Artworld Institutions, Theoretical Accounts, and Artistic Activity

6Q3A3045, April 30, 2018 | © Courtesy of Ilkka Jukarainen/Flickr.
6Q3A3045, April 30, 2018 | © Courtesy of Ilkka Jukarainen/Flickr.

On February 22, 2018, Filip Buekens and J. P. Smit have published an article entitled “Institutions and the Artworld – A Critical Note” in the Journal of Social Ontology.

A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.


In their paper, Filip Buekens and J. P. Smit have focused on the theoretical problems that existing definitions of art institutions, such as those proposed by George Dickie and Arthur Danto entail, primarily since their “account[s] of what confers upon objects their institutional character does not fit well with current work on institutions and social ontology” (53). Thus, as these researchers highlight, the “[i]nstitutional accounts of art, although less popular now than in the 1970’s that were the heydays of social constructionism, seem increasingly less plausible once one begins to apply insights from contemporary accounts of social institutions as they are studied in the emerging field of social ontology (Searle 1995, 2010; Tuomela 2013; Epstein 2015; Guala 2016) and in economics (Pratten 2015)” (53).

Nevertheless, Buekens and Smit also argue that, “[w]hile institutional accounts of art may be less popular today (but see Fokt 2013, 2017 for an interesting overview of recent developments and the many meanings of the concept of artworld), some important lessons can be drawn from the way it connected a human practice, the objects produced and the process whereby the products were created” (56). This is related to the growing recognition that “institutions are systems of interconnected rules that direct and shape preferences of participating agents in achieving shared goals – goals that exist independently of the kind of coordination required to achieve the goals” (58). Therefore, as this study explores, “[i]nstitutions, as ingredients or constituents of the artworld, solve obvious or subtle coordination problems” (59).

As these authors demonstrate, institutional theories “uncontroversially apply to art-involving institutions. Understanding the function of a museum or a gallery means that you understand your status when you “enter the game”” (62).  However, these authors qualify their conclusions by indicating that ““[a]rtworld” is best taken to be a generic, non-theoretical cluster concept that designates a sphere of activity that involves activities that promote goals that have led to the emergence of formal and informal institutions built around various forms of activity that involve art” (64). Consequently, as Buekens and Smit propose, “[i]t remains an open question whether the concept of artworld was more than a fancy signifier, which obscured rather than illuminated the important and genuine institutional dimension of art and artistic activity” (65).

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: 6Q3A3045, April 30, 2018 | © Courtesy of Ilkka Jukarainen/Flickr.


Cite this article as: Pablo Markin, "Artworld Institutions, Theoretical Accounts, and Artistic Activity," in Open Economics Blog, 06/11/2019, https://oeb.hypotheses.org/1094.

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