years that Klipple developed a passion for sculpture. Robert Klippel s early life was mostly spent around Sydney Harbour where lived and first became fascinated with ships and boat models. As a young boy, Klippel began making

miniature model ships that he often saw on the harbour or in books. An obsessive commitment to model making lasted almost eighteen years which later led to becoming a sculptor. Klippel entered the navy during WWII, where he obtained a job as a model maker. Between 1943 and 1945 he produced many military vessels and aircraft models. The skills developed during this

period were vital for Klippel as a sculptor; he gained knowledge of volume, mass, proportion and structural detail (Scarlett 1980: 9). Above all, he acquired a strong desire to find out how things worked which further helped him with his creative process. Klippel obtained some practical skills to be used in his artworks but when referring back to Bourdieu, he had no knowledge of artistic principles or understanding of theoretical Arts and thus had no means of

appropriating works of art . This also reflected that Klippel had a lack of artistic ideas and

inspirations to produce his works although he had a strong desire to make sculptures.

At twenty-four Klippel was still largely unconcerned with the difference between art and craft:

he simply did not care about it and had never visited a gallery (Hughes 1964:12) Klippel was not

exposed to any higher education and he finished high-school with poor grades as he spent most

of the time working with wool. He took a wool classing course in 1937 with the support of his

father who thought that Klippel would be working with wool as he did not see any other

opportunities for his son. However, Klippel himself decided to no longer work with wool and to

devote more time to his sculptures as he discovered his passion for Art. The year of 1943 became

a turning point for Klippel, as he met a friend Pam Broad, who was a poet and an intellectual,

and encouraged Klippel to take up a wood-carving course which taught him how to develop his

own designs and models. Pam Broad was appreciative of Klippel s skill but criticised his lack

of originality and knowledge of art. Klippel realised that in order to become a sculptor he would

need to have certain knowledge of the Arts and Pam Broad introduced him to literature, poetry

and art as abstract, which Klippel became later involved in. Robert Klippel gradually began to

gain artistic appreciation and knowledge of Art and he also found the critical difference between

art and craft. Klippel realised that he could now interpret and produce artworks and meanings in

ways that before were unknown to him and as Bourdieu states: interpretation… is always

constituted by the learning ability …in other words discovering meaning using our literary

knowledge (Bourdieu et al.1990).

Klippel put aside his models and began to read and study art books to gain knowledge about art.

Pam Broad introduced him to the work of Brzeska, and he read books on Henry Moore and

Roger Fly; The intellectual discovery of art as a creative pursuit awakened a passion he hardly

knew existed (Watters Gallery 1970:3). By 1945 Klippel has decided that art would be his

vocation and that he would become a sculptor. In 1946 he enrolled full time at the East Sydney

Technical College to study antique drawing, life modelling and sculpture. During this time

Klippel became inspired by nature which became a source of ideas for the sculptor and he noted

in his diary that: Thinking a lot about nature and its workings, I believe and artist should, when

creating, undergo a similar process which occurs when nature creates (Gleeson1983:4).

Although not having received complete education, Robert Klippel was able to use his skills to

produce his models and he found that the knowledge he received himself and with the help of

others was extremely useful for his art creation.

Referring back to Bourdiue, who stressed the importance of learning and defined the idea of

education as having a complex code , which refers to sophistication and ability to distinguish a

work of art in a more refined way, it could be noted that Klippel has gradually achieved this

ability through self-education and continuos learning throughout his career. However here the

theory of sophistication, family education could not apply as Klippel did not achieve high level

of education and obtained valuable qualifications but instead gained self-knowledge which was

not perhaps one of fine refinement but which provided him with a stable base to develop his

career. It could be considered that Bourdieu s theory of education does apply to those with a

genuine interest in the Arts and to those who wish to gain precise knowledge of the Arts. Klippel

himself realised that his self-discovery of new visions and ideas as well as artistic knowledge

helped him with his artistic development.

Klippel further developed an interest in abstract art and decided to move to London where he

commenced his studies at Slade School of Art. Here he developed his skills as a draftsman,

which he felt were sorely lacking (Sturgeon 1978:15). For six months at the Slade School

Klippel led a double life. On one hand, he did his formal studies, which he hated and found

irrelevant (Scarlett 1980:6), on the other hand, he pursued an independent self-development

course in which he concentrated on studying abstract art derived from nature. Learning in

Klippel s opinion was not always a constant necessity and brought use to his work, unlike

Bourdieu claims that learning at school and university is essential to develop not only the

knowledge but also have access to appropriate culture . Klippel disregarded culture and

education as a means of achieving success but to him art was about self-expression combined

with the required artistic knowledge.

In 1945 Klippel has constructed the largest and most important of his sculptures and since then

he decided to work alone and to no longer have a formal education. An Australian surrealist

painter, James Gleeson became a vital individual who influenced Klippel s career development,

he encouraged Klippel to leave Slade School and to work on his own. Gleeson introduced

Klippel to surrealism and organised Klippel s first exhibition in London which they shared

together. Klippel found that he had developed an obsession to make art that stemmed from his

own life and reflected the world around him as he wrote: The artist can show a new world, if he

sees and feels enough ( Hughes1964:9). During this period Klippel became financially unstable

as the support coming from his father was at an end, as Klippel s father strongly believed that his

children should be able to support themselves in their adult life. Klippel went through a

particularly difficult psychological period feeling unstable both emotionally and financially

when he could not sell any of his sculptures. Klippel s works were often rejected as they often

classified as self-reflection works which often reflected the emotional and problematic side of

the artist. Klippel was also under pressure from his family, particularly his brothers who had a

successful wool business and who financially aided Klippel as he could not provide for himself. Klippel travelled to Paris in hope of selling his works and spent a few months there creating

more sculptures relating to nature. He found a studio where he worked and was able to diverse

the scope of his ideas so that his works would have a wider meaning and perhaps more people

could find appreciation in his works. While living in Paris, Robert Klippel married an American

artist, Nina Mermey and decided to travel to New York with her, which he later realised was

wasted time as he could not find any workshops or studios to work in. Again here he was

bound to make money on his work but not having achieved that Klippel returned to Sydney.

Klippel s path here was now open to any direction and James Gleeson introduced him to a more

comprehensive surrealism which Klippel wished to explore. He re-married in Sydney and in

1966 he established his first workshop. For the first time, his works became appreciated by a

large number of artists and art critics. The financial situation became better as some of Klippel s

sculptures were sold. With James Gleeson, another exhibition was held which presented painted

landscape by Gleeson occupied by Klippel s metal objects, it achieved a wide recognition by

many fellow artists and the public for the first time.

Robert Klippel had many more exhibitions and finally achieved the success he has been striving

for since youth. However when looking back at Bourdieu and his theories, it is worth to consider

the effect class and position in society had on the artists overall recognition. Bourdieu associates

upper class as having good taste as those from higher classes usually relate themselves with an

academic institution and may relate to the Arts, rather then those from lower classes tend to

have little or no understanding of Art and in conclusion have no taste, he also relates class to

culture, the higher the class the more cultured an individual could be. This view can partially

describe Robert Klippel s life as he comes from a well educated and culturally developed family

but not belonging to an academic institution as described by Bourdieu. Klippel was fairly

distant from any art education during his youth and did not attend university while he did poorly

at school. Perhaps the lack of direction from his parents and lack of his desire for education

resulted in some instability experienced later in his life. Perhaps as a result of that, Klippel had

trouble finding a place in the society as an artist as he often felt out of place with his artistic

ideas which for a long period of time received no appreciation.

According to Bourdieu, Klippel s art and his life would be a result of his family social position

and cultural atmosphere as well as his own academic achievements. It could be agreed that these

factors have had an influence on the artist s life to some extent. Klippel had few minor

academic achievements compared to his brothers and mostly spent time doing agricultural work.

Klippel s parents exposed their children to art and classical music as they thought that right

cultural upbringing was essential to achieve social recognition and success, however, they saw

that Robert Klippel had little interest in education and had no hope for him to achieve any

academic success, so they allowed him to work on the mill and later with wool. This family

upbringing affected Klippel s life and resulted in his struggle to achieve success and later

Klippel himself understood the importance of education and cultural upbringing to achieve

artistic recognition.

Robert Klippel once said that: true art arises from inner spiritual necessity and an ability to

follow one s own convictions . Robert Klippel is known today as one of Australia s leading

assemblage sculptors, he has created an innovative and extensive body of three-dimensional

works over a fifty year period. For a long of time, Klippel was not recognised as an artist and he

underwent a difficult psychological period throughout the development of his career. However,

gradually, Klippel began to understand the influence various sociological factors had on his life.

He resumed his studies of Art, tried to market his own works to gain finance and finally became

aware of what it takes to achieve success and recognition. One therefore, after examining the

career of the artist, can never wonder as to why so many of Robert Klippel s works are often a

reflection of his own life and his long struggle to overcome the many barriers that he faced as

an artist throughout his career.

Thus, in conclusion it would be faire to agree with Bourdieu s views that sociological factors such family background, education, class and social position, have an influence on one s interpretation and participation in the Arts.

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