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Art world


The art world comprises everyone involved in producing, commissioning, presenting, preserving, promoting, chronicling, criticizing, and selling fine art. It is a wider term than art market, though that is a large part of it. Howard S. Becker describes it as "the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produce(s) the kind of art works that art world is noted for" (Becker, 1982). In her book, Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton describes it as "a loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art. They span the globe but cluster in art capitals like New York, London, Los Angeles, and Berlin." Other cities sometimes called "art capitals" include Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, Miami, Paris, Rome and Tokyo; due to their large art festivals, followings, and being the centers of art production.

The notion of the singular art world is problematic, since Becker and others show art worlds are, instead, independent multiplicities scattered worldwide that are always in flux: there is no "center" to the art world any more. In her analysis of the "net art world" (referring to network-aided art or net art), Amy Alexander states "net.art had a movement, at the very least it had coherence, and although it aimed to subvert the art world, eventually its own sort of art world formed around it. It developed a culture, hype and mystique through lists and texts; it had a centre, insiders, outsiders, even nodes. This is of course not a failure; this is unavoidable: groups form; even anarchism is an institution." Art worlds exist at local and regional levels, as hidden or obscured subcultures, via primary and secondary art markets, through gallery circuits, around design movements, and, esoterically, as shared or perceived experiences.

The one globalized, all-encompassing art world exists only as myth; rather, there are multiplicities of intersecting, overlapping, self-similar art worlds, each expressing different views of the world as they see it.

New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz has referred to William Powhida's and Jade Townsend's drawing Art Basel Miami Beach Hooverville as "a great big art-world stinkbomb."



  • Sanjeck, David. "Institutions." Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
  • Thornton, Sarah. Seven Days in the Art World New York: WW Norton, 2008.
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