art 2004/2

Contours of the Art World

by Skaidra Trilupaitytë

The article raises the issue whether art criticism, as an integral part of the art world, is able to provide its adequate picture and what other disciplines can contribute to make the contours of this world clearer.
The concept of the art world, probably, belongs to the philosophers-aesthetes: the non-visual contemporary forms of art, above all, conceptualism, influenced its rise. Yet the opportunity of philosophical contemplation of art appeared earlier, when Marcel Duchamp demonstrated that anything could become a work of art. In his seminal article The Art World, Arthur Danto attempted to provide a new definition of the work of art, which can be virtually anything, elevated to the status of art by a famous name, or, even more importantly, by a presence of specific art theory – a context – or ‘the art world’. The institutional theory of art, with its key exponent, George Dickie, introduced the idea of art as status, which is conferred upon an artifact by certain actors of the art world. He has clearly defined social ‘institutional powers’ of the members of the art world. In contrast to other art theories, the proponents of institutional theory refused to identify where the essence of the work of art was, and offered the public no a prior instruments for recognizing contemporary art. Stephen Davies was right to argue that the institutional theory clarifies how something becomes a work of art, but refuses to explain why it is a work of art. Nevertheless, the institutional theory has highlighted the procedural aspects in art recognition. It would be hard to deny the minimal conditions, as identified by George Dickie, for the art world to exist – it takes artists, art presenters and art perceivers acting together. On many occasions, not all of these links are present: one person can perform more than one function. This can be experienced in spontaneous events, where the roles of the audience, participants and art judges overlap. We can also reiterate Danto’s idea that a full-blooded art life goes on only in the mega cities of the world.
Sociologists approach the art world as social reality. They have started questioning the rooted in the history of art concepts of the ‘lonely genius’, ‘authenticity’, etc. From social perspective, the art world emerges as a collaborative activity of mediators of artistic production, ‘a production network’, to use the phrase of Howard Becker. Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘art field’ also focuses on a social group of individuals pursuing common (homologous) goals.
The emergence of non-visual contemporary art prompted discussions, by art critics too, on the art world, especially in regard of the artists’ movements and groups. Though artists tend to shun organizations with prescribed regulations, the mob instincts in the art world persist.
Among other theories, exists also the image of a creator as an egoistic individual, a ‘possessed one’. The anthropological view reveals such individualistic motives operating in the art world. Usually, the symbolic ‘value’ of art is also the merit of a charismatic leader, not an anonymous group. The activity of a (non)institutional curator falls into the same category. Lithuanian art critics tend to refer to official projects not by the title, but by the curator’s name, and speak of the events of ‘Lankelis’, or ‘Dirţys’, etc. The Ten Years of Non-Institutional Activity curated by Deimantas Narkevičius this summer, also demonstrated individual and hierarchic approach rather than a historical perspective. Today, the Lithuanian art context gives no reason to speak of any informal integration processes or groupings of the artists. Yet the institutionalization processes are real, and one prominent example of it the industrial success of the CAC and productive art integration strategy pursued by Vilnius Art Academy. Despite occasional allegations that CAC promotes only video and computer art, the events hosted by the centre demonstrate a pluralistic spectrum of the means of expression. However, the circle of the CAC’s artists leaves no doubt that it has been influenced, to a degree, by personal attitudes and qualities, the international and local conjecture and personal relationships. 
No matter how non-democratic we find the art world to be, the change of the forms of symbolical hierarchy is obvious and should not shrink to the traditional/nontraditional art opposition. Therefore, the concrete grouping processes taking place in the art world call for clearer methods of analysis, in contrast to spontaneous and intuitive observations. Hence, all the attempts, exterior to art criticism, to define the specific field of art production, distribution and appraisal, become of great value. In this light, the 2003 publication by the Social Research Institute Artist and the State: Social Psychological Aspects is welcome, yet the lack of any substantial theoretical background or clear methodology leaves the reader with a muddy picture of the art world in a renewed state.
The absence of a deeper tradition of the sociology of art in Lithuania and the isolated art situation are not conducive factors for the analysis by external observers. The hermetic nature of the small local art world becomes the very factor that either sharpens or blunts the edges of this world.
However, we should not assume that some smart cynics design the art world. On the horizon, emerges the type of ‘non-naive artist’, who is able to recognize how the today’s art world operates. This new type of the artist in Lithuania can be illustrated by the projects of Artűras Raila and the texts by Raimundas Malađauskas. In general, it is high time some new institutional art theory in Lithuania invigorated the critical positions.