Sociology in Art Business Studies: The influences of Becker, Bourdieu, and DiMaggio
School of Management Royal Holloway, University of London Egham, Surrey, England
"In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius; he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of art history", according to Marcel Duchamp (1957).
Duchamp's quote, which addresses the circulation of art from production to consumption, is core to art business studies, which can be viewed as a segment of arts management. This contribution to RS12, which draws on the MA in Art Business at Sotheby's Institute of Art, considers the influential contributions (primarily from the 1970s and 1980s) of three sociologists, Howard Becker, Pierre Bourdieu, and Paul DiMaggio. They serve as intellectual markers to elucidate Duchamp?s quote on the market for contemporary art, which is marked by its absence of the role of intermediaries between artists and spectators.
Several key art business organizations can be cited in the circulation of contemporary art: leading art schools as entry portals; primary and secondary dealers and auction houses as key intermediaries between artists and collectors; and the art museum as an idealized final repository for art (i.e., "museum quality" is a promotional term used by leading dealers and auctioneers).
Becker has been instructive in highlighting the role of a network of coordinated activities underpinning the art world. Most recently, collecting contemporary art has become an enviable social network to belong, with dealers (via art fairs) and auctioneers assuming the role of market-makers. Bourdieu's identification of educational attainment and social origins as key predictors to "high arts" consumption, such as visiting art museums, has been validated outside of France. Indeed it has been interpreted as a structural barrier to wider participation in many Anglo-American contexts. This has led to the instrumentalism of the arts as part of public policy, with the UK being a key example: in short, recipients of subsidies need to demonstrate a contribution to various extra-artistic performance measures. DiMaggio helps to explain the not-for-profit form of cultural industries via the constraints patterns of funding place on art museums, for example.