‘Art’ is commonly regarded as of high spirituality and aesthetic value, showing the intellectual and talented sides of the ‘great’ artists. However, many sociologists viewed the ‘art world’ as being constituted by networks of cultural production, distribution and consumption (Becker, 1984; Kadushin, 1976). These three networks are indeed collectively and mundanely formed. This paper aims to examine the question of how art is related to collective conventions, commercial drive, class interests and state sponsorship, with reference to the ‘art world’ in Hong Kong.
Artistic conventions involve all the decisions related to the art works produced. In the view ...view middle of the document...
For instance, ballet dancers are supported by Hong Kong Ballet, instrumentalists receive support from Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, and Opera Hong Kong offers support to opera singers. The similar structure of the art world has supported the collective convention of division of labor.
Art works are produced in the art world, but it may or may not reach the audience. As making ‘art’ is a collective activity, some people produce the works and some filters the products before their distribution to the public. The ones who filter the products as they enter or leave the art world are called ‘gatekeepers’ (Alexander, 2003). Since they filter the art works, they exert effects on the production and distribution systems. These gatekeepers decide what art works can or cannot be distributed, so they have the power to define what is ‘art’ (Inglis, 2005).
In Hong Kong, the ‘gatekeeping’ function lies in a number of organizations. They include Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong Arts Festival and Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, holding the power to decide what to be displayed and exhibited to the public. Hong Kong Art School and Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts have the power to define art through their curriculum. The authority of these ‘gatekeepers’ is taken as a convention in the Hong Kong art world, telling the public what is ‘art’.
Though the art world is often viewed as a sphere separated from and ‘above’ everyday life, art and money are closely intertwined (Inglis, 2005). The distribution of art works to the public always involves money, and even profit-driven factors. There are three kinds of distribution systems, namely self-support, patronage and public sale (Becker, 1984). These distribution systems pose constraints and expand possibilities on the audience size, the degree of freedom of artists and the character of the art works at the same time (Alexander, 2003).
The distribution of art works by artists themselves or within small networks is called self-support. These artists do not make much money from their work but they can enjoy the most freedom. Nevertheless, they have to pay for their freedom, such as for purchasing materials and equipment. Also, the audience size of self-supported distribution is small, which is a limitation of such distribution system.
The second way of distributing art works is patronage, referring to philanthropists’ support. There are organizational as well as individual patrons. As patrons support the production of art, they can control the art works and artists may have to please them. The difference in the purpose of patronage may exert an effect on the freedom of artists on their work. For patrons who support the art production for their personal and political reasons, they may dictate the content of the art works, whereas those supporting acceptable art works allow the artists more freedom. Patrons who are interested in prestige prefer artists to follow their...