The institutional Art World –
A chronically (and possibly necessary) elite structure, it is composed of a group of experts and professionals world-wide whose daily function is to fully describe “good” Art (a valuation function) and to market this good Art (a sales function). The participants in this world are collectors, critics, gallerists and artists, as well as the institutions which support the participants such as museums, art schools, media outlets and auction houses. Entrance into this world is strictly controlled by a phalanx of gatekeepers schooled (groomed) in the conventional codes of what Art is and what it should do.
The power is top-down. That is, the purchasing power parity of works (price as it relates to value) is controlled by market players who collude to protect current values (in their current portfolios) as well as create new markets (speculation). Exclusive of the price mechanism is a codified Art History that describes creativity in universal sweeping terms, to determine the Art World’s role in affecting general history (and vice versa).
Artists who learn and participate in the Art World (upper case) have an insular context from which to create their artistic messaging: themes and subjects will be imbued with generalized learning and knowledge such as mythological, psychological, and technical memes, historical and literary allusions, or rarefied insights into the lives of the commensurate elite (a reportage function).
The non-institutional art world –
This is the group whose works have not benefited from expenditures in learning arts techniques or in arts education (the price of admission to the institutional Art World). As such, the Art produced by the participants is often described (by the Art World) in pejorative, non-majority rhetoric as being parochial, childish, idiosyncratic, outsider, street, naive, craft, commercial, or sub-cultural.
The power is lateral. That is, there are no phalanxes of critics or market makers determining the ultimate methods of creation, and the barriers to creativity are perceived to be low.
Thus young children, when they are schooled in art projects, are not part of an institutional art world except tangentially (vis-a-vis the classically liberal education tradition, an elitist concept, and the groomed biases of their art teachers). Children produce art for joy, diversion and relaxation.
When adolescent youth paint the walls of a city with graffiti, they too are not part of the art world — they break the laws of various institutions to express a nascent symbology. There are no costs to materials (canvas, clay) and there are no costs to market. They participate in the joy of art making regardless, or in spite of, the barriers to joining the institutional Art World.
When adults knit or create blankets or shawls or design their own clothes, or attempt any craft/hobbyist experiment, they are expressing themselves outside the Art World insofar as they are creating objects for personal use, not to be parlayed into the institutional Art World. The expectations are not to address the Art World at all, or adopt expectations set by the Art World, but to relax and find joy and possibly functional utility.
The way I see it, the best the institutional Art World can offer is the message of humanism – that we are all in this life together, as equals, to find meaning in that which is confusing (existence itself).
The best the non-institutional art world can offer is the message of just being human, without the “–ism” after it.
All else should be suspect.
Very truly yours,
Beacon Hill, Seattle, Washington state, USA