ART WORLDS by Howard Becker

ART WORLDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A frankly, even wholesomely, sociological examination of ""art as collective action."" Becker (Northwestern) is interested, that is, in the cooperative networks of suppliers, performers, dealers, critics, consumers, etc., that--along with the artist--""produce"" the work of art; in the conventions essential to their operation; and, prospectively, in the extent to which art is shaped by this collective activity. If by the end of his introductory chapter one grants the limited autonomy of the work of art, his book can be said to have succeeded; as he elaborates these points thereafter, he sometimes reinforces them--but he does not necessarily demonstrate specific cause-and-effect relationships. One can grant that ""all these things must be done for an art work to occur as it naturally does."" One can appreciate the ""variations in the divisions of task in every art"" (e.g., the integration of composition and performance in rock, their separation in today's classical music). One can acknowledge the constraints exercised by materials, by sources of patronage, even (more subtly) by support personnel whose motives may differ from those of the artist (i.e., to make themselves look good). One can recognize--a strong point of Becker's--that ""the title 'art' is at once indispensable and unnecessary to the producers of the works in question""--indispensable for their livelihood and self-esteem, unnecessary because they can perhaps secure it from a newly-forming art world (as shown here in the case of art-photography--another area, along with music, which Becker seems especially to know). But his climactic demonstration of the workings of art worlds falls apart over just what he's been sidestepping all along: the nature of a work of art. Why, he asks, did jazz persist and the stereograph wither? From research studies, he traces the development of a jazz world, and, briefly, of a stereograph world--which, he then postulates, failed to innovate, thereby failing to nourish its branches, etc. Whether stereographs ever had a creative potential, whether they were in fact an art-form, he doesn't consider. And his assertion that ""art"" is what is discovered and endorsed by art worlds is similarly suspect. None of this, however, prevents the book from being an interesting, suggestive overview of just how art worlds do function.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0520256360
Publisher: Univ. of California Press