Habitus and Photography
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
| William James
I miss them. More and more. People who stand for something. Who are deeply rooted in their values, convictions, preferences, or habits. People who glow from the inside. People from whom a lot of love and experience speaks. Those who have an opinion. Those who have something to say. People who reliably stand for something and have something to say that has consistency. Not people who change from one opinion to another like flags in the wind. People who know why things work, as Marion Gräfin Dönhoff so aptly put it.
As an artist, a scientist, a father, a partner, a friend, and a human being, attitude is essential to me. I want to stand for something reliable. Therefore, I would like to talk about the idea and my perception of habitus and attitude in this blog article.
What is habitus? What is an attitude?
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the term habitus. For Bourdieu, habitus is a system of internalized patterns. These patterns are acquired and create similar schemas in new situations or challenges. These patterns include values, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, tastes, or lifestyles obtained through socialization and experiences in particular contexts. Our individual, social, cultural, and economic backgrounds shape all these elements of habitus.
An attitude is understood to be a personal attitude. Attitudes arise from our growing up, our education, our integration into groups such as family, friends, or clubs, our cultural involvement, and our own reflection processes. Attitudes relate to other people, groups, objects, or situations. Therefore, attitudes connect our perception with our thinking, feeling, and willing. Attitudes become visible when we express them and act accordingly. Alongside knowledge, skills, and abilities, attitudes, therefore, determine the direction of our actions in a central way.
What does attitude have to do with art?
When I see pictures in an exhibition, I am often fascinated by pictures that are not immediately accessible. The ones that I have to figure out for myself. The ones that have a particular form of mysticism. They often challenge me to think about the pictures. They often touch me emotionally very intensely. Usually this is the starting point after which I deal with a picture, find out about the artist, read up, and look for his intention and attitude. It happens that the found attitude of the artist impresses my perception of the image so strongly that attitude and image become inseparable. For me, in the best case, the attitude of an artist can be felt everywhere in his works. Sometimes I even like the attitude so much that I learn to love a painting that I may have liked initially less.
That’s what happened to me, for example, with the works of Andreas Gursky. His geometric art with clarity and abstract minimalism in large-format appeals to my heart. But ultimately, I love Gursky’s attitude toward interpreting places. Based on authentic material, he composes freely, enlarging spaces and connecting the microcosm and macrocosm through a view from above, often from a distance. Something I know all too well in my own research. Every place in Gursky’s images is equally essential; nothing special ever happens anywhere that throws the image out of balance. I appreciate this attitude, and I have come to love Gursky’s photographs.
Attitude is an essential part of art for me. Habitus is my home, where I allow such an attitude to develop.
Can attitude be learned?
How can attitude be acquired? To develop an attitude, requires reflection, i.e., a critical distance from oneself. Maintaining an attitude is, therefore, also an answer to how we deal with ourselves to the demands and requirements placed on our own self.
Attitude is also my guide that helps me in my artistic quest, the balance between my urge to work artistically and my own questioning of my own work. This results in an uncertainty that I want to endure and subsequently, in the best case, results in a painting that looks as if it was made with ease and does not show my inner agitation, my emotions, or my doubting. But that is precisely when posture helps me. It gives me direction and authenticity. And whenever I create images with my attitude, that is my inner self. Then it is art.
Should you break an attitude?
Absolutely. If we constantly move within our habitus, we will always create what we have created. Similar to an echo chamber. We continue to travel on the same tracks. Nothing surprising. No change. No growth. Breaking the habitus, on the other hand, first requires acknowledging that existing patterns may no longer have the same effect on us as they did in the past. Then the courage to face it. An idea of how we can break through this where. And often a muse to do it.
Can breaking through attitudes regularly be an attitude itself? Perhaps. For me, it would be more of a form of restlessness that shows me that someone is searching for something that they have not yet been able to put into words with a question.
In summary, attitude and art belong together for me. For me, they are like identical twins, like yin and yang, which only together give a result the necessary depth that art needs. Pictures without attitude are empty souls, without a story, without depth, without inspiration. It is worthwhile to take the path inward, to search for one’s own questions, to develop attitudes, and to give these into an artistic expression. Equally, it is also worthwhile to break through attitudes from time to time, to contradict oneself, to find new paths, to grow, and to develop.
What makes up your attitude? How does it show itself? How does it shape your art`?
Bourdieu, Pierre (2020): The subtle differences: Critique of social judgment. 27th ed. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 978-3-518-28258-8.
Jurt, Joseph, (2010) : The habitus theory of Pierre Bourdieu. In: LiTheS – Journal of the Sociology of Literature and Theatre 3, pp. 5-17. ISSN 2071-6346.
Dönhoff, Marion Gräfin (1976) : People who know what it’s all about. Political fates 1916-1976. Hoffmann and Campe. Hamburg. ISBN 978-3-455-01552-2.